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Lloyds TSB and Lanner Group develop a software-based tool to optimise the agent seating requirements in UK Contact Centres.


Background

The availability of services over the telephone and other media, has become an integral part of modern day living. The number of Contact Centres has grown dramatically in recent years, to support such activities, and so too have the techniques for maximising customer service levels whilst minimising costs. Much of this has focussed on the development of workforce management systems and, increasingly, flexible working arrangements for agents.

The continued growth in the demand for such services has led many Contact Centres to become physically constrained. Rather than simply invest in additional facilities (buildings, desks, IT equipment), the efficiency of agent seating has been questioned. Agents are grouped into teams under the supervision of a Team Leader, and it is common for a team complement to vary significantly both day to day and throughout the day.

It can be shown that keeping teams seated together, can have tangible benefits in staff morale and therefore customer service levels. It can also be a contributory factor in reducing staff turnover. However, seating such widely varying team numbers leads to inefficiency in desk usage which, as the Contact Centre nears capacity, becomes a significant issue.

Lloyds TSB operate a number of Contact Centres within their Retail Distribution Division. Primarily, these provide telephone and internet banking services. The Contact Centres typically offer a range of services with some services requiring specialised equipment available at certain desks only. Teams are generally dedicated to service type.

In partnership with Lanner, the seating problem has been the subject of a project to develop a software-based tool to optimise the agent seating requirement each day. The resulting application has been successfully implemented in the Contact Centres. It is used by local Contact Centre management to plan agent seating on a weekly basis.

The optimisation algorithm is based on a development of traditional simulated annealing methodology and incorporates adaptive cooling and reactive thermostatistical search functions!The application reads daily team complements and agent shift patterns directly from the workforce management system, and generates seating plans across a day or a week at a time. It also allows:

  • Desk/floor layouts to be specified
  • Certain desks to be marked as unavailable at certain times of the day or week
  • Service/desk type relationships to be specified 

In completed trials, the optimiser is capable of automatically generating feasible seating plans, which have previously required many man-hours of management effort in the past. In addition, the effort associated with the manual approach, meant that changes to team numbers and agent working patterns could not easily be accommodated. This led, in some instances, to groups of desks being semi-permanently allocated to teams and agents being asked to seat as near to their team colleagues as possible (i.e. the planning of agent seating became subject to periodic review only).

The trial results have also highlighted the impact on seating efficiency of the original designation of agents to teams, and will contribute to a review of such arrangements.

Lynne Howells, Performance Development Manager for Lloyds TSB stated:

“Within Lloyds TSB, we have found the tool capable of freeing up staff from the planning of seating arrangements, whilst maintaining a better fit of teams into the existing space. It has also shown us through an excellent pictorial representation, that our current team structure does not lend itself to smooth and easy team management, as currently, within the same team staff may start to work at 7am and other staff may not finish until 8pm. It has also been a useful tool in testing the current capacity of our centres.”

Results

In completed trials, the optimiser is capable of automatically generating feasible seating plans, which have previously required many man-hours of management effort in the past. In addition, the effort associated with the manual approach, meant that changes to team numbers and agent working patterns could not easily be accommodated. This led, in some instances, to groups of desks being semi-permanently allocated to teams and agents being asked to seat as near to their team colleagues as possible (i.e. the planning of agent seating became subject to periodic review only).

The trial results have also highlighted the impact on seating efficiency of the original designation of agents to teams, and will contribute to a review of such arrangements.

Lynne Howells: 

“Within Lloyds TSB, we have found the tool capable of freeing up staff from the planning of seating arrangements, whilst maintaining a better fit of teams into the existing space. It has also shown us through an excellent pictorial representation, that our current team structure does not lend itself to smooth and easy team management, as currently, within the same team staff may start to work at 7am and other staff may not finish until 8pm. It has also been a useful tool in testing the current capacity of our centres.”


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