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What the Contact Center Can Learn from Walmart

April 10, 2014

Guessing the correct staffing levels is just not precise enough.

One of the secrets that made Walmart a retailing success and catapulted them into the big box store giant they are today was the application of just-in-time inventory management. While competitors either had too much stock on hand or not enough, Walmart combined shipping logistics with forecasting and sophisticated warehouse analytics. The result was that they operated lean, and they could pass on these operational savings to the customer.

While the contact center doesn’t work with physical products the way a retailing firm might, fundamentally it still has the same challenge: Getting the right amount of resources in the right place at the right time. Only, in the case of the contact center these resources are agents and not boxes of toothpaste.

Forecasting is essential for the well-run contact center, because too few agents will frustrate callers with long hold times, and too many agents will frustrate managers as agents sit idle and eat into company profits.

Good workforce management software will help contact center managers get the right balance by applying accurate forecasting to the scheduling of employees.

At its root, workforce management software reaches its goal by looking at averages Handle Time by Time Interval to create a more accurate sense of need. It tracks and projects trends based on daily, weekly and seasonal patterns, and in turn managers can anticipate the right staffing level instead of having to guess at it or use non-scientific means.

A good workforce management solution also will allow users to adjust schedules to fine-tune operation, as a ISI Telemanagement Solutions (News - Alert) blog post recently noted.

“As data fluctuates, users can manually override and adjust accordingly in real-time,” noted ISI, referring to its own workforce management solution. “This creates a dynamic environment where the schedule keeps the workforce and workload balanced. In order to ensure the forecast is kept up-to-date, multiple data sources are imported and compiled simultaneously with varied intervals.”

Workforce management software also typically allows for business rules, so managers can apply business logic that automatically shifts schedules to comply with regulations and special calling events anticipated by the company. Managers can even use the software to schedule based on skillset.

It also factors in time zone differences, an increasingly important feature given the rise of distributed contact centers.

Walmart changed retailing several decades ago when it took the guesswork out of inventory and forced the whole industry to become more scientific about its inventory management. The same is happening with the contact center now. Forecasting takes the guesswork out of agent scheduling, and this in turn drives greater efficiency and reduced cost.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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