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An Essential Requirement for Operational Success: FLEXIBILITY – Part 2

The Need for Flexibility

In our March whitepaper we talked about the need for resource flexibility to be able to match variable customer demand on an hourly, daily, weekly and seasonal basis. We expressed our surprise that in 90% of the operations we work with, the workforce is relatively “ fixed” in response to variable demand.

Most operations have some combination of time of day, day or week or seasonal variations in demand. We’ve never seen an operation where demand was constant by hour, day or week and through the year. For example, we’ve seen contact centres with 50% more calls on Monday to any other day of week and operations where workloads double or quadruple around tax year end.

Typical weekly call arrival with Monday peaks and public holiday effects in early November

In a perfect world organisations would be able to roster full time to these regular peaks. However, this comes at a cost that few companies can afford, because staff would be idle at other times. We have identified three answers to this problem:

  1. Creating flexibility in the workforce or a Flexible Resource Pool (FRP);

  2. Creating hybrid teams that enable staff to handle work across different channels that have different demand patterns and response needs; and

  3. Moving some of the work so that we flatten out the peaks of work.

Our first paper in March focused on the Flexible Resource Pool (FRP) concept and we hope you found that useful. This paper (Part 2) focuses on the Hybrid Team Concept which, if implemented well, will deliver:

  • Cost savings;

  • More consistent customer service regardless of time of day, week or year; and

  • Improved staff engagement.

‘Hybrid’ Model Concept

The ‘Hybrid’ model concept is an operating model where work is blended so that processing or other work with relatively long service levels (e.g. mail processing, email handling or non time-critical high volume transactions) are used to balance work in areas like call and chat centres that have more time critical service levels. Typically this blend of work is used to create a bigger workforce that protects the service levels for the time critical functions. The hybrid group performs processing at times of low demand where there is excess capacity. If this is well designed and managed, the hybrid function allows a channel with high variable demand like a contact centre, web chat function or retail outlet to optimise service levels during high demand intervals or days but without a need for low levels of utilisation (and therefore added cost).

New channels are being added to many sales and service operations. With the growth of channels like web chat and click to call, the need for greater flexibility has increased. In the examples below we have referred to contact centres and retail outlets, but this concept applies as well in web chat functions. Equally, the growth of email and customers’ expectations for same day or faster response creates further opportunities to create effective hybrid operations.

The hybrid function has four main benefits:

1. The Customer Experience

The existence of a hybrid team allows an organisation to offer rapid response and maintain high service levels. They can also offer greater consistency of service and absorb more shocks to contact volume if there are unexpected events such as system downtime or media activity.

2. Financial

Depending on the size of the operation, 1 FTE’s worth of non time-critical work can usually be performed in the area with variable demand with only an extra 0.5 FTE required. For example, in a contact centre of 500, 50 FTE’s worth of non time-critical work can be absorbed within the contact centre with only an additional 25 FTE required. The simple reason for this is scale and exploitation of the variability of demand. In many intervals during the day there may be up to 100 agents available who could supplement the ‘hybrid’ team and perform the other work. A recent client absorbed a back office correspondence team of 22 FTE’s into a hybrid function within their contact centre, however, they only required an additional 10 FTE to maintain their service levels and complete this additional work, therefore realising a 12 FTE saving.

3. Flexibility

Flexibility is created by having additional FTE that can resolve time critical enquiries 100% of their time during certain intervals or days. Again taking the example of a 500 contact centre taking on 50 FTE’s worth of back of ce work. Even if they only increase their FTE gure by the 25 required this is a 25 extra FTE that can take phone calls during peak demand intervals such as between 10-11am most mornings or over lunch periods. During prolonged periods of high call demand the 25 additional FTE’s can be utilised 100% on the phones and the back office work can be completed by flexing the workforce hour outside the core hours.

4. Staff Engagement

When we first started assisting companies to implement a hybrid function the main objective was to create better experiences, flexibility and financial efficiencies. However, we discovered that there were many peripheral benefits. One of these was a significant uplift in staff engagement. We believe there are three main reasons for this:

  1. It gives the agents a break from intense phone or front counter based work. We have always said that the major irony of contact centres is that many agents don’t like being on the phones. They are delighted to do non phone work and it creates variety in their day;

  2. Because service levels are easier to manage in a hybrid environment, customers receive a better experience and react to staff more positively; and

  3. The hybrid work means staff have a broader understanding of other functions and channels. If managed well, it means they have a better end to end view of how any business works and can advise customers better on other channels to use and manage their expectations on how long other work takes. As staff are exposed to back office or other functions, it may also enable end to end process completion that produces higher rates of contact resolution. Front line staff can now complete work quickly that otherwise would flow to the back office and have extended completion times.

Making a Hybrid Function Effective

Whilst implementing a hybrid function has many benefits, it has to be designed and managed well to achieve these benefits. Here are five tips where we have referred to the non critical (back office or correspondence) work as “the hybrid work”:

  1. Choose high volume, less time-critical simple back office tasks that can easily be trained to staff or temps. Where possible these should be similar or related to work performed in the channel that is being turned into a hybrid.

  2. Roster the hybrid work but set it up so that whoever is working in the hybrid function can remain logged into the phone or be ready for over the counter work to enable them to take overflow work given certain scenarios e.g. service level is going to be missed or queues are developing.

  3. Ensure there is a Real Time Management function to enable staff to be switched between the types of work as soon as capacity becomes available.

  4. Open up the additional hybrid work to as many agents as possible to ensure equity and maximum flexibility.

  5. To support increased productivity reward the top hybrid agents each day by keeping them on the hybrid skill for the next day. Potentially, an agent could be on the hybrid skill indefinitely if they maintain their high status each day.

As always we would be delighted to discuss further with you how to effectively implement a hybrid function in your operation and maximise the benefits. For this or any other topics please contact us by phone or email.

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