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Push to Win

All about winning… 

I have a story for you that should help you to understand exactly how to change the game that is played between your call center and the WFM vendors that you work with.  The trick is you need to read the story through to the end.  If you stop part way, you might think this story is about water basketball.  It’s not.

During a recent vacation, I twisted my ankle playing soccer.  I rested for a few days, played again and really twisted it. That put me on crutches for three days.  I spent those days in a lounge chair by the pool, applying ice and watching others enjoy the organized water sports.

Each day, six or seven resort organizers would take on 20 to 30 resort guests (members) in a game of water basketball.  Even though they were out-numbered 3-1, the organizer team would always win.  Their strategy was simple.  When the members tried to shoot, the organizer team would knock the ball out of their hands and fling the ball to “Diego” at the other end of the pool.  Diego would shoot and score. The organizers played to make the members miss.  Every miss translated into a higher score for the organizers.

The really interesting thing is that the showmanship of the organizers was so entertaining that the members enjoyed loosing. The same members would returned the next day to loose again.

On the fourth day I hopped into the pool determined to shift the odds in favor of the guests.  One ankle could not take my weight so my contributions had to be strategic. I spoke to the two most athletic looking members and said “That’s Diego. He is their top scorer.  Don’t let him get the ball or shoot.”  Then I spoke to the 10 or so teens. “All of you teens gather around their net.  Keep shooting until you score.  I will get in the way of the organizers so they can’t knock the ball out of your hands.”

The members won seven to one.  Diego did not score a single basket. The organizers complained about the change in tactics but admitted that this game was the most fun and exciting that they could remember.

Later, when I sat eating lunch, a guest named Ian walked over to me to talk about the victory.  Ian said “That was great, I’ve never seen that before.  I’ve been in these clubs every year for more than 10 years in different countries around the world.  I have never seen the members win at water sports. The organizers always win.  It was really great to see the members win for once.  We did not have any more players than usual; we just played really well together.”

While this story is entirely true, it’s not really about water basket ball.  It’s actually about the call center industry.  For the past few decades the few who organize the WFM game have been winning while the larger membership looses.  The showmanship and illusion of High Forecast Accuracy makes the membership feel like they are winning – even though the scores that count are clear losses. The call center community pays a lot of money for the software but each call center accumulates big losses in the forms of long wait times, high telco costs, lost revenue and low productivity.

Great showmanship can make the loosing team feel like winners.  However, playing to win, really is the best way to have fun.  To do that, you don’t need a bigger team, you just need better coordination of the resources that you already have.

You also need to disrupt the practices that knock the ball out of your hands.  Adhering to a bad forecast and schedule does exactly that. It make you miss your own targets and it converts those misses into high forecast accuracy for the WFM vendors. Today, every time you under service your customers, the other team’s forecast accuracy score goes up.

When you change tactics, the other team will naturally complain that you are disrupting their ability to score. But you are not in this game to improve their score! You are in it to maximize your results. The results you want are huge improvements to wait times, labor productivity, customer satisfaction, retention, revenue, market share and profitability.

SCO will organize your team for it’s biggest victory and your longest winning streak.  But the greatest thing about SCO is that no one looses.  Whatever WFM you have purchased, SCO will enable it to deliver the spectacular improvements that you never thought were possible.

With SCO your meaningful forecast accuracy goes up.  But don’t call it forecast accuracy. Call it preparedness, responsiveness and efficiency. The same total number of agents will be timed so well that wait times will drop and productivity will improve.

The only forecast accuracy that drops is the fake forecast accuracy that has been tabulated with  answered and abandoned call counts. When fake forecast accuracy drops and your real results improve, you’ll see that answered plus abandoned call counts never really meant anything.  You don’t need good showmanship to make your losses feel like victories. You only need the good organization that delivers real victories.

No matter what WFM you use, SCO will re-organize it around the best interests of your team.  Then, everyone has more to cheer about.

The Giant Push
The water basketball game featured an interesting sub-story.  You see, our game plan was not a secret to the organizers. Diego heard the instructions to the adults and teens.  He also heard me commit to displacing the organizers from the scrimmage below their net.

So even before the game started, Diego drafted the three largest guests to play on the organizer team.  When I say large, I mean LARGE.  The tallest was over 6’10”.  The biggest was a 375 pound sumo-sized giant.

During the game, I relaxed under the backboard until the ball fell into the hands of the teens.  At that moment I would grab hold of two organizers and tie up their arms. Sometimes a third organizer would join in so I’d grab him too. As soon as the teens scored, I’d let go and return to my resting place under the backboard.

My disruption tactics quickly shifted the score in favor of the members.  Diego responded by sending in the 375 pound draft pick.  I found myself standing face-to-face with a very large but very friendly man, telling me things were about to change.  I placed my hands on his waist signaling my intentions to push him out of the basket ball key.  I smiled.  He looked at me and my much smaller frame. He shook his head and chuckled “Nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh no”.

To his astonishment, I lifted him an inch and pushed him 20 feet.  I dropped him off in the deep end and gave him a gentle push and spin.  I returned to the basket ball net to play the game the way our team had decided to play it.  The large gentleman elected to stay on the other end of the pool for the remainder of the game.

So how, with one good ankle, was I able to move the giant out of the way?  Simple!  He floated.

But once again, while the details are all true, it’s not really about water basketball.  It’s about what to expect when you try to organize your team to win a WFM game that has belonged to the organizers for the past three decades.

Don’t be surprised if they bring in their heavy hitters to tell you to keep playing the game according to their rules.  But don’t worry.  Traction is on your side.  Just like the giant who floats, conventional WFM practices are weightless.

They will tell you that it is best practice to forecast using answered and abandoned call counts.  Just say “No, that’s not the rate that calls are offered, it’s just the rate that we could answer callers or frustrate them into abandoning. That won’t optimize our staffing levels, its just going to keep them the same.

They may argue that you resources have always been optimized.  Just respond “We know better than that now. Mediocre labor utilization was never something to be proud of. Too many of the wait times were beyond reasonable.  Those are not optimal outcomes. We need a new type forecast that reallocates resources across intervals for consistently short wait times.”

They may insist that wait times are not an input to the forecast.  Just respond, “Well they are not an input to your forecast and that’s a problem.  We actually care about wait times so we need a forecast that cares about them too”

They may argue that their patience/impatience factor is a wait time input.  Just tell them “Yes, but it’s the wrong type of input.  Patience just describes how many abandoned calls to ignore.  We are done with ignoring unhappy callers. SCO tells us how to staff to answer every call before it waits too long.”

They will likely tell you its best practice to adhere rigidly to their schedule.  Just say “No, the schedule is a plan based on three week old data.  There is no reason to adhere to the past.  We need to respond to the demand that unfolds in the day. SCO prepares us to do just that.”

They may object to agents taking calls into the planned breaks. The answer to this is simple. Tell them “SCO prepares us for the demand that flows across intervals and anticipates that calls should persist across interval boundaries. Agents should not be ending their calls abruptly on the 15 minute mark just to create the illusion that an offered call forecast was true?  The game has changed.  We are not here to manipulate call counts, we are here to service the customers that drive our revenue, growth and profitability.”

When your service levels improve spectacularly overnight, they may try to convince you that the high service levels are excessive and that you need to cut staffing levels.  This advice you definitely need to ignore.  There is nothing wrong with servicing every customer too fast as long as your labor utilization and productivity remain high.  If your staffing requirements drop (and they likely will), SCO will tell you exactly what the new staffing levels should be.  It’s OK to cut staff to match the SCO forecast.  It’s not OK to cut staff because your wait times and service levels are too good.

While you may find it uncomfortable to operate with such low wait times, just remember that as long as every caller waits a few seconds in queue, you are already operating at maximum efficiency.  If the queue is never empty, an agent is never idle and you can’t afford to loose a single agent. If you loose just one agent, your telco costs skyrocket and an agent’s worth of customers don’t get serviced.

They may tell you that you should be taking the advice of the market leaders.  Just tell them “Certainly!  SCO is the market leader in truthful forecasting technology.  They were first to market.  They are the sole provider and they own the intellectual property to maintain that position.”

Just give the giant a little push.  SCO gives you all the traction you need.

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