Affordable Workforce Management for Call Centers of Every Size

By Barbara Cody

With labor costs making up 70 percent or more of call center budgets, managers are challenged to staff enough agents with the right skills to meet service-level requirements during peak calling times, without burning money on too many agents during off-peak periods. It is a challenge that has taken scheduling out of the realm of spreadsheet programs and put it in the domain of workforce management (WFM) software.

WFM involves forecasting, scheduling, and managing contact center resources. Good workforce management is both an art and a science that provides significant business benefits, including:

  • Reduced telecommunication costs: WFM optimizes incoming call flow so customers spend less time waiting in queues.
  • Increased sales and greater customer retention: WFM increases sales potential and customer satisfaction without adding staff. Scheduling the right persons at the right times supports first call resolution, making customers happier and enabling agents to handle more calls.
  • Cost savings on payroll administration: WFM can feed time and attendance data to payroll programs, eliminating administrative time spent making separate data entries.
  • Efficiency improvements in time-off scheduling: WFM ensures that adequate resources are available when scheduling vacation and other time-off requests.
  • Reduced attrition: WFM empowers agents to specify preferred shifts, days off, maximum days in a row, and number of consecutive weekends that can be scheduled, and gives them the ability to request shift swaps with other agents. When employees feel in control of their time, they are less likely to change jobs to obtain a better schedule.
  • Better time management: WFM identifies the best times for agents to perform off-line activities, such as attending meetings and training, performing administrative tasks, and taking breaks.
  • Reduced labor costs: WFM enables managers to schedule the precise number of agents with appropriate skills to satisfy required service levels with minimum overtime.
  • Gains in agent productivity: WFM enables managers to use qualitative and quantitative analysis to ensure calls are answered by the agents best qualified to handle them. Agents spend less time on the phone per call, so they can handle more calls per shift.
  • Gains in manager productivity: WFM automates complex forecasting and planning tasks, freeing managers to work on other high-value activities.

While contact center managers understand the benefits of WFM software, adoption of the technology has been slow in the largest segment of the industry – centers with seventy-five or fewer seats. One reason is that most WFM products have been complicated systems that required significant IT resources to implement and maintain them. Consequently, only large call centers could afford to implement the technology. However, a new generation of WFM products that provide more affordable solutions is generating renewed interest from the mid-sized contact center segment.

DMG Consulting LLC, which provides real-time analytics research to contact centers, reported in its 2008 Contact Center Workforce Management Market Report that WFM products sales were up 15 percent in 2007 and are expected to grow by 20 percent this year.

The new generation of WFM has a more open architecture, making it easier to integrate with existing systems. In addition to providing a significant return on investment, today’s WFM products share the following characteristics:

  • Affordable acquisition, installation, and maintenance costs
  • Easily integrated with a center’s existing applications
  • Common user interface built onfamiliar, industry-standard technology
  • Intuitive logic, making it easy to use with minimal training
  • Scalable to accommodate contact center growth
  • Fully automated scheduling based on projected traffic levels, service-level requirements, agent tasks, and personnel availability with the skills required to produce appropriately staffed shifts
  • Ability to handle scheduling for contact centers with multiple locations in multiple time zones, as well as holidays and special events, such as promotional offers or product launches
  • Provide costs on different scheduling scenarios so managers can see how much one schedule will cost compared to another
  • Compare target forecasts to actual performance
  • Provide advanced reporting on agent adherence, occupancy, and performance

The costly, complex WFM systems of yesterday are quickly becoming dinosaurs. The new generation of WFM is affordable and easy to implement, integrate, use, and maintain, causing mid-sized contact center managers to take another look at WFM – and they like what they see.

Barbara Cody is a technical writer in the OnviSource engineering department.

[From Connection Magazine September 2008]