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Call center scheduling is a workforce management capability that forecasts future call center volume, agent availability, and staffing requirements to create more efficient agent schedules that only improve with time.

Efficient agent scheduling is one of the most important aspects of call center workforce optimization, helping to reduce agent attrition, increase productivity, and improve the overall customer service+support experience.

Workforce management software with call center scheduling capabilities automates much of the process, performing adherence monitoring and enabling intraday management in the process.

In this post, we’ll provide a call center scheduling definition, outline WFM platforms with scheduling tools, and cover best practices for successful long and short-term staffing strategies.


What Is Call Center Scheduling?

Call center scheduling is a Workforce Management (WFM) feature using historical data, predictive analytics, and forecasting to optimize agent schedules, staffing levels, and prepare for call volume fluctuations.

Scheduling solutions help call centers meet customer demands, make business processes more efficient, and balance agent workloads.

In addition to creating and implementing agent schedules, these tools conduct adherence monitoring, apply a variety of forecasting methods, and use machine learning to improve suggested schedules and resource allocation over time.


How Does Call Center Scheduling Work? 

Call center scheduling works by using historical analytics and forecasting models to create optimized agent schedules, run adherence monitoring, and enable automated/manual intraday management.

Quality workforce management and call center software completely automates this process, saving countless hours of time and eliminating constant last-minute schedule changes.

Below, we’ve outlined the step-by-step call center scheduling process:


Step One: Call Center Data Collection+Analysis

The first step of the call center scheduling process is the collection and analysis of historical call center data.

The scheduling system uses AI and automation to identify trends in call center operations, service levels, agent performance, and customer behavior. In addition to reviewing standard call center KPIs, high-quality scheduling tools also use machine learning and Natural Language processing to analyze call recordings, transcriptions, and customer survey responses. Data from speech analytics can help businesses increase customer satisfaction by 10% and see a 20-30% cost savings.

Metrics and KPIs examined include:

  • Average call volume (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, custom time periods)
  • Average handle time (AHT), average speed of answer, average talk time
  • Average call hold time and call queue metrics
  • Call Abandonment Rate
  • First call resolution rate (FCR)
  • Percent of calls missed, transferred, sent to voicemail
  • Agent scoresheets/evaluations
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), Customer Effort Score (CE), etc.
  • Agent presence (status updates)
  • IVR analytics
  • Data from integrated third-party software (CRM systems, marketing apps, helpdesk tools, etc.)
  • Cost per call


Step Two: Trend and Workforce Forecasting

Next, the scheduling system automatically applies a variety of forecasting methods to the collected call center data.

Forecasting is a WFM feature that uses historical data and algorithms to predict future call volume and staffing needs. Different algorithms and forecasting methods create optimal agent schedules under a variety of scenarios, objectives, and influencing factors. Forecasting insights help lower operational costs, optimize available agents, balance workloads, and avoid over/under-scheduling agents.

Top forecasting methods include: 

  • Time Series Model: The most common method, time series forecasting uses autoregressive and ARIMA models to predict future staffing needs/call center activity based on past data. Best for short-term analytics or newer call centers without much historical data to draw from
  • Predictive Analytics: AI-powered forecasting method using machine learning, historical analytics, and data mining to identify past and predict future call center trends in capacity planning, staffing, call volumes, and buying behavior. Best for enterprise-level contact centers focused on risk management and asset allocation
  • Erlang C: Uses AHT, call volume, and agent activity data to predict the probability of callers having to wait for an available agent to assist them. Best for predicting future delays/optimizing staff during peak call times or busy seasons
  • Demand Planning: Ideal for retailers, demand planning forecasting studies customer buying patterns and factors influencing those patterns (holidays, sales, and seasons) to predict ideal future inventory levels
  • Multi-Skill Forecasting: Creates suggested schedules that ensure every shift includes agents with all the necessary skill sets and training to assist customers with all possible customer service and support issues. Best for call centers that want to increase productivity levels by optimizing available agents instead of hiring new ones
  • Omnichannel Forecasting (Multichannel Forecasting): Examines past contact volume analytics and agent/customer behavior across voice and digital communication channels to ensure each channel has the necessary staffing/skills requirements in the future. Best for omnichannel contact centers that connect with customers across 2-3 channels during a single support case


Step Three: Test Suggested Schedules

Once one or more of the above forecasting methods is applied, the scheduling system will evaluate agent skills, preferences, time zones, working hours, and the number of available agents to further optimize suggested schedules.

Before implementing the schedules via shift creation, test their accuracy by running forecasting predictions against actual call center activity. Evaluate MAPE percentage (the difference between forecasted and actual activity), forecast bias, and agent turnover rates. Conduct staff calculations to ensure forecasting predictions are customized to your call center’s unique operating hours, size, number of clients, and agent skills.


Step 4: Shift Creation+Agent Scheduling

With testing complete, set/automate custom workforce requirements, create agent shifts, and assign team schedules based on daily/weekly/monthly forecasting predictions.

Most WFM platforms include a desktop and mobile scheduling app where agents can review assigned shifts and request PTO or schedule changes. Additional capabilities like shift swapping and shift bidding give agents more control over their own schedules and boost employee engagement.

Conduct capacity planning to allow for breaks, days off, lunch hours, meetings, and unexpected fluctuations in call volume/agent schedules. Always ensure other business processes won’t be impacted by the day’s expected volume of calls.


Step 5: Adherence Monitoring+Intraday Management

Schedule adherence monitoring lets managers ensure agents are keeping to their assigned schedules, track attendance and agent status, and review real-time activity reports.

Multi-channel and multi-skill adherence monitoring is available. Admins can enable real-time SLA alerts and push notifications on desktop and mobile devices to manually adjust call volumes in real-time, or enable automated intraday management.


Step 6: Continued Analytics+Agent Feedback

The call center schedule optimization process does not end once the new schedule is live. Continue to monitor real-time and historical activity and changes to call volumes.

Although most CCaaS+WFM solutions use machine learning to automatically improve schedules based on past KPIs, asking agents and customers for feedback is essential. Monitor quality management and agent performance levels to evaluate the effectiveness of current schedules.


Why is Call Center Scheduling Important?

Call center scheduling is an essential part of effective workforce management, increasing agent engagement and job satisfaction and decreasing customer hold times and follow-ups.

Top call center scheduling benefits include:


Cost Savings

In addition to having an ROI of $12.24 for every $1.00 spent, WFM and call center scheduling tools dramatically lower operating and labor costs. With effective scheduling, business owners avoid hiring new agents or paying overtime to meet increased customer demand. Instead, managers can optimize existing agents by identifying schedule gaps, overlaps, and assigning multiple skills per agent.

These cost savings are compounded by more efficient call routing strategies, lower call handling times, and increased first call resolution rates–all of which decrease the average cost per call and improve customer retention rates.


Adapt To Call Volume Fluctuations

Scheduling solutions provide a variety of preset schedule suggestions, each one tied to a variety of “what-if” scenarios. Call center agents can seamlessly adjust their own schedules (or have management adjust them) in real-time, or rely on automation to instantly optimize agent schedules during peak times/seasons.

This helps keep call queues short, call wait times brief, and prevents call center staff shrinkage.


Decreased Agent Turnover

With an average agent attrition rate of 30-40%, agent turnover is a huge issue in the call center industry. Call center employees cite burnout, a lack of performance feedback, angry customers, and limited career growth opportunities as the top reasons for leaving their jobs.

WFM and forecasting tools give call center reps agency over their own work schedules, with  shift bidding, shift swapping, and in-app time-off requests with automated approval. Agents can also fill out timesheets and clock in or out of work. This flexibility increases agent satisfaction, ensures a more balanced workload, and clarifies expectations. Additional scheduling and WFM features like real-time agent coaching, performance evaluations, and gamification increase agent engagement–a key factor in lowering agent turnover rates.


Increased Customer Satisfaction

Improving call center agent schedules has as much of a positive impact on customers as it does on employees.

Effective scheduling means more personalized support, helps customers avoid having to repeat themselves to multiple agents, and ensures callers are connected to agents with the right training to provide the best assistance possible. Most importantly, the right scheduling tools lead to shorter hold times and fewer customer callbacks–two improvements that boost customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.


Insights Into Agent Activity

Optimal call center agent schedules don’t just increase productivity levels–they also offer actionable insights into agent activity and performance.

Single or multi-channel adherence monitoring, real-time SLA performance alerts, and calendar analytics help managers identify top agents and review the effectiveness of current schedules. These analytics also provide valuable data about gaps in agent training, support resolution times, current workflows, and PTO management.


Best Practices for Improving Contact Center Scheduling

Best practices for optimal contact center scheduling include:

  • Consistently Monitor KPIs: Once optimal schedules are live, continue monitoring KPIs to identify trends in agent/customer behavior and shift schedules accordingly. Use multiple forecasting models and change up KPIs for a truly 360-degree view of call center performance.
  • Create Agent Skills: Call center managers can create and assign agent skills (filters) to indicate each agent’s department, completed training, language, and/or time zone. When creating schedules, always ensure every shift has an agent representing each skill.
  • Cross-Train Agents: Cross-train agents and create flexible scheduling by training them in multiple call center skill sets/job requirements. This allows them to be assigned to a variety of call queues, ring groups, and schedules.
  • Consider Agent Performance: Take agent evaluation/performance scores into consideration when creating schedules. Ensure shifts aren’t exclusively filled with poor-performing agents or top performers–aim for a mix of different performance scores per shift.
  • Explore Self-Service Options: Offer customers on-demand 24/7 customer service via Interactive Voice Response (IVR), auto attendant, and Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs). This helps keep call queues manageable, shorterns call hold times, and improves employee satisfaction and customer experience.
  • Enable Omnichannel Communication: Omnichannel communication streamlines voice and digital channels into a single interface, where a shared inbox gives all agents access to CRM data and interaction history. Offering digital customer service via live website chat, chatbots, or social media messaging reduces inbound call volume during peak call times and automates basic support interactions to free up more agents.
  • Invest in WFM Software: Available as a standalone application or cloud-based CCaaS feature suite, Workforce Management software includes scheduling/forecasting tools along with advanced performance and quality management capabilities. It automates routine business processes and has features like agent performance gamification/wallboards, scheduling templates,live agent coaching, customer survey tools, and AI speech/text analytics.


Challenges of Call Center Scheduling

While workforce management tools automate and simplify most of the scheduling process, there are still a few challenges admins need to manage. Taking a proactive approach to common issues like employee absenteeism,  unexpected changes in call volume, and the complexity of multiple communication channels helps maintain agent morale and operational efficiency.

The top scheduling challenges in call centers are:


Employee Absenteeism

Employee Absenteeism, the practice of consistently missing scheduled shifts or complete workdays with no notice and explanation, is a huge problem when setting up call center schedules.

To counter this:

  • Outline clear company expectations and policies regarding attendance in onboarding documents
  • Use the real-time adherence monitoring feature to quickly identify no-shows
  • Enable employee-managed shift bidding and ship swapping to decrease absenteeism
  • Use forecasting methods and AI analytics to track common times for absenteeism and its root causes


Sudden Schedule Changes

Even if call center agents accept assigned shifts, last-minute schedule changes and agent emergencies can cause an unexpected staff shortage.

To counter this:

  • Review forecasting analytics to identify peak call volume times and trends, and schedule extra agents (or have additional agents on call) for those shifts
  • Use AI Agent Assist, canned responses, and knowledge base integration to allow agents from different departments to seamlessly jump in with the key information they need
  • Enable real-time automated schedule adjustments
  • Integrate third-party CRM tools to give all agents access to complete customer interaction history


Holidays and Vacations

Holidays and vacations may be an employee’s favorite thing, but a high number of missing agents is a nightmare for scheduling teams.

To counter this:

  • Enable customer self-service options like IVR, auto attendants, chatbots, and Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA) to limit live agent interactions
  • Record a new IVR menu greeting letting customers know to expect longer wait times during the holiday season, and enable customer callback to prevent long hold times
  • Use rules-based scheduling to ensure agent preferences/PTO are taken into consideration during the initial scheduling process
  • Hire a geographically diverse workplace with different national holidays and cultural beliefs to stagger the impact of holiday time off


Surges in Call Volume

The launch of a new product, a major marketing mishap, or consistent problems with products or services can all lead to unexpected surges in call volume outside of expected peak times.

Especially if customers are calling in to complain, long hold times and call queues can make the problem even worse.

To counter this:

  • Proactively cross-train agents to assist busy departments
  • Consider outsourcing call center work or temporarily hiring additional agents
  • Prioritize callbacks using voicemail transcription, CRM data, and AI speech analytics
  • Implement customer self-service options


Difficulty Balancing Multiple Channels

Omnichannel contact centers may not always have enough available agents to fully staff multiple channels–especially during busy seasons.

To counter this:

  • Enable multichannel forecasting and multiskill forecasting to allow agents to swap between channels
  • Consult historical data for insights into customer channel usage, and eliminate unpopular channels
  • Use digital chatbots to automate website support chat


Call Center Scheduling Software and Tools

The best contact center workforce management software and call scheduling tools are:

Provider Pricing Key Scheduling Features Best For 
Five9 5 plans from $149-$229/month Automatic reforecasting with 6 forecasting methods, cost of schedule breakdowns, rules-based scheduling with agent preferences Enterprise-level call centers with a high daily call volume and global remote agents that need to lower operating costs via optimized scheduling
Verint Quote-based Verint mobile app automated scheduling with staggered start times, hoteling Medium-large contact centers with remote/in-house agents looking for a multichannel scheduling app with hiring/onboarding features and agent performance scorecards
WhenToWork 4 plans from $37 for one month to $250 for one year Employee schedule and shift preferences, AutoFill algorithm to optimize schedules, employee schedule tracking Small call centers without a low-medium daily call volume prioritizing a scheduling app that’s easy to use and considers employee preferences
Genesys 5 plans from $75-$155/month Genesys Tempo mobile scheduling tool, automated shift allocation, and schedule management with labor/regulatory rules Call centers with high-level regulatory standards looking for long-term schedule planning with built-in compliance
RingCentral Contact Center Quote-based Customer journey and AI interaction analytics, scheduled employee training Call centers of any size focused on boosting employee engagement and reducing agent turnover via schedule optimization and performance gamification


Things to Consider When Choosing a Tool for Call Center Scheduling

When choosing contact center software with WFM and scheduling features, consider:

  • Additional WFM/Scheduling Features: Task time tracking, custom rules-based scheduling, schedules with built-in compliance or agent training, PTO management, hiring+onboarding, agent performance analytics/scorecards, management tools
  • User Reviews: Look for common software pros/cons, pricing discrepancies, responses to feedback from the software provider, etc.
  • Third-Party Integrations: Integrates with existing CRM systems, helpdesk software, marketing and team collaboration apps, etc.
  • Pricing: Scalable pricing tiers with feature add-ons, volume or exclusive-use discounts, user-based pricing or pay-as-you-go pricing options, etc.
  • Mobile Access: Full-featured Android/iOS mobile application including custom real-time push notifications, shift bidding, schedule alerts, PTO management, etc.
  • Ease of Use: Intuitive interface with custom dashboards based on user role, drag-and-drop reporting with automated analytics, color-coded scheduling
  • Customer Service+Support: 24/7 customer support across multiple channels with paid support upgrade options, onboarding support with online webinars/tutorials and an interactive online knowledge base
  • Reliability+Security: Custom data retention rates, HIPAA/GDPR compliance, E2EE, 99.9% uptime with geographic redundancy, multi-factor authentication, 24/7 network monitoring


Implementing Call Center Scheduling Solutions

Once you've selected the right WFM software and call center scheduling tools, it's time to start creating potential schedules. Your software provider will likely offer on-demand webinars or in-person courses to train agents and admins--and many also provide onboarding assistance. For best results, test a variety of schedules with different forecasting methods to ensure you've picked the most optimal schedule, and review analytics to continually improve agent shifts.