Linda Green

An improved heuristic for staffing telephone call centers with limited operating hours

Coauthor(s): Peter Kolesar, João Soares.

Many telephone call centers that experience cyclic and random customer demand adjust their staffing over the day in an attempt to provide a consistent target level of customer service. The standard and widely used staffing method, which we call the stationary independent period by period (SIPP) approach, divides the workday into planning periods and uses a series of stationary independent Erlang-c queuing models—one for each planning period—to estimate minimum staffing needs. Our research evaluates and improves upon this commonly used heuristic for those telephone call centers with limited hours of operation during the workday. We show that the SIPP approach often suggests staffing that is substantially too low to achieve the targeted customer service levels (probability of customer delay) during critical periods. The major reasons for SIPP's shortfall are as follows: (1) SIPP's failure to account for the time lag between the peak in customer demand and when system congestion actually peaks; and (2) SIPP's use of the planning period average arrival rate, thereby assuming that the arrival rate is constant during the period. We identify specific domains for which SIPP tends to suggest inadequate staffing. Based on an analysis of the factors that influence the magnitude of the lag in infinite server systems that start empty and idle, we propose and test two simple "lagged" SIPP modifications that, in most situations, consistently achieve the service target with only modest increases in staffing.

Source: Production and Operations Management
Exact Citation:
Green, Linda, Peter Kolesar, and João Soares. "An improved heuristic for staffing telephone call centers with limited operating hours." Production and Operations Management 12, no. 1 (March 2003): 46-61.
Volume: 12
Number: 1
Pages: 46-61
Date: 3 2003