Some notes on estimating call volumes
Thanks to David Hunter and Fitlog- Foundation for Information Technology in Local Government
One of the biggest challenges any organisation faces when it first establishes a call centre is to estimate call volumes. There is often a dearth of historic information on call patterns – and even where this exists it is not always a reliable indicator of future calls.
What makes up call traffic?
Call traffic does not comprise just the number of calls the call centre receives. Other factors which you may need to take into account when analysing your potential call traffic include:
– the average length of calls;
– the “dead” time required after a call, for instance to complete paperwork;
– the number of calls which currently get an engaged tone or which ring off. Telecommunications suppliers such as BT can now provide an analysis from the local exchange of this “latent” call volume.
Estimating call traffic is important because of the implications for:
– staffing levels : how many agents will work in the call centre at any one time? And what will their job descriptions look like. Too many staff and you are spending more money than you need to (and boredom is one of the dangers of call centre work). Too few staff and the speed of response will be poor. Particularly where a call centre has just been launched, this can have a very bad effect on customer perceptions of the new service and will lead customers to find other routes into the organisation;
– job descriptions and training : if call volumes prove very unpredicable, staff may need to have a job description that enables them to switch quickly between call handling and other duties such as handling administrative paperwork. There are implications here for training and staff management;
– accommodation and equipment : what level of accommodation and equipment needs to be provided to handle the predicted call volumes? How much investment needs to be made in desks, operator headsets, workstations etc?
– processes : it is potentially costly to employ staff on the basis of handling peak traffic if those peaks are infrequent. If staffing is set at a lower level, then there may need to be processes in place to handle any overflow (for instance, by directing these calls to another call centre);
– target setting : it will be difficult to set targets for number of calls to be handled without a solid analysis of likely call traffic.
Variations in traffic
Call traffic may vary by:
– day of the week;
– time of the day;
– time of the year.
Clearly sending out large mailshots (eg Council Tax reminders) is likely to generate calls.
The bigger commercial call centres have staff whose primary job is to analyse previous call patterns and predict staffing levels. In some cases this is done on the basis of 15 minute periods each day. Special software is also available to help with devising shifts and rotas for agents.
Growth in call volumes over time
It is difficult to track down figures for the growth in call volumes over time. Much depends on how heavily the call centre is marketed both externally and internally. One District Council known to FITLOG has seen the call volumes to its revenues/benefits call centre double over a period of 5 years, but contact through other means (eg personal visits) and the level of complaints has reduced.
The anecdotal evidence is that call volumes are likely to surge when a call centre is first opened as customers try to clear any outstanding queries or try out the new service (perhaps reporting problems they would not have bothered to report in the past). After the initial surge the traffic drops off. A key issue for councils, therefore, is how to plan their staffing for the initial period in a way which does not commit the authority to longer term staffing levels which are not required.
Finally, the volume of calls from within the authority should not be under-estimated. The call centre may quickly become seen as a way of transferring calls or of getting information. Some private sector companies have banned internal calls to their call centres because they found the traffic from internal sources was distracting agents from their main task of serving external customers.
Dossiers – Empresas