Multisite Operations: A Competitive Advantage

By Art Olender

Business growth, mergers, and acquisitions can dramatically change the dynamics of contact center operations. Oftentimes, businesses quickly and perhaps unexpectedly find themselves running multiple contact centers. Under these circumstances, each of the contact centers will likely have separate management teams and autonomous staff.

If the operations aren’t networked together, the centers truly operate as individual islands in a vast enterprise. In the end, it’s difficult to run individual sites while matching competition in terms of service quality and price. Here are some considerations if you have a multisite operation:

Streamline Operations: Networking multiple contact centers together brings a myriad of added efficiencies to contact center operations. Contact centers can easily extend their hours of operation for better customer service, improve operating efficiency by preventing staff imbalance across multiple sites, build redundancy for disaster recovery, and significantly reduce overhead expenses.

Gain Added Flexibility: By coordinating multiple centers across time zones, coverage can be 24/7 without keeping a single contact center open around the clock. Coordination also enables the organization to take full advantage of hiring opportunities in different geographic regions.

Prevent Staff Imbalance: Networked contact centers are able to shift workloads quickly and easily between sites to address staffing issues. For example, a company has two contact centers. Each of them requires 100 agents. On a given day, 20 people in contact center Y call in sick. On that same day, there’s a meeting cancellation at contact center Z, which frees-up 20 agents. Instead of calling in 20 agents for emergency relief or paying overtime, the agents from contact center Z make up for the staff shortfall in center Y.

Redundancy Safety Net: A multi-site contact center operation provides a built-in safety net in case of disaster. If a storm, such as the recent hurricanes, or other unforeseen event shuts down a contact center’s operation, callers can be routed to another site to preserve service quality.

Save Money: Organizations can realize substantial savings by networking their sites together. It’s no secret that the contact center’s biggest expense remains agent salaries. Organizations that network their sites together need fewer agents to manage the same number of incoming calls.

Consider this example: Let’s look at a 30-minute interval. Imagine a contact center that’s operating four individual sites. Each receives 300 contacts during this 30-minute period and the average call handling time is three minutes. Due to the random nature of the arrival of these calls, 36 agents are required at each site to answer 90 percent of the calls within 30 seconds of arrival. That’s 144 agents!

Now, let’s look at the effect of consolidating call handling across the four sites. In this shared resource environment, the enterprise can handle the same call volume with only 128 people, creating a savings of 16 people or 11 percent. Translate that into dollars and it equals huge savings.

Staffing – A Challenging Feat: It is difficult to accurately predict the ebb and flow of calls each day of the week, which makes staffing difficult. The networked environment only magnifies these challenges. It’s not uncommon for a company with several individual sites to have ACDs from different vendors. The individual sites may also have different hours of operation and shift requirements. Consider this scenario:

  • Site A allows 50 percent of its employees to work four 10-hour days a week
  • Site B has a large percentage of part-time employees
  • Site C is open 24/7 and allows employees to work split shifts

Workforce Management’s Role: Whether the business is operating a single center or multiple sites, automated workforce management (WFM) tools can streamline the staffing process. These systems take the guesswork out of multivariable situations by helping managers create customized schedules based on historical call forecasts. Additionally, they easily generate flexible personnel schedules that meet the demanding needs of the operation as well as the contact center staff.

Taking Multiple Variables into Account: Workforce management systems also generate flexible schedules using simulation techniques that determine the number of agents required to handle the workload during each daily interval. Systems with a high level of sophistication ensure scheduling accuracy by replicating the routing rules at individual sites as well as at the network level. This enables managers to ensure schedules reflect the actual skills-based routing that goes on in their ACD and across the entire enterprise.

WFM systems take a wide variety of work rules into account such as:

  • Types of schedules offered
  • Break and lunch patterns
  • Number of days in the work-week
  • Schedule consistency
  • Agent availability
  • Agent preferences

A top-notch WFM system will use these variables in conjunction with routing rules to produce a detailed schedule that includes start times, break and lunch times, and off-phone time for email or facsimile responses.

With today’s contact center technology and information technology services, establishing a multisite contact center operation is feasible and cost-effective for almost any organization. By thoughtfully considering the workforce management evaluation criteria (see sidebar), contact centers can easily coordinate the efforts of even the most complicated multisite configurations.

Art Olender is a founding member of IEX Corporation, a Tekelec company. He currently oversees the company’s international business operations.

Workforce Management Evaluation Criteria

When choosing a Workforce Management (WFM) system, it’s imperative to consider the following questions.

  1. Does the system allow you to coordinate data from multiple sites and different ACD vendors?
  2. Does the system take a wide variety of work rules into account when building schedules?
  3. Does the system meet the demanding needs of the operation while accommodating the individuals in the contact center?
  4. Can the system be configured to accurately reflect the skills-based routing that’s occurring at the individual site level as well as the enterprise at-large?
  5. Can the system be easily scaled to expand with your business?
  6. Does the WFM vendor have a history of successfully delivering solutions to top tier clients in your market segment?
  7. Can they show you two or three existing customers operating in a similar environment or one with even greater complexity than in your own?
  8. Do they provide superior training and customer support?
  9. As your business becomes more sophisticated, will the WFM system have the depth of features to support the added complexity?

[From Connection Magazine November 2004]