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Article 8 min read

Agent scheduling: Benefits + best practices

Effective agent scheduling can help optimize operations and improve the customer and employee experience. Learn the benefits and best practices in our guide.

By Hannah Wren, Staff writer

Last updated February 7, 2024

What is agent scheduling?

Agent scheduling is the strategic process of organizing work hours for customer service agents. This involves setting weekly schedules, navigating time off and PTO requests, and ensuring the right number of agents work at the right time for optimal organizational efficiency.

Agent scheduling isn’t as simple as inputting employee names on a spreadsheet. When creating schedules, workforce managers must plan for future call volume, assign agents to the right roles, and factor in breaks and time-off requests. And they must do all this while meeting customer demand and keeping labor costs low.

This guide details agent scheduling, including best practices, benefits, and key components. Read on to add this skill to your workforce management (WFM) arsenal.

More in this guide:

Benefits of effective agent scheduling

Four icons show the benefits of agent scheduling.

Businesses that schedule agents effectively are more efficient than those that don’t. Here are the top benefits of effective agent scheduling.

Enhanced employee experience

Employee experience (EX) is how companies treat their employees and how those individuals feel about their job, work environment, and employer. Improving EX is an important step in developing a productive and engaged workforce, and one way to do that is with proper agent scheduling.

Businesses can use effective scheduling processes to provide agents with a predictable outlook of their schedule that’s mindful of hours, days off, and general work-life balance. Furthermore, thoughtful scheduling considers individual preferences and skills, ensuring that employees align with the hours and roles that make the most sense for them.

Improved customer experience

Customer experience (CX) refers to every interaction a consumer has with a business—whether that’s making a call to customer service or observing an ad on social media. CX is crucial because every exchange between an organization and a consumer has the power to build or damage the relationship, and a major touchpoint in the business-consumer relationship is customer support.

Consumers expect timely and efficient customer service. Businesses can achieve this by staffing the right number of agents at the right place and time. A carefully constructed schedule ensures that a knowledgeable agent is always available to greet customers and answer technical questions.

Increased operational efficiency

While certain hours and days of the week are busier than others for contact centers, companies can optimize schedules to anticipate support needs and increase operational efficiency.

Effective scheduling can limit periods of overstaffing or understaffing by accurately predicting demand. This can result in:

  • Saved labor costs

  • Improved resource utilization

  • Reduced idle time for both agents and consumers

Better long-term scalability

While effective scheduling is useful for short-term fluctuations in customer activity, it can also give businesses greater scalability for long-term planning. Scaling customer support is how organizations adapt their customer service operations to meet customer needs, and knowing how to schedule properly is integral to accommodating rising demand.

Successful businesses grow, and agent scheduling can be the foundation that supports your company through these demand increases. And doing it well can prepare your team for the months—and years—ahead.

Key components of agent scheduling

Agent scheduling can be a complicated process that balances multiple moving parts. These are the key components to be aware of.

Three icons detail the key components of agent scheduling.

Staff forecasting

Businesses need the right number of employees working at the right time. Too many agents on shift can result in an unnecessary hit to your labor budget, while too few can cause a dip in the customer experience.

Managers can use staff forecasting to analyze historical data and seasonal trends to make educated predictions on future demand for more effective schedules. Organizations can also develop workforce planning templates to aid in their forecasting efforts.

Shift planning

When analyzing and planning future schedules, staff forecasting is only half the battle. Workforce managers must also utilize shift planning to configure schedules around employee preferences and skill levels.

It wouldn’t make sense for a new support agent to be scheduled in a lead role, just as assigning an experienced agent to a novice role would be ineffective. Managers need to factor this in when planning, as well as managing employee breaks, lunches, and time-off requests. Proper shift planning accounts for these situations and more.

Real-time team monitoring

Managers know that workdays can be hectic. You can have the most comprehensive schedule that accounts for every minute detail, but something completely unexpected can shift the course of the workday. Because of this, workforce managers need to be adaptable and change course when necessary.

Real-time team monitoring allows managers to track agent activities to get a sense of performance metrics, utilization rate, and potential issues like unplanned increases in call volume. This enables organizations to make swift adjustments when days don’t go as planned.

Ditch spreadsheets for good

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7 agent scheduling best practices

A bulleted list details the best practices of agent scheduling.

While we’ve covered the primary pieces of agent scheduling, blending everything together to create a functional work schedule is easier said than done. Below, we detail seven best practices you should follow when executing your schedule.

1. Utilize workforce management software

Far too many businesses engage in workforce management techniques of days gone by—manually entering figures in a spreadsheet and creating schedules by hand. While this used to be the only way of doing things, today’s organizations can implement workforce management software to streamline their operations.

WFM software uses AI and automation to simplify every aspect of agent scheduling. This technology can automatically create staffing forecasts, independently build optimized employee schedules, and simplify real-time team management. Organizations that utilize WFM software can also create more accurate schedules in less time.

2. Talk to agents to determine preferences

Managers can create schedules that resonate with employees by having an open dialogue about their preferences. Discussing preferred working hours, aspirations, constraints, and more can improve agent productivity and ensure workers are scheduled in the best shifts and roles for them to succeed. Employees perform effectively when working in the hours and roles that suit them best.

3. Understand customer demand

We’ve touched on anticipating customer demand, but organizations must have a solid understanding of what that means for their business. Look at historical data, seasonal trends, and any other relevant metrics to understand how your customers behave. Businesses need a solid grasp of demand levels to have adequate staffing and provide a positive CX.

4. Leave room for flexibility

There can always be situations or events that throw the workday into a state of pandemonium. Luckily, you can structure your schedule to accommodate a little bit of uncertainty and flexibility.

For example, employees may call out sick or customer demand may unexpectedly rise. Having room to adapt to the situation at hand might entail having a pool of on-call employees or developing contingency plans. Also, you should account for employee time-off requests. Your schedule shouldn’t be so tight that you need all hands on deck at all hours of the day.

5. Monitor key performance indicators

It’s not enough to create optimized schedules—you need to ensure they’re working as intended. Take a look at customer service key performance indicators (KPIs) like first reply time, resolution time, occupancy, and more to monitor agent performance.

Regularly tracking KPIs gives organizations insight into how their scheduling is working. For example, if your agent’s first reply time figures are slipping, you may want to look at how much and how often reps are working, as burnout could be a source of subpar performance.

6. Evenly disperse tenured agents and new hires

Where you schedule your agents is just as important as how you schedule them. When you’re creating your schedule, make sure you’re evenly dispersing tenured agents and new hires. That way, there are no knowledge gaps, and someone is always on hand to address different customer needs. This results in smoother workflows, promotes mentorship and collaborative opportunities, and facilitates skill and expertise sharing.

7. Regularly review and adjust

As a final step in the scheduling process, you should regularly review and adjust your methods. Consistently monitor your KPIs and customer feedback and compare this information to industry trends. Constantly examining and refining your strategy ensures that your scheduling is effective and your KPIs align with previously defined goals.

Frequently asked questions

Optimize agent scheduling with Zendesk and Tymeshift

Workforce managers need to blend demand forecasting, staff forecasting, real-time team management, and more to create effective agent schedules. Without the right partner, however, this can be a monumental task.

Zendesk is proud to announce our acquisition of Tymeshift—a workforce management solution that can bring AI, automation, and increased efficiency to your agent scheduling and monitoring.

Start a free trial of Tymeshift today and enhance your agent scheduling.

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