Time is money. Benjamin Franklin easily could have been talking about the contact centers when he uttered those words for the first time. One of the best ways to control costs in the contact center is to control staffing.

Finding that perfect balance of agents to customers is dependent on a variety of factors specific to your business and your customer service standards. However, it’s universally true that staffing can be a challenge—especially in contact centers. A shift can be running smoothly one minute and then be incredibly busy the next. If your product is mentioned publicly on a grand scale or named on a “best of” list, call volume can spike in an instant. If there are not enough agents on hand to handle the increase in calls, the longer wait times can lead to lower customer satisfaction scores. And, of course, when the staffing is finally in control of the massive volume- it dips back down leaving you overstaffed and over budget with unneeded agents. Just your luck! So what’s the answer?

Effective forecasting is one of the best approaches to more optimal staffing, but it comes with its own set of challenges. Forecasting can be very overwhelming and elusive. Though it requires significant effort and information to create an accurate forecasting methodology, that preparation makes your life easier in the long run. That extra effort in the beginning is a lot simpler than having to deal with the work and stress that comes from having to perpetually manage the consequences of a poor forecasting model, which can create issues for your customers, your agents and ultimately, your company.

Try these three techniques to improve the accuracy of your contact center forecast.

Embrace analytics—make the data work for you.

It’s best to begin by gathering as much data as possible from all the systems at your disposal. Use your Workforce Management (WFM) system. If you don’t have one–get one. Make purchasing a WFM system a priority for 2016- it’s a well worth-it investment. Examine your spikes and dips – are they forming in a pattern? If so, is it a reoccurring pattern?

Make sure to check with other departments as you plan. There may be an upcoming marketing campaign, IT update or other planned announcement that could have a significant impact on contact volume and it’s important to be aware of it.

Determine your ideal variance. Set metrics then plan accordingly to meet—or even exceed—your desired variance.

Consider your channels and agents.

You’ve examined the data, now let’s focus on the channels. Which channels do you use to provide customer service? Each channel is different and must be handled accordingly. Consider the time it will take agents to manage interactions across channels and in each single channel and determine both your ideal and acceptable response times.

Forecasting can be more efficient if you also acknowledge agents skills and specialization. Whether or not your agents handle all channels or specialize in one or two is something to consider. It’s crucial to have the right people available at the right times, which means a mix of specialists at all times.

Now it is time to evaluate your tools. If you are providing service across multiple channels, a multichannel contact center platform is best to streamline and speed up interactions. This allows agents to see all customer information on one screen, and pivot between channels with ease and speed. We promise you – it will ultimately make both your agents and customers happier.

Schedule it out.

You’ve evaluated, considered, analyzed and planned, and now it’s time to combine all that information into a schedule. If schedules are new for you, don’t let the development of one intimidate you. Start with a one-week schedule with your new forecasting knowledge and give it a test run. After that week, solicit feedback from your agents and managers—they may have insight that can help improve the forecast. Once you’ve implemented your new schedule, continue to monitor it and adjust as need to stay on top of your metrics.

The ultimate goal of forecasting is to achieve the optimal schedule that properly balances staffing with call volume. Saving your customers, and your agents, time will benefit you undoubtedly. And when you find that perfect balance of staff for contact volume, it’s like hitting the jackpot- because we all know, time is money. Want to learn more? Check out my ICMI article for more information on forecasting in the contact center.