In this four-part HR health check series which we will run over the coming weeks, we consider four issues that businesses commonly experience around their people-driven processes and discuss ways they can be dealt with. In the first instalment, we discuss strategy and resourcing when it comes to dealing with client demand.
Businesses tend to struggle to predict demand, describing it as patchy, with hugely busy periods followed by quieter periods. To further complicate matters, staff book holidays and could be off sick - all leading to issues such as work load, staff burnout, labour utilisation, skills availability and productivity.
We are typically asked, “How do you stabilise demand across the team, whilst still delivering great client service and being productive?”
Firstly, we have listed questions below to allow you to better understand the context of the variation in demand you are facing. They will help the selection of one or more of the proposed solutions we list further on in the blog.
The key point here relates to understanding the work and segmenting it to a granular level. This will give you more options to find solutions and respond to demand changes.
For work types with high demand variation, what skill is the main constraint? For example, across conveyancing processes, the task 'approve contract' requires high skill. The other tasks are mainly rules-based and can be performed by low-skill staff. Therefore, finding and training staff to perform the basic tasks is usually easy, but finding staff to perform high-skill tasks is usually more complex and time consuming.
Whilst we always analyse the issues by asking the above questions to develop bespoke solutions, rather than jumping to solutions, in this blog we will break that rule and simply set out some common strategies to assist your business.
Here are some of the common improvement actions to consider when responding to changes in demand.
Introducing self-service can be time consuming and costly, but consider the benefits. What proportion of the demand can be reduced by customers completing tasks themselves instead of contacting the company?
Consider an online knowledge base with a collection of:
The most overlooked solution probably relates to efficiency and cross-training, but it has the biggest long-term benefits.
For efficiency, analyse the process to establish the skills required to perform the work, and where every second of paid time is being used. Where there is paid time being used on non-value adding tasks, there will be opportunities to digitise and automate rules-based tasks.
For cross-training, consider tasks needed to maintain the response times. Identify other functions where capacity is not constrained, cross-train those people and bring them into the service when needed. This solution gives staff from other functions the chance to see, feel and understand what front line workers have to deal with every day. With more eyes on the process, more innovation takes place and overall organisation capability improves.
Read our previous blogs on how to do this, but don't be surprised to find your processes contain 90% non-value adding activity. If you could find only 10% to 20% capacity quickly, what difference would it make to managing demand and what financial benefits would be achieved?
Review your pricing in regards to demand during peak periods and non-peak periods. It’s the same principle as the cheaper ‘off-peak’ train tickets to stabilise passenger numbers. If this strategy wasn't used every peak train would be rammed and the network unable to cope.
Many companies wrestle with ideas to increase volume during periods of low demand, especially where there is a high-fixed, low-variable cost structure. Can you find ways to retain staff for busy periods by increasing demand at quieter times? Think of the impact of the incremental revenue on profitability. Can you provide another service to your customers or internal departments?
For example, think of all the offers we receive from hotels in order to encourage visits during the week or outside of the school holiday periods.
Can you use the quiet demand time to work on improvement projects or take the opportunity to train, coach and develop people?
Using a reservation system can control demand, as customers can be encouraged to access the service at different times. Think of the pre-booked time slots you get when requesting technical help from your broadband provider, or delivery companies stating a delivery time slot for your goods to arrive.
For demand requiring low skills, hire temporary or casual workers to address peaks in demand. This is a common tactic for some companies during peak times such as Christmas and bank holidays.
Keep an eye out for part two of this series