Off Center
 
Agent adherence to schedule -- also known simply as “adherence” or, in less evolved call centers, “get your butt in your seat NOW” -- is a metric that measures how often your agents are logged in to take calls (when they are scheduled to be) as opposed to in the break room crying for their mother. 

Adherence is not only an important productivity metric, it is one that agents typically accept and buy into, since it is within their direct control. Unlike with such common – yet often polarizing – productivity metrics as number of calls handled per hour/shift and average handle time (AHT), agents alone determine whether or not they meet their adherence objective. They know the impact they each have on service level (assuming they have been taught this in training, another best practice), and they know their schedule – what time they need to arrive in the morning, be back from breaks/lunch, and emerge from under their workstation after a panic attack. If an agent is not in his or her seat when he or she is supposed to be, it is that agent and that agent alone who is accountable, with the exception of when a bullying coworker has duck-taped him to the bathroom wall for a laugh, or if the agent gets trapped under an ACD report.

It’s essential to set a feasible and fair adherence objective, one that meets the contact center’s and customer’s needs without forcing agents to pee in a jar at their workstations. As with virtually every other metric, there is no universal industry standard for adherence to schedule per se, though most leading contact centers shoot for the 85%-90% range. Meeting such an objective would require each agent to be available to handle contacts 51-54 minutes for each hour they are scheduled, thus leaving enough time for runs to the restroom, seeking assistance from supervisors, or searching the help wanted ads for a less demanding job.      

It should be noted that scheduled time away from the phones – such as breaks, lunches, training and beatings – is not counted as time assigned to handle contacts, and thus should not be factored into adherence to schedule measurements.

Agents are human beings, at least in most contact centers, and thus need to be treated as such when it comes to measuring and “enforcing” adherence to schedule. Merely telling agents that they need to be in their seats at certain times “or else” will do little to foster agent buy-in and commitment, and a lot to foster agent graffiti and arson. Leading contact centers ensure that agents meet adherence objectives without the use of cattle prods or border collies. Some of the non-invasive and respectful tactics these centers utilize to keep agents in their seats include:

• Educating new-hires (and reminding existing agents) on the meaning and importance of adherence, and the impact that each agent’s adherence to schedule has on the customer experience and each other’s sanity.

• Doing a good job with workforce management to ensure that agents don’t have to frequently endure call deluges, which will cause burnout and spontaneous combustion, thus encouraging agents to take longer breaks, or not show up at all.

• Involving agents more in the scheduling process – e.g., enabling them to access schedules, request vacations and bid for/trade shifts right from their desktop – to ensure more buy-in from staff and trick them into thinking they have the slightest semblance of control over their lives.

• Basically, doing anything that helps make the job more enjoyable and decreases burnout. Examples include: Rewarding/recognizing agents for regularly meeting adherence objectives; providing agents with fun stress-reduction techniques they can do between calls; offering a work-at-home option; and, of, course, removing the steel bars and the seatbelts from their workstation.

Paul Westfall
8/27/2010 12:41:57 am

Greg, spot on with your comments about adherence education.

A good training activity to help the agents see what happens when they are not in the right places at the right time can really help them to get it. One fun small group exercise can be done with a box of assorted Legos. One agent gets all of the Legos and begins to hand Legos to the another agent who acts as the ACD by distributing building blocks one at a time to the remaining agents for assembly into whatever they want to build. The agents that are building can't get another piece until they are done attaching the last piece and then raising their hand. After a couple of minutes take a couple of building agents away, but have the Legos continue flowing to the ACD person at the same rate creating a backup. They will quickly get the idea.

Great topic. Keep up the good work!

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8/27/2010 12:53:20 am

Thanks, Paul. I LOVE the Lego exercise idea! Sounds like a fun way to educate agents on adherence -- one that doesn't demean them nor make them cry "micro-management".



Great input!



Best,



Greg

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8/27/2010 10:05:03 am

Greg, this is a great article! You provide some great insights with just the right amount of your cynical humor sprinkled in. Absolutely love it!

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8/28/2010 12:11:35 am

Much appreciated, Brandon -- glad you enjoyed it.

It very much reflects the writing style and tone of my upcoming ebook, "FULL CONTACT:Contact Center Practices and Strategies that Make an Impact" -- due out soon.

I've never understood why discussions of industry best practices always have to be so dry and boring!
Irreverence is bliss! (Provided there is some value that goes along with it.)

Warm regards,

Greg

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8/30/2010 09:35:18 am

Great article and I COMPLETELY agree.

It's funny - most critics of adherence practices in the call center often forget that adherence is for everyone...as my airline nicely reminded me last week when I was too late to check a bag and had to toss $150 of skincare products so I could carry on.

For those of you interested in how to set up a best practice adherence program, I recently published a brief based on my webinar on the same subject: http://www.focus.com/briefs/customer-service/optimizing-your-contact-center-through-agent-adherence/

Warm regards,

Michelle Babb

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8/30/2010 09:45:18 am

Ouch. That's a true blemish on your adherence stats, Michelle.

I look forward to reading your best practice ideas, and stealing them if they are better than mine. ; )

Best,

Greg

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9/8/2010 01:29:34 am

Thank you for sharing the importance of Agent Adherence. Productivity metrics is critical for the agents to understand and the way this is being measured is key! Meeting this objective would be 85-90% range - each agent available to handle contacts 51-54 mins for each hour they are scheduled to work seems realistic. By explaining the metrics clearly so that each agent understands how their performance is being evaluated is essential. However, by showing them in a fun way as demonstrated by the lego example was a good approach. They are human and being able to explain the expections of their roles in a clear, direct but enjoyable way, is a great to communicate this message to them.

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9/8/2010 03:26:16 am

Thanks for your comments, Cheryl. Glad to hear that you are against the use of whips and cattle prods to keep agents in place.

Best of luck,

Greg

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John R Dayton
7/8/2012 11:31:30 pm

I really enjoyed the article--thanks! I couldn't agree more that irreverence is bliss. On to my question: I am a WFM analyst and we are implementing adherence in the call centers and I am arguing that if someone has an unplanned absence that should count against them because they don't have their butt in their seat and therefore they are non-adherent. I am getting push-back from some of the managers who feel that is "unfair." What is the best practice (or at least your advice, or the advice of the other readers) on how to handle that question: if an employees absence is unplanned/unexcused what should be done about their adherence for that day? Does it count or doesn't it count? Thanks in advance!

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7/9/2012 12:12:51 am

That's a very good question John -- and one I've heard before. What I've seen in most contact centers (and what I've heard experts prescribe) is that absenteeism and adherence problems are handled as separate but related issues. Being out of adherence typically refers to when agents are late to work, late back from breaks/lunch, etc -- not when they are absent. Absenteeism is factored into "shrinkage", not adherence. Now, that said, it's unfair to call you unfair for thinking that unplanned absences should count against an agent. Certainly contact centers need to carefully track absenteeism, particularly the unplanned variety. There should be in place formal attendance guidelines that are clearly communicated to agents. This doesn't mean that an agent be disciplined after their first or second unplanned absence, but if a trend develops, disciplinary action is certainly in order.

The best centers I've seen demonstrate the impact that absenteeism has on service levels, customer satisfaction and agent burnout (since the present agents have to pick up the slack). That way, agents see not only how absenteeism affects the business, but their peers -- and themselves -- as well.

Hope this helps!

Best,

Greg

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7/9/2012 12:16:09 am

FYI, John. I found the following response to a similar question posed on ICMI's website a few years back:

"I don't measure unplanned absences against the agent adherence because unplanned absences are part of shrinkage. However, I measure unplanned absences against corporate adherence because this will help me explain why we fail to meet service level from a planning perspective." -- Bernard Tsang, Medicare Australia

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John R Dayton
7/9/2012 12:25:21 am

Thanks for the quick replies Greg. It sounds like there is more than one school of thought on this subject. Part of the reason that I feel that unplanned absences should count against an Agent is that I want to reward those Agents who don't have unplanned absences. Obviously if someone is calling off because of bereavement or jury duty (or FMLA/LOA or other "excused" unplanned absence) that shouldn't count against them; however, if they are just calling off that does impact my ability to adequately staff to answer the phones which makes it an adherence issue (in my view). I do see the other side of the argument about fairness and not double-dinging someone--I am just trying to find the right balance to reward good attendance/adherence and discourage bad attendance/adherence.

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7/9/2012 12:35:04 am

And I think it's great you want to reward agents who have stellar attendance and adherence records. I guess the question you and your center have to answer is what qualifies agents for such rewards/recognition. You probably don't want to make it too easy to achieve, but you certainly don't want to make it nearly impossible, as such strict/infeasible objectives could lead to disengagement among staff.

Maybe involve agents themselves in the discussion - that could be empowering for them and provide you with some valuable feedback.

Gook luck!

Greg

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3/28/2013 01:59:45 am

One important aspect that is overlooked is coaching frequency, as well. If Supervisors are going to hammer their Agents on a daily basis over the minutiae of details surrounding adherence, disillusionment will prevail and poor call-handling techniques will proliferate--the last thing anybody wants is to be hassled, so they'll avoid that conversation at all costs.

I wrote about what I think is sound implementation here: http://wfmprophecies.blogspot.ca/2011/09/schedule-adherence-conformance-part-iii.html but I am hardly as eloquent as you, Greg. This is a great article, and I am excited to share this with the Operations teams we work with.

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3/28/2013 02:46:53 am

Thanks for sharing your insights, George. If only all CC pros "got" how to handle adherence the way you get it, there would be a lot more happy agents -- and customers.

Best,

Greg

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