How To Make Contract Staffing Work For Your Call Center

Male call center employee talking on his headset and looking at his computer

Call center staffing is a notoriously difficult nut to crack. Significant swings in call volume from day to day and month to month make it challenging to accurately gauge the number of agents required at any given time to man the phones. Contract staffing makes the equation a little easier to master.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics for using contract staffing effectively to keep productivity and customer satisfaction high in your call center.

Benefits of Contract Staffing

Why contract staffing? There are many benefits to this method of hiring, particularly in the call center field.

First, contract staffing is cost-effective. Because the workers are not full time, the employer isn’t responsible for providing worker’s compensation coverage, unemployment, and other benefits full-time employees receive. The staffing agency is the employer of record during the contract period, so these responsibilities lie with them.  As a result, the administrative burden on HR is lower, as well.

When you work with a staffing firm to hire contract employees, you can rely on them to provide talent who is already qualified for the position you need to fill; reducing time spent onboarding and training. Contract workers can help ease the burnout that often occurs from long stints in call center work (the average attrition rate in this field is a reported 30 to 45%, compared with the national average of around 18% for all industries).

Finally, contract staffing is especially beneficial for the dynamic nature of the call center industry. With contract staff, you can easily scale your workforce up or down during specific times of the year and to cover and to cover gaps in your full-time workforce.

How to Make Contract Staffing Work for Your Call Center

While we’ll be the first to sing the praises of contract labor as an ideal call center staffing model, it’s not without its barriers to entry. To use contract staffing effectively, you’ll first need to spend some time collecting and analyzing data about your existing operations.  Here are five steps to follow for an effective model.

Step 1: Determine call volume

The first step in any call center staffing plan is determining call volume. Having an accurate read on the number of calls received by the hour, day, week, month and season is the critical cornerstone that the rest of your staffing plan will be built on.

The easiest way to predict call volume is to assess past data. The longer the duration the better, but you should draw upon at least a year’s worth of records when calculating this metric. Pay attention to trends, like which day of the week sees the highest number calls and which seasons see a drop in volume. Keep an eye out for anomalies that go against any assumptions you have about your call volume.

The most effective way to plan for call volume is to set the predicted number of calls for each 30-minute increment throughout the day. So, if your call center operates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., you’d have 24 30-minute windows per day, each with a corresponding figure for the predicted number of calls.

Step 2: Determineservice level

Next, analyze how effective your staff is at handling calls. There are a couple of metrics you’ll want to pay attention to here.

The first is service level. In the call center field, this is defined as the percentage of calls that are answered within a specific time frame. 80% of calls in 20 seconds or less is a common industry standard, although many are pushing for more rigorous standards like 90% of calls in 20 seconds or less or 80% of calls in 15 seconds or less. Whatever service level you use in your analysis, be sure it’s realistic. Setting unrealistic expectations for this number will ruin your ability to accurately plan for staffing needs.

The next metric to analyze is average handling time. Measured in seconds, this is the average amount of time your staff spends on each call. Again, it’s important to be realistic with this metric, as pushing for a too-low average handling time will negatively impact resolutions and in turn, customer satisfaction rates.

Step 3: Account for shrinkage

Let’s say you have 100 staffers working an 8-hour shift. Basic math tells you this equates to 800 labor hours, but this would be a common miscalculation. 100% of a staffer’s time is never going to be spent on the phone. People take breaks, get distracted chatting with their neighbor, need to reboot their computers, and go homesick. All of this time spent not on the phone is collectively referred to as shrinkage.

There are two types of shrinkage: external shrinkage and internal shrinkage. External shrinkage includes shrinkage time spent outside of the call center, like sick time, holidays and tardiness. Internal shrinkage, on the other hand, includes shrinkage time within the call center, like meetings, training, and system downtime.

While shrinkage varies by source, it can also vary throughout the day. For example, the morning hours may experience a higher shrinkage rate as that’s when people are typically late or meandering over to the break room to fill up their coffee cups. It can vary seasonally, too, like in December when more employees are taking PTO.

To calculate your shrinkage rate, divide your total number of shrinkage hours by the total number of hours available. So, if you average 25 shrinkage hours for every 100 scheduled labor hours, your shrinkage rate would be 25%. The average shrinkage rate for call centers is between 30 and 35%.

Step 4: Use an erlang calculator

Once you’ve determined your call volume, average handling time, service level and shrinkage rate, it’s time to plug these figures into an Erlang Calculator.

An Erlang Calculator uses a mathematical formula called Erlang C to predict call center staffing needs. This complex formula was developed by Danish mathematician A.K. Erlang more than 100 years ago in an effort to predict the circuit requirements for early telephone networks. Erlang C is the most commonly used formula in call center staffing. Though it’s not perfect, it is a highly effective way to schedule the right number of staff with a high degree of accuracy.

The contact center publication Call Centre Helper has a handy online Erlang Calculator here. Remember, staffing needs will change throughout the day, so it’s important to use the same 30-minute windows you came up with when determining your call volume when plugging data into the Erlang calculator.

Step 5: Comply with contract staffing requirements

Now that you know how many agents you need working the phones at any given time, it’s time to hire your contract staffers to supplement your full-time workforce.

The paperwork required for contract hires is much simpler than that required for full-time employees if you choose to do this without a staffing agency’s involvement. However, it’s just as important to get it right, as improper classification of employee status can open you up to lawsuits. Before implementing a contract staffing strategy directly, it is imperative that you engage the services of a labor attorney for guidance.

All contract employees making over $600 in the course of a calendar year must be provided with a W-9 form to complete and return to you. This will ensure you have their full name, mailing address, social security number and/or tax identification number for the purpose of tracking your payments to them. It’s up to you as the employer to file a form 1099 Misc. with the IRS for every contract employee at the end of the year, which documents how much your organization paid them. A copy must also be given to the contractor.

In addition to these tax forms, you’ll also need a signed contractor agreement. This document outlines the scope of work the contractor will be providing to your organization, the rate of payment and any expectations relevant to the job. This agreement documents that both parties are aware the arrangement is on a contract basis and is not an offer of full-time employment.

One great way to simplify this entire process is by working with a contract staffing agency. When you hire a professional staffing agency, they take care of all of the aforementioned paperwork for your contract staffers. Instead of completing said paperwork for each individual hire, you complete it just once for the staffing agency, which in turn manages payments to and tax paperwork for the contract staffers. It’s a highly convenient way to take advantage of contract labor without getting bogged down in mountains of paperwork.

Take Advantage Of Contract Call Center Staffing With 4 Corner Resources

Ready to see how contract staffing can improve efficiency and reduce costs for your call center? Turn to the customer service recruiting experts at 4 Corner Resources. Our staffing professionals are skilled at sourcing the right candidates with the skills and personality you need to serve your customers over the phone.

Customer service is one of the most important aspects of your business, with a direct impact on your bottom line. Thus, it’s one of the most critical departments to hire for. Let us deliver candidates who possess the perfect blend of technological expertise and personable service abilities that will boost your customer satisfaction rates.

Get started today by booking an appointment with one of our call center staffing pros.

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn