Workforce Management in an IP World

By David van Everen

The adoption of Internet Protocol (IP) telephony is changing the face of contact centers, allowing the workforce to become increasingly distributed as offshoring, outsourcing, and remote employees become more prevalent. By utilizing modern Web-based workforce management software, contact center management can adapt to these trends, enable greater employee participation in the planning process, and gain operational efficiency.

Managing A Distributed Workforce: There are rising concerns about offshoring jobs. Outsourcing is expected to reach nearly 20 percent of all contact center technology spending by 2008, according to Datamonitor. With increasing numbers of remote agents, increasing use of managed services, and blurring lines between the contact center and client, the traditional outsourced contact center and its workforce is becoming increasingly distributed across locations, companies, and organizations. As the workforce moves further outside the physical boundaries of the contact center, workforce planners must be able to use technology to maintain or lower costs, manage to service objectives, and maintain sufficient operational visibility.

The IP Contact Center: “Paradigm shift” is an overused term in the technology industry, but the transition from TDM (time division multiplexing) to IP (Internet Protocol) telephony is consistent with its definition: it is redefining our assumptions, concepts, values, and practices. IP telephony greatly reduces the cost of switching calls from one location to another, facilitating a virtual contact center. It allows the contact center to use remote agent employees at a lower cost with greater employee satisfaction. Many contact centers are beginning to realize cost savings by using IP, yet because the transition to IP is usually incremental, rather than a wholesale infrastructure change, workforce planning during this transition can be problematic.

IP contact center vendors offer reporting capabilities that can meet the needs of most workforce management systems. However, if a hybrid contact center’s IP and TDM switches are products from different vendors, normalization of the reporting data may pose a significant and costly challenge. Software-based interaction management platforms that support both TDM and IP switches from a wide range of vendors can provide hybrid contact centers a single, consistent source of reporting data for workforce planning and a unified organization.

Web-based Software: Workforce management is an all-inclusive process, requiring the coordination and collaboration of the entire contact center including managers, analysts, supervisors, administrators, and agents. As contact centers and the employees become more distributed, a new software model is required. Contact centers need forecasting capabilities that allow users to share forecast scenarios across locations while maintaining centralized management oversight. They need scheduling capabilities that allow greater participation from supervisors and agents (even the remote agents), improving operational efficiency and employee satisfaction while freeing up time for contact center planners to focus on more strategic refinements. Contact centers need Web-based monitoring and reporting that allows appropriate access to key performance metrics for all functional groups so that managers can gauge business effectiveness, planners can evaluate performance, supervisors can maintain adherence, and agents can identify areas for personal improvement.

Leading workforce management products have addressed the trend toward distributed staffing and provide full Web-based application capabilities. Several new vendors offer hosted applications, allowing contact centers to benefit from workforce management without significant capital expenditures. These new software architectures deliver the business benefits of Web-based products: rapid deployment and upgrades for lower administrative costs, a familiar user experience for lower support costs, and greater organizational reach for improved effectiveness and efficiency.

Workforce Planning for Distributed Contact Centers: Without a workforce management tool, effective multi-site planning is nearly impossible to achieve. Contact center planners require a forecasting system that can accurately model a multi-site environment and support the preferred operational approach. An accurate model allows for multi-site economies of scale and network-level routing strategies to be correctly accounted for. A flexible forecasting system allows appropriate operations, regardless of a contact center’s preferred approach.

As IP telephony matures, an increasing number of contact centers are allowing agents to work from home. However, managing a workforce that includes remote agents can be challenging in all aspects of workforce management including forecasting, scheduling, adherence, and performance.

The best contact center workforce management tools estimate staffing requirements and generate schedules for a multi-site environment with advanced analytical techniques that incorporate accurate workload predictions, service objectives, interaction routing strategies, and working rules. Contact centers with remote agents must ensure that the technology used guarantees consistent and complete historical data for forecasting and performance. Otherwise, the contributions of remote agents will be inaccurately accounted for or they will be measured and managed independently from the rest of the organization, affecting operational efficiency.

Customer Service Initiatives Drive Workforce Planning: Contact centers adopting these new standards in customer service should seek workforce management tools that are tightly integrated with the chosen interaction routing platform and are capable of scheduling for the multitude of work activities present. Workforce planners in smaller contact centers will also need to use workforce management tools to make informed decisions about consolidating work activities, since they would otherwise lead to inefficient planning practices.

Conclusion: Using workforce management services with a software-based interaction management platform, contact centers can meet the new operational challenges generated by IP telephony’s related trends, such as remote agents and virtual contact centers. They can take advantage of modern Web-based workforce management products to enable greater employee participation in the planning process and gain operational efficiency. Finally, workforce planning products with tight integrations to interaction management systems spanning the contact center and the enterprise can help support a seamless and positive customer experience and allow contact centers to thrive at the front line of customer service.

David van Everen is a Product Line Manager at Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories. He can be contacted at davidve@genesyslab.com.

[From Connection Magazine November 2004]

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