Transforming forecasting and planning for Customer Operations is a Manchester-based online fashion retailer which has gained phenomenal growth since its launch in 2006. Its main focus is to offer value fashion to style-conscious 16-to-24 year olds, and now its market capitalisation is now well over £1bn. The company interacts with its customers through email, webchat and social media.

At the start of 2016 Claire Hill,’s Customer Services Director, recognised that its processes to forecast and plan advisor resource to meet customer demand required significant development. Drakelow Consulting was invited to audit the tools and processes in place. The audit identified specific opportunities to make improvements. A project was then set up to concentrate on volume forecasting and resource planning.

To improve forecasting accuracy, the first task was to create robust historical volume data, which involved making changes to reporting definitions - to ensure that the historical volumes reflected the actual number of customer contacts the advisors dealt with. Further, a process for setting model parameters was devised to ensure more accurate forecasts with no bias. Tracking mechanisms, including appropriate graphs, were created to reset the model parameters regularly and to ensure consensus.

Drakelow Consulting performed research which showed that forecast error could reduce by a further 20% by implementing a multiple regression model based on lagged sales.

Drakelow Consulting also created a new recruitment model based on these forecasts, which was embedded into’s weekly process. Examining resource requirements against projected resource levels immediately showed a forthcoming resource deficit, and recruitment plans were put in place straightaway.

A within-day scheduling tool was also provided by Drakelow Consulting, which demonstrated for the business, for the first time, which intervals were overstaffed, and which were understaffed. Future recruitment decisions were made with an objective of pushing more resource into the vulnerable intervals, and reducing overstaffed intervals too.

Both the headcount model and the within-day tool remain in place driving optimum resource decision making within the Customer Services centre.

For, the output of the project was a series of tools and processes that significantly improved the accuracy and usefulness of forecasting and resource planning at a weekly level and at an interval level. The benefit to is the ability to scale its customer operation to its ambitious growth plans, minimising the risk of both resource overspend and disappointed customers.

Claire said, “Drakelow Consulting provided expertise, tools and coaching to improve our forecasting tools and planning processes. We saw immediate benefits, and now I feel more involved in our planning process, with the ability to understand and challenge the assumptions leading to recruitment plans and shift patterns. Our planning definitely now is more accurate and flexible as a result.”