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Demystifying Call Center Forecasting: A Step-by-Step Guide 

by | Jul 4, 2023 | Business Process Management

 

 

For a call center, it is imperative to have a future-ready strategy to manage operations and deliver impeccable customer service. Call center forecasting takes the center-stage in planning and executing operations.

Call center forecasting is the process of predicting future call volume and staffing requirements to ensure efficient operations and exceptional customer service. It involves analyzing historical data, identifying patterns, and utilizing various techniques to estimate the future demand for call center services. By accurately forecasting call volumes, call centers can optimize their resource allocation, reduce wait times, improve agent productivity, and enhance overall customer satisfaction.

Importance of Accurate Call Center Forecasting

Accurate call center forecasting maintains a smooth workflow and meets customer expectations. When call volume is underestimated, it can result in understaffing, longer wait times, frustrated customers, and overwhelmed agents. On the other hand, overestimating call volume leads to overstaffing, increased costs, and underutilized resources. By achieving precise call center forecasting and scheduling, organizations can strike the right balance, ensuring optimal resource allocation, cost efficiency, and customer service levels.

Purpose of the Guide and What Readers Can Expect

The purpose of this guide is to demystify the process of call center forecasting and provide a step-by-step approach to help call center managers, analysts, and decision-makers navigate through the complexities. Whether you are new to contact center forecasting and scheduling or seeking to improve your existing practices, this guide will equip you with the knowledge and tools necessary to create accurate forecasts.

Throughout this guide, we will explore the various steps involved in call center forecasting, including data collection and analysis, forecasting methods and models, forecasting accuracy metrics, creating a forecasting model, implementing the forecast, and continuous improvement and adaptation. Each step will be explained in detail, offering practical insights, best practices, and tips to enhance your forecasting capabilities.

By the end of this guide, readers can expect to have a comprehensive understanding of call center forecasting and the ability to implement an effective forecasting strategy that aligns with their organization’s goals, improves operational efficiency, and enhances the customer experience.

So, let’s embark on this journey to demystify call center forecasting and unlock the power of accurate predictions for your call center operations.

Key Objectives and Benefits of Forecasting

Benefits of Call Center Forecasting

  • Optimal Resource Allocation: By accurately forecasting call volumes, call centers can allocate the right number of agents at any given time, ensuring that they have adequate staff to handle incoming customer interactions. This results in optimized resource utilization, improved agent productivity, and reduced wait times for customers.
  • Cost Efficiency: Effective call center forecasting helps minimize costs by aligning staffing levels with predicted call volumes. By avoiding overstaffing or understaffing situations, call centers can reduce labor costs, optimize operational expenses, and achieve cost-efficiency without compromising customer service quality.
  • Enhanced Customer Satisfaction: Accurate forecasting allows call centers to maintain acceptable service levels and response times. Customers experience shorter wait times, prompt assistance, and an overall improved customer experience. Meeting customer expectations leads to higher satisfaction levels, increased loyalty, and positive brand perception.
  • Efficient Workforce Management: Forecasting enables call center managers to proactively manage their workforce, ensuring that the right number of agents with the necessary skills are available during peak periods. It helps in workload distribution, shift planning, and scheduling breaks, resulting in a well-balanced and efficient workforce.
  • Improved Service Level Agreements (SLAs): Call center forecasting and scheduling contributes to meeting SLAs, contractual commitments, and performance targets. By accurately estimating call volumes, call centers can set appropriate service level goals, establish realistic response time targets, and consistently meet or exceed customer expectations.

Common Challenges in Call Center Forecasting

Challenges in Call Center Forecasting

  • Data Quality and Availability: Call center forecasting relies on historical data, and poor data quality or incomplete data can lead to inaccurate forecasts. Challenges can arise from data inconsistencies, system limitations, or inadequate data capture processes.
  • Seasonality and Variability: Call volumes can vary significantly due to seasonality, holidays, marketing campaigns, or external events. Forecasting accurately in the presence of these variations can be challenging. Incorporating seasonal adjustments, understanding trends, and considering external factors are essential for precise forecasting.
  • Forecasting Horizon: The accuracy of forecasts diminishes as the time horizon extends. Short-term forecasts tend to be more accurate compared to long-term forecasts. Balancing the need for accurate short-term forecasts while still providing reasonable long-term estimates can be a challenge for call centers.
  • Unexpected Events and Dynamic Environments: Call center operations can be influenced by unforeseen events such as natural disasters, system outages, or global crises. These events can disrupt call patterns and render existing forecasting models less effective. Adapting to dynamic environments and incorporating real-time adjustments is crucial in such situations.
  • Forecasting Method Selection: Choosing the most appropriate forecasting method can be daunting. There are various techniques available, such as time series analysis, regression, and machine learning. Understanding the strengths and limitations of each method and selecting the right one for your specific context is essential for accurate forecasts.

By recognizing these challenges and implementing strategies to address them, call centers can enhance their forecasting capabilities and overcome potential obstacles in accurately predicting call volumes and meeting customer needs.

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Step-by-Step Guide To Call Center Forecasting

Step 1: Data Collection and Analysis

Identifying Relevant Data Sources

The first step in call center forecasting and scheduling is identifying the relevant data sources that will provide the necessary information for accurate predictions. These sources typically include historical call data, customer interaction records, and any other relevant data points that can shed light on call patterns and trends. It is important to consider both internal data sources, such as call center software or customer relationship management (CRM) systems, as well as external data sources, such as marketing campaigns or seasonal trends.

To identify relevant data sources, collaborate with IT teams, call center managers, and data analysts to determine which systems capture the required data. This may include call logs, customer records, agent performance metrics, and other relevant sources of information.

Collecting Historical Call Data

Once the relevant data sources are identified, the next step is to collect historical call data. This data forms the foundation for call center forecasting models and enables the identification of patterns and trends that can inform future predictions.

Retrieve historical call data from your designated data sources, ensuring that you have a significant amount of data to work with. The time span for historical data collection may vary depending on the nature of your call center operations, but it is generally recommended to collect at least several months’ worth of data to capture seasonal variations and long-term trends.

Analyzing Call Volume Patterns and Trends

With the historical call data in hand, it’s time to analyze the data to identify patterns and trends in call volume. This analysis allows you to understand the underlying dynamics of call center operations and predict future demand more accurately.

Use statistical methods and visualization techniques to explore the data and identify patterns. Look for recurring patterns on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. Pay attention to peak periods, lulls, and any irregularities or anomalies. By analyzing historical call volume patterns, you can uncover insights into customer behavior, seasonal fluctuations, and other factors that impact call center demand.

Examining External Factors that Influence Call Volume

In addition to analyzing internal call center data, it is important to consider external factors that may influence call volume. External factors can include marketing campaigns, product launches, holidays, weather events, or other events that may impact customer behavior and interaction patterns.

Gather information on these external factors and assess their potential impact on call volume. This can be done through historical records, industry reports, market analysis, or by consulting with relevant stakeholders in your organization. By considering these external factors, you can refine your call center forecasting to account for anticipated changes in call volume due to specific events or circumstances.

Step 2: Forecasting Methods and Models

Overview of Different Forecasting Methods

When it comes to call center forecasting, there are various methods and models available to predict future call volumes. Each method has its own strengths, limitations, and suitability based on the specific characteristics of your call center operations. Understanding the different forecasting methods allows you to select the most appropriate approach for your needs.

Time Series Forecasting Techniques

Time series forecasting is one of the most used methods in call center forecasting. It relies on historical data to identify patterns, trends, and seasonality in call volumes over time. Time series techniques include moving averages, exponential smoothing, and autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) models. These methods are particularly effective for short-term forecasting, where the focus is on capturing recurring patterns and trends.

Regression Analysis and Predictive Modeling

Regression analysis and predictive modeling involve identifying relationships between call volumes and various factors that influence them. This method is suitable when there are clear explanatory variables that can be used to predict call volumes. For example, you might use regression analysis to determine how marketing campaigns, promotions, or customer demographics impact call volumes. By considering these variables, you can build predictive models that forecast call volumes based on their influence.

Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in Forecasting

Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) have revolutionized the field of call center forecasting. These techniques leverage advanced algorithms and data-driven approaches to generate accurate predictions. ML and AI models can analyze large volumes of data, identify complex patterns, and adapt to changing dynamics. They can incorporate a wide range of variables and factors to generate more precise forecasts. Techniques such as neural networks, random forests, support vector machines, and deep learning are commonly used in ML and artificial intelligence contact center forecasting.

It’s important to note that the choice of artificial intelligence contact center forecasting method should be based on the specific characteristics of your call center, available data, and objectives. Consider the complexity of your call center operations, the availability of historical data, the presence of external factors, and the level of accuracy required when selecting the appropriate forecasting method or combination of methods.

Step 3: Forecasting Accuracy Metrics

Accurate forecasting is essential for effective call center planning and resource allocation. To assess the accuracy of your forecasts, it is important to measure and evaluate forecasting performance using appropriate metrics.

Here are some key metrics to consider when assessing forecasting accuracy:

Key Metrics to Measure Forecasting Accuracy

  1. Mean Absolute Percentage Error (MAPE): MAPE measures the average percentage difference between the forecasted values and the actual values. It provides an overall measure of forecasting accuracy, regardless of the magnitude of the forecasted values. A lower MAPE indicates a more accurate forecast.
  2. Forecast Bias: Forecast bias measures the tendency of forecasts to consistently overestimate or underestimate the actual values. It is calculated as the average difference between the forecasted values and the actual values. A forecast with zero bias indicates a balanced forecast that neither consistently overestimates nor underestimates.
  3. Root Mean Square Error (RMSE): RMSE represents the square root of the average squared difference between the forecasted values and the actual values. It provides a measure of the overall magnitude of forecasting errors, with larger values indicating greater errors.

Mean Absolute Percentage Error (MAPE)

MAPE is a commonly used metric to evaluate forecasting accuracy in call centers. It calculates the average percentage difference between the forecasted call volumes and the actual call volumes. The formula for calculating MAPE is:

MAPE = (Σ|Actual – Forecast| / ΣActual) x 100

A lower MAPE value indicates a higher level of accuracy. However, it’s important to note that MAPE has limitations, particularly when dealing with small or zero values. It is advisable to interpret MAPE alongside other metrics for a comprehensive assessment of forecasting accuracy.

Forecast Bias

Forecast bias assesses the systematic tendency of forecasts to consistently overestimate or underestimate the actual values. A positive bias indicates that the forecasts tend to be higher than the actual values, while a negative bias suggests that the forecasts tend to be lower. Identifying and reducing forecast bias is crucial for improving the reliability of forecasts and aligning resource allocation accordingly.

Tracking and Evaluating Forecast Performance

To track and evaluate forecast performance, it is important to regularly compare the predicted values with the actual call volumes. Use historical data to assess how well your predictions have performed over time. Keep a record of the forecasted values, actual values, and the associated metrics (such as MAPE and forecast bias) for each forecast period.

By tracking forecast performance, you can identify patterns, trends, and areas for improvement. Analyze any discrepancies between the forecasts and actuals to understand the reasons behind the variances. This evaluation process allows you to fine-tune your forecasting models, adjust for changing dynamics, and enhance the accuracy of future forecasts.

Remember that call center forecasting accuracy is not a one-time assessment but an ongoing process. Continuously monitor, evaluate, and refine your forecasting models to ensure their effectiveness and relevance as call center dynamics evolve.

Step 4: Creating a Forecasting Model

Selecting the Appropriate Forecasting Model

The choice of model depends on the characteristics of your data, the patterns identified during analysis, and the forecasting objectives. Consider the complexity of your call center operations, the presence of seasonal variations, and the level of accuracy required.

Some commonly used call center forecasting models include time series models (e.g., ARIMA), regression models, and machine learning algorithms. Select a model that aligns with your data patterns and forecast horizon, as well as the resources and expertise available within your organization.

Developing a Forecasting Model Using Historical Data

To create a call center forecasting model, you will utilize the historical data collected earlier. Depending on the selected model, you may need to preprocess the data, such as transforming it into a time series format or aggregating it into appropriate intervals (e.g., hourly, daily, weekly).

Develop the forecasting model by training it on historical data. This involves feeding the model with the relevant variables and their corresponding call volumes. The model will learn from the patterns and relationships present in the data to generate forecasts.

Adjusting for Seasonal Variations and Trends

Call center operations often exhibit seasonal variations and trends that need to be accounted for in the forecasting model. Seasonality refers to recurring patterns that occur over a specific period, such as daily, weekly, or yearly cycles. Trends indicate the overall direction and magnitude of call volume changes over time.

Adjust the forecasting model to capture these seasonal variations and trends. Techniques such as seasonal decomposition of time series, moving averages, or trend analysis can help identify and incorporate these patterns into the model. By considering seasonality and trends, your forecasts will be more accurate and reflective of the underlying dynamics.

Validating and Fine-Tuning the Forecasting Model

After developing the initial forecasting model, it’s crucial to validate its performance and fine-tune it for optimal accuracy. Split the historical data into training and validation sets. Use the training set to train the model and then assess its performance on the validation set by comparing the forecasted values against the actual values.

Evaluate the model’s accuracy using appropriate metrics such as MAPE, forecast bias, or RMSE. If the model performs well, with satisfactory accuracy, it can be used for future forecasts. However, if the model’s performance is unsatisfactory, consider refining the model by adjusting parameters, exploring alternative techniques, or incorporating additional variables.

Step 5: Implementing the Forecast

Translating the Forecast into Workforce Requirements

With an accurate call center forecast in hand, the next step is to translate the forecasted call volumes into workforce requirements. Workforce requirements include the number of agents needed to handle the forecasted call volumes effectively. Consider the average handling time for each call, service level targets, and any other relevant performance metrics.

Calculate the required number of agents for each time interval based on the forecasted call volumes and the expected service level. Consider factors like agent availability, breaks, and other non-productive time to arrive at the optimal number of agents needed to meet customer demand.

Creating Staffing Schedules Based on the Forecast

Once the workforce requirements are determined, create staffing schedules that align with the forecasted call volumes. Develop daily, weekly, or monthly schedules that reflect the expected call patterns and agent availability. Be mindful of any contractual agreements, labor laws, and employee preferences when designing the schedules.

Modern workforce management software can assist in generating optimal staffing schedules automatically, considering factors like shift preferences, skills-based routing, and adherence to service level goals. Efficient call center forecasting and scheduling ensures that the right number of agents with the appropriate skills are available at the right time to provide quality service to customers.

Resource Allocation and Capacity Planning

Implementing the forecast also involves resource allocation and capacity planning beyond just agent staffing. Allocate resources such as phone lines, interactive voice response (IVR) ports, and chat support channels based on the forecasted call volumes. Ensure that the call center infrastructure can handle the expected customer demand without leading to bottlenecks or excessive waiting times.

Capacity planning involves forecasting and optimizing resources not only for expected call volumes but also for potential fluctuations or unexpected spikes. Having a contingency plan in place enables the call center to respond effectively to unforeseen circumstances, such as marketing promotions, product launches, or external events that can impact call volume.

Monitoring and Adjusting Staffing Levels in Real-Time

Forecasting is an iterative process, and call center operations can be dynamic. Continuously monitor actual call volumes in real-time and compare them with the forecasted values. If there are significant discrepancies, consider making real-time adjustments to staffing levels.

Implementing real-time adherence tools can help track agent performance against schedules and enable supervisors to take corrective actions promptly. For example, if call volumes are higher than expected, consider implementing overtime, shifting breaks, or reassigning tasks to maintain service levels.

Step 6: Continuous Improvement and Adaptation

Evaluating Forecast Accuracy and Performance

Continuous improvement is crucial for maintaining the accuracy and effectiveness of your call center forecasting. Regularly evaluate the forecast accuracy and performance by comparing the forecasted values with the actual call volumes. Assess the forecasting metrics such as MAPE, forecast bias, and RMSE to identify any discrepancies or areas for improvement.

Identifying Areas for Improvement

During the evaluation process, identify specific areas where the forecast accuracy can be enhanced. Look for patterns or recurring issues in forecasting errors. For example, you may notice that certain events or external factors consistently impact call volumes differently than expected. Use this information to identify potential gaps in your forecasting model or data collection process.

Updating and Refining the Forecasting Model

Based on the insights gained from the evaluation, update and refine your call center forecasting model accordingly. This may involve adjusting model parameters, incorporating additional variables or factors, or exploring alternative forecasting techniques. Continuously review and update the model to ensure it reflects the evolving dynamics of your call center operations.

Incorporating Feedback and Insights from Agents and Supervisors

Agents and supervisors are valuable sources of feedback and insights regarding call center operations. Regularly seek their input and incorporate their knowledge into the call center forecasting process. They can provide firsthand observations about factors that may impact call volumes, customer behavior, or operational efficiency. By involving them in the forecasting process, you can gain valuable insights and improve the accuracy of your forecasts.

Encourage open communication and feedback loops between agents, supervisors, and the forecasting team. Conduct regular meetings or feedback sessions to gather their observations and suggestions. This collaborative approach ensures that the forecasting process remains adaptive and aligned with the realities of the call center environment.

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Closing Thoughts

Call center forecasting and scheduling is not a one-time task but an ongoing process. It requires continuous monitoring, evaluation, and adaptation to ensure accurate and reliable forecasts. By regularly assessing the forecast accuracy, identifying areas for improvement, and updating the forecasting model, you can maintain the effectiveness of your forecasts and make informed decisions to optimize resource allocation and operational efficiency.

The critical process enables effective resource allocation and operational planning. By understanding the steps involved, continuously monitoring and adapting, and implementing best practices, you can optimize your call center’s performance, deliver exceptional customer experiences, and drive business success.

Frequently Asked Questions

How call centers forecast calls?

Call center forecasting predicts call volumes using latest workforce management software. It tracks historical data like the total number of received calls within a specific period. Using this data, the software predicts the future volume of calls.  

What makes artificial intelligence contact center forecasting more accurate?

Artificial intelligence contact center forecasting delivers more accurate results compared to traditional methods by enabling real-time demand sensing.

Why is the accuracy of call center forecasting and scheduling so important?

Call center forecasting and scheduling optimizes productivity while ensuring the company has the required number of call center agents to handle the volume of calls. 

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