Call Center Capacity Planning: 3 Ways Automation Can Help

Woman with headset in contact center

Call center capacity planning is as much an art as it is science.

Service level agreements (SLAs), waiting time standards, average handle times, call center shrinkage, and budget restrictions. Contact center managers must juggle several factors when capacity planning. Not to mention having to predict the future, in a way, while remaining prepared for any sudden spikes in contact volume.

Scheduling the right number of agents can be the difference between positive and frustrating support experiences. Also, over or under-staffing can impact agents’ morale if they feel overworked or don’t find their work challenging enough.

Thankfully, automation can play a large role in addressing these capacity planning concerns. In this post, we look at how automation can help support call centers and provide managers with more peace of mind when capacity planning.

Before we dive in…

What is capacity planning in call centers?

Call center capacity planning is about best aligning your call center resources (agents) to the level of work you anticipate coming in at a given time, all while best utilizing agents’ time and optimizing customer satisfaction.

How can you determine how many agents you may need active at any given time? Many turn to the Erlang C formula to answer this question (here’s an excellent example of the Erlang C formula in action). This capacity planning formula aims to calculate the number of agents you require at a given time to meet your desired service level. That is, to keep customer wait times within a specific limit.

While some argue that it’s better suited for larger-scale call centers, the Erlang C formula takes into account several factors that can impact critical capacity planning decisions for a given period, including:

  • Number of requests/contacts expected
  • Number of agents on staff
  • Average Handle Time (AHT) to complete a request from start to finish
  • Required service level (X% of people should be connected with an agent within y amount of time)
  • Target answer time (first-touch)
  • Occupancy (the percentage of time all agents spend handling customer requests)

3 questions to consider when call center capacity planning

1. How can our agents deliver top-notch support in a time crunch?

Customers expect more and more from their support experiences. Ninety percent of customers today feel it’s essential to get an immediate answer to their support questions. However, while speed is critical, it shouldn’t come at the expense of the quality of the support provided.

Delivering quick and effective support is challenging without the proper resources. That is, whether it’s having the right number of agents working to handle the volume of incoming requests, or having the tools to help them make their tasks easier.

2. How can we ensure positive morale and lower turnover among our agents?

Employee turnover rates are a harsh reality for call centers today. Estimates place these turnover rates at above 30% among US call centers.

Among the most common causes? Repetitive work (not being challenged enough) and stress in a high-pressure environment (being overworked). Considering that over 90% of consumers say an agent’s perceived happiness affects their customer experience, this can be a significant issue if not addressed.

Due to the nature of an agent’s responsibilities, there is no simple solution to combat these high turnover rates. However, finding ways to make agents’ work easier but more mentally stimulating (e.g., removing repetition as much as possible, providing training to expand their skillsets) could help combat turnover over the long run.

3. How can we prepare our call center for sudden spikes in requests?

A quickly developing crisis or trend can prove disastrous to an unprepared call center. Catching wind of these changes early is critical to adjust your capacity planning strategies rapidly. But especially to ensure the right number of resources are allocated to handle a spike in requests.

Ensuring agents have all the most up-to-date information as early as possible and that they are equipped to know how best to respond to these new types of requests is critical to avoid headaches for your customers and agents alike. It can also help limit any negative impact on customer retention and reputation management purposes.

3 ways automation is helping answer these capacity planning questions

1. Limit common, repetitive support requests from reaching agents

If there is a type of request or question that agents find themselves having to repeatedly answer, with little to no variation in their response, explore automation.

Consider chatbots, for example. Sixty-two percent of consumers say they like using chatbots to interact with businesses due to their convenience. Deploying an AI-driven chatbot on the company’s website, mobile app, or even on social media via a Facebook Messenger bot can be used to help customers self-serve. But more importantly for your agents, limit the number of common and repetitive requests from reaching their desk, so they can focus more of their available time on addressing more complex and unique issues, or even tackle more tickets in total.

To ensure a seamless experience for both customers and your agents, provide a way for customers to escalate to a live agent easily and ensure agents have the history of the customer’s discussion with the chatbot.

2. Speed up the handling of incoming requests

Email is the most used customer service channel. According to Forrester, 54% of consumers used this channel for support in 2018. A lot of heavy lifting goes into crafting an effective email response. With every inbound email, a call center agent must:

  • Process the request
  • Identify the issues and related products mentioned
  • (If needed) Assign the ticket to another agent
  • Research and draft a response
  • QA this response
  • Send the response

Thankfully, artificial intelligence (AI) can help do this heavy lifting automatically for agents, reduce their average handle times, and free up time to take on more requests.

For example, an AI-powered email virtual assistant can automatically process all incoming requests using Natural Language Processing. It can then generate an ideal response based on how other agents have successfully answered this type of request in the past, saving them time researching the issue and crafting a response. By doing the bulk of the work for them, all agents need to do is double-check the drafted response before sending, and move on to the next request.

Reducing the amount of time an agent spends triaging, processing, and responding to an email support request (say, lowering it from five minutes to only one minute) can significantly impact your call center capacity planning for the better. Simultaneously, it can help ensure your agents’ time is less spent on administrative tasks and more on optimizing the customers’ support experience.

3. Increase elasticity in the call center

A developing crisis. Product recalls. Major technical issues on your company’s website. Unforeseen events or surges in incoming requests can throw a wrench in your call center capacity planning. Case in point, according to Pindrop, contact center call volumes jumped 600% in some instances in late March/early April 2020 as COVID-19 cases were increasing.

A contact center’s ability to handle unpredictable volume spikes is essential to maintain customer satisfaction. Also, having the right tools in place to support agents with these spikes is necessary to continue meeting customers’ expectations when the unpredictable happens. Tools like chatbots and email virtual assistants that automate specific tasks can make it easier for call centers to adapt to these sudden spikes without outsourcing or hiring new agents.

For example, implementing a chatbot on your digital channels and using an email virtual assistant to handle common types of cases can help limit the impact on your core team of agents, should there be a sudden spike in these cases.

Having measures that ensure call centers can flex to meet large fluctuations in traffic is key to maintaining positive agent and customer interactions. Automated tools never run out of capacity as human agents do. However, these tools can empower call center agents and make their lives easier, and ensure both customer satisfaction and agent morale are maintained when unpredictability hits.

How Astute can help in your call center capacity planning

The use of automation in customer service will only continue to grow in the coming years. As we’ve seen, automating specific processes can help:

  • Add elasticity to your contact center.
  • Support agents to meet growing customer expectations and deliver the quick and efficient support they crave.
  • Call center capacity planning with more confidence and peace of mind knowing that this elasticity is in place.

When leveraged correctly, automation can elevate human customer service and help call centers meet internal goals. Astute offers AI-powered customer engagement solutions to empower brands and call centers to deliver quick, efficient, and exceptional customer experiences.

  • Astute’s award-winning AI-driven chatbot makes it easy for customers to engage with a brand and help answer their questions themselves.
  • Our Email Virtual Assistant (EVA) does the heavy lifting for agents, processing, and coding every incoming support request. EVA also drafts responses based on how agents successfully addressed requests previously and also pulling from internal knowledge bases.

See how Astute can help your call center with AI-driven tools. Request a personalized demo today.