White Paper: Workforce Management
Next-Gen WFM Dramatically Improves Results
Workforce management (WFM) applications are mission-critical for contact centers. These solutions are the only way to ensure that a contact center has the right level of resources with appropriate skills to handle all inbound and outbound transactions within a pre-defined service level. Workforce management is the most disliked application in contact centers because most of these solutions are complicated and very difficult to use. In general, the core capabilities of these solutions deliver high value; the frustration is caused by poorly designed user interfaces and features that are so complex that they can only be used by quantitatively-oriented and technically trained WFM analysts.
Back in the days when WFM solutions were used predominantly by large contact centers that had at least one dedicated WFM analyst, the complexity was acceptable. But no more. Managers in contact centers with anywhere from 10 to thousands of agents want WFM solutions that can help them deliver outstanding service consistently and cost-effectively. Mid-sized and smaller environments cannot afford to dedicate one or more analysts to oversee their WFM solutions, and large contact centers would prefer less tedious and time-demanding applications.
Vendors are finally listening to their customers and starting to deliver enhanced WFM solutions. These new-generation WFM solutions do many of the same things as older versions, but in less than half the time and with a great deal less training and effort. And very importantly, like all Web 2.0 applications, the system logic is embedded in the user interface, making these solutions much easier to use and maintain.
The primary modules of these enhanced solutions will continue to be forecasting, scheduling, intra-day management, real-time adherence (RTA) and self-service. See Figure 1. This white paper explains these core capabilities and how next-gen WFM solutions should be used to optimize contact center service and performance.
Figure 1: Workforce Management Core Modules
Forecasting and scheduling are the two fundamental capabilities of any WFM solution. These applications are used to determine the volume of projected calls, emails, chat sessions, social media interactions, and other work types, for inbound and outbound contact centers. Once work volumes are projected, the next step is to determine how many agents are needed to handle the workload within a service level that is cost effective and satisfies customers.
The primary purpose of forecasting is to identify the anticipated workload in each channel, by interval (which is typically 15 minutes), for a specified period of time (day, week, month, etc.). Accurate forecasting is essential for successfully managing a contact center. Effective staffing plans – scheduling the right number of agents with the right skills to handle the expected demand – can be achieved only if an accurate forecasting tool is in place.
Forecasting modules use mathematical algorithms, simulation methods, or a combination of both, in addition to historical volume information and a variety of other inputs (agent skills, shrinkage factors, etc.), to generate volume projections and staffing requirements for all supported channels, for every interval, to meet client-defined goals and objectives. These objectives can be based on service level or average speed of answer (ASA), as well as average handle time (AHT).
Forecasting accuracy is the subject of ongoing discussion for WFM vendors, particularly now that contact centers are becoming blended multi-channel environments. Multi-channel WFM solutions must be able to support different service level objectives for each channel, and handle forecasting requirements for multi-skilled agents who move from one channel to another.
Forecasting modules should allow users to perform “what if” analyses to determine the impact of internal or external events on volume projections, staffing requirements and goals. Additionally, forecasting applications should be able to account for the impact of adjustment factors such as seasonal trends, campaigns, mailings, cyclical or recurring activities, and shrinkage.
The second fundamental function of WFM solutions is to schedule the right number of agents to handle the projected volume of calls, emails, SMS, etc., to achieve the organization’s service level objectives. Scheduling applications must make sure that there are enough resources scheduled so that agent absenteeism or other shrinkage factors (breaks, lunch, training sessions, huddles, non-call work) do not hurt the department’s ability to respond to interactions on a timely basis. But they also have to ensure that the department does not over-schedule to the point that agents are idle and waiting for their next interaction.
Scheduling modules should determine optimal staffing timetables for the contact center based on agent availability, agent skills, shift rotations, service level requirements, vacations, lunches, breaks, meetings, coaching and training sessions, hours of contact center operation, agent preferences, or some combination of all of these factors. Flexible scheduling solutions permit agents to bid and create schedules based on performance levels, subject to the constraints imposed by the enterprise or work rules and regulations.
WFM solutions are typically used to generate multiple “what if” scenarios to determine the impact of changes on staff requirements. These applications are also designed to allow organizations to optimize agent schedules based on efficiency, where the fewest agents are needed; agent preference, where agents are given the schedules that they want; or a combination of both.
Managers have learned that optimizing schedules for efficiency often produces high agent attrition rates, as employees cannot always alter their personal lives to accommodate changing work requirements. Additionally, Millennials are less flexible than former generations, increasing the importance of schedules that take into account agent preferences.
Contact center managers and supervisors spend a significant portion of their day monitoring the performance of the contact center and every agent, to ensure that service level goals are being met. Managers/supervisors need a tool that gives them visibility into the performance of the department and each agent, in real time, so that they can adjust agent schedules and notify them of the changes when volumes differ from the forecast.
Intra-day management tools accurately capture real-time performance data from various sources throughout the day, allowing managers to make immediate adjustments to staffing and schedules. These adjustments vary from changing break times on-the–fly, to creating overtime slots to ensure coverage during under-staffed intervals, or offering “voluntary leave early” to improve the center’s efficiency. Most intra-day modules deliver alerts and notifications to inform supervisors and managers when the center’s performance falls outside an acceptable range.
An integral part of managing a contact center efficiently is knowing if agents are doing what they are scheduled to do. Workforce management RTA modules provide managers with this information, allowing them to manage their staff effectively. These solutions also provide historical RTA data to enable managers to identify trends and employee performance issues.
The RTA module captures agent current and ongoing activity and status data from the ACD, and compares it to WFM schedule information. Supervisors can tell what their agents are doing relative to their planned activities, and then respond to any deviations before service levels are affected. RTA enables supervisors to identify agents who are not where they are supposed to be, or not doing what they are scheduled to do. This module should also notify agents of an upcoming activity change 5 or 10 minutes before it is scheduled. RTA modules should be able to address both on-phone and off-phone activities.
Self-service modules empower agents by making them active participants in managing their work schedules. This is highly beneficial because it relieves supervisors of much of the administrative burden for scheduling. The benefits of self-service capabilities will increase as Millennials, who are accustomed to managing their own time, enter the workforce. Common WFM self-service modules empower agents to:
- View schedules
- Enter schedule preferences
- Conduct shift bidding and schedule trading
- See vacation accruals
- Request vacation and other time off
- View personal contact handling performance statistics
- Provide real-time alerts of schedule changes
Why It’s Time to Buy a New WFM Solution
Whether you’re a first-time user or a WFM veteran, there are finally solutions available with the five essential capabilities, improved ease of use, and less complexity. See Figure 2.
Here are compelling reasons to consider a new WFM solution:
- You’ll be able to use it without having a degree in statistics,math, or IT
- You’ll realize staff cost savings from reduced over staffing and overtime
- You’ll improve customer satisfaction by better matching customer needs to agent skills
- You’ll be able to respond effectively to fluctuating resource demands
- You’ll reduce shrinkage by ensuring that agents are where they need to be when scheduled
- You’ll free supervisors from the administrative task of managing agent schedules
- You’ll give agents an opportunity to have their preferences incorporated into the scheduling process
- Sign up for overtime or voluntary early leave
Figure 2: Benefits of Next-Generation WFM
Workforce management is never going to be a simple task because it requires management of a large amount of constantly changing data – interaction volumes, customer needs and agent schedules. However, today’s technologies make it significantly less difficult whether migrating from an older application or from a manual environment.
Workforce management is a highly valuable and beneficial application that managers in contact centers of all sizes want to use, as long as it allows them to get the job done easily. There are very substantial differences among the WFM solutions in the market. Prospects should consider only WFM solutions that have the five core components: forecasting, scheduling, intra-day management, RTA and self-service. Users should carefully test out the capabilities of various solutions and make sure that they are comfortable prior to making an investment and commitment, as the application price is often only a small part of the total cost of ownership for WFM solutions.
For the first time in the history of WFM solutions, a few vendors are paying attention to the user experience. This is especially important factor for prospects to consider, because dealing with a hard-to-learn, complex and time-consuming user interface remains the number-one reason why companies stop using their WFM solution. Invite the contact center manager, supervisors, WFM analysts (if they exist) and a few agents to critique each of the WFM offerings and provide feedback into the acquisition process to ensure that the selected tool meets the organization’s specific needs.