Labor Optimization: Discover the Demand Signals in Historical Data and Improve Forecasts

Richard Bray
Chief Operating Officer

Allocating the right amount of staff is one of the biggest levers quick service retail companies can use to drive sales and efficiency. But accurately forecasting staff requirements is a difficult challenge, impacted by a range of factors. Hiding beneath the trends in your historical transaction data is a powerful source of intelligence for labor optimization.

Understaffing costs businesses billions every year. Research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management found properly staffing retail stores led to a 10% increase in sales. Understaffing leads to at least 6% loss of sales and unhappy customers with a third of customers needing assistance being unable to access it, according to research by MIT.

You can get better intelligence about demand fluctuations and make smarter decisions about staff requirements by comparing your historical data to external data, such as events. Once you exclude cyclical trends such as seasonal or weekly trends from your data, you’ll see an interesting pattern of surges and spikes. Some of these may be from successful marketing campaigns but many will be due to events. Whether it's a nearby sports game or expo, a school or college holiday or even a severe weather event, all of these can greatly impact demand and therefore staffing requirements.

Know impactful events in advance to stop losing money under or overstaffing

Since the height of the pandemic, allocating the right amount of staff to meet returning demand without over-investing has become one - if not the - major priority for companies in retail, accommodation, rideshare and on-demand delivery.

With today’s many robust demand forecasting practices and tools, the question confronting business leaders is how to forecast demand in the new normal so we can stop being caught off guard? The answer is simple – events drive demand and were nearly impossible to reliably track and predict before we built PredictHQ to do exactly this for you.

High impact events for staffing strategies

PredictHQ covers 19 categories of events and some will be higher impact than others for your business. Let’s dive into a recent example of an event’s footprint.

  • The American Society of Hematology has run an annual conference for years.

  • Before the pandemic, more than 25,000 people attended each year, causing a major demand surge for accommodation, transport and restaurant and entertainment businesses near the venue.

  • But like 85% of recurring events, it changed city every year, creating a pattern that could only be seen if you know when and where past and future events were taking place.

  • Conferences and expos are returning, but not necessarily with the same volume of attendees. Some expos are far bigger, some are offering more substantial online offerings.

  • Relying on historic data alone, companies would be preparing for additional demand in Orlando (the previous city) that will not eventuate, while missing out entirely on the surge of demand in the conference's next location.

With at least 75% of conference attendees coming from out of town, this event will cause spikes in aviation and accommodation bookings long before the influx of people arrive in town. And it's just one of many events. Let’s imagine you run a national chain of coffee stores and you’ve correlated conferences near two of your locations with an increase in orders. You need to know when, where and how significant the surge will be to ensure you have enough staff trained up and in store ready to meet demand. Not preparing well will lead to lost customers to competitors and poor customer experiences.

Factoring demand intelligence into your labor forecasting strategies

Understanding the impact of events and investing in demand intelligence will improve three common labor optimization processes.

Strategic workforce forecast

Being able to identify demand anomalies directly informs the scale and skill range your company needs. Unlocking the events that are driving your demand means you can better understand what a normal allocation of staff is, by filtering out event impact.

Once you have created your baseline, you will also be able to identify how many additional or fewer staff you need for each kind of event. This enables you to identify how many staff you require, what skills they will need and what the best ratio of staff to managers is. You may find you need fewer staff but more managers to lead teams through high-stress busy days. Or that you have more managers or specialist staff to meet peaks in demand that only occur a few times a month.

These insights will inform your annual workforce budget, your upcoming staff requirements as you grow, as well as your training and progression plans for team members. If your business is opening more locations, it will also improve estimates for planning workforce capacity.

Workforce schedule optimization

The most obvious impact of demand intelligence around events is the ability to optimize your scheduling. Unexpectedly long lines will be a thing of the past, as you’ll know when events from a major sports game through to a small community event around the corner are taking place, and how they impact your business.

Not only will events inform which days will be unusually busy or quiet, they are also an important lens for understanding each employee’s productivity and which teams are performing best.

Demand surge optimization

Once your workforce and your schedules are optimized, there are still more opportunities to make the most of each demand surge. While these will often be managed by other teams such as pricing or supply chain management, demand surges are also an opportunity to invest in more staff to ensure great customer experiences and as much market share as possible.

For example:

  • Retail and transport stores can increase the volume of staff they have involved in promotional activities in the lead up to major events.

  • Accommodation providers can increase the amount of front-of-house staff to up-sell customers on additional opportunities or services.

  • Use demand surges as a way to train up new managers or past-probation staff.

Start by correlating your transactional data with forecast grade event data

Once a company correlates their historical demand with verified event data, teams will be able to identify which events are catalysts of their demand.

This new context leads to better labor optimization in two ways:

  1. It ensures you can have the right amount of staff ready before demand kicks in. This includes having the right ratio of managers to staff, and gives you the ability to train up team members for particularly busy periods.

  2. It minimizes overstaffing to meet historical demand spikes that do not re-occur. Many large events such as conferences and expos recur, and 85% of recurring events change date or location each time.

To effectively use events in your labor forecasts, you will need more than just a few feeds of events from different providers. You will need to standardize, cleanse, de-duplicate, and verify every event, as event data is notoriously dirty and complex.

Your event data source must also rank events by impact so machine learning models and teams can tell which events matter most, quickly. Ranking is crucial to turn event data into demand intelligence. PredictHQ manages this entire process for our customers through our data processing pipeline, so their data scientists can stop losing time finding and cleaning data, and can focus on their core business.

Many of PredictHQ’s customers use our intelligent event data to optimize their workforce. Explore how our verified and ranked event data will unlock more accurate demand forecasts and labor strategies.