Tag Archives: Workforce Management Articles

What You Should Know Before Making Your Next Call Center Headset Purchase



By Bonnie Landis

The call center agent’s best friend is their headset, but choosing the right headset for your call center or office staff can be daunting. There are several things to consider when shopping for headsets. Here are five things to think about before you make your next purchase. If you work with a reputable vendor with a knowledgeable sales staff, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re getting the right headset equipment for your specific needs. Click To Tweet

1. Know Your Vendor

A good relationship with a reliable headset company can mean the difference between getting the right equipment at a reasonable price and paying too much for equipment that doesn’t meet your needs. Your headset advisor should have in-depth product and industry knowledge. They will ask the right questions to uncover your needs and make the right product recommendation.

2. Performance and Durability Matters

Your staff uses their headsets every day; expect damage and depreciation to occur. Replacing headsets prematurely can be costly in terms of agent downtime and financial outlay. Make sure you are purchasing equipment that is call-center designed, as this will result in a lower cost of ownership.

3. Noise Cancelation

Call centers are noisy! Be sure you purchase headsets with good noise-canceling microphones that filter out background noise. Your agents will be heard clearly, and this results in a better call outcome.

4. Compatibility

Every headset needs to be compatible with the phone or device it’s used with. Each device has its own compatibility requirements—and the headset cord is the vital link between the headset and the device. Purchasing a headset with an incorrect cord means that it will not have adequate audio sound or perhaps none at all. Always rely on a trusted headset adviser to guide you through this critical process.

5. After-the-Sale Service

After the sale, you should feel like a valued customer and be satisfied that the equipment you purchased is the right equipment for your requirements. The sales process should have exceeded your expectations, and you won’t hesitate to purchase again from the vendor and even recommend them to your colleagues.

To summarize, if you work with a reputable vendor with a knowledgeable sales staff, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re getting the right headset equipment for your specific needs.

Bonnie Landis is a senior headset advisor with Comfort Telecommunications. For more than thirty-five years, Comfort Telecommunications has provided headset equipment to the call center industry. Their line of best-in-class Smith Corona headset products are recognized for its durability, cross-brand compatibility, and affordability.

Top Workplace Best Practices for Contact Centers



By Donna Fluss

The workforce is a mash-up of diverse, multicultural, and multigenerational personnel. Organizations that want to attract and retain top talent and become employers of choice must use workforce best practices. This will engage employees and let them know that their contributions are important to the mission of the company, so they feel good about going to work.

Here are some of the best practices that help attract and retain employees. It’s not about catering to millennials, the largest demographic in the workforce today; instead it’s about creating a work environment that plays to everyone’s strengths.

These best practices are ideal for contact centers and also apply to many other areas.The objective of these best practices is to develop a positive, creative, and fulfilling work environment. Click To Tweet

Train Employees: Make sure everyone knows how to do their job and has the information, systems, and support needed to excel and deliver an outstanding customer experience.

Give Employees Visibility into Their Performance: Ensure that all employees know their goals and how well they are meeting them. Do this on a continuous basis throughout the year.

Know Your Employees: Take a personal but professional interest in your staff so they understand that you care about them and are committed to helping them succeed.

Appreciate Staff Contributions: Communicate to each employee that their work for the company is important and appreciated.

Create a Collaborative and Supportive Working Environment: Be sure everyone knows how to get help when they need it.

Make an Engaging Work Environment: Make it fun and enjoyable for people to come to work.

Welcome Constructive Feedback: Give employees a voice. Encourage their input, suggestions, and recommendations.

Treat All Employees Fairly: Be consistent, and don’t play favorites.

Advocate Work/Life Balance: Recognize employees for the work they do during normal business hours. Don’t expect staff to dedicate themselves to your company at the cost of their family or other commitments.

Allow for Schedule Flexibility: Let staff have input into their work schedules, and give them the ability to change their plans without penalty.

Reward and Recognize Employees: Show the company’s appreciation for a job well done.

Provide Opportunities: Champion career and personal development. Demonstrate to employees a potential path for advancement within the company so there is no need for them to go elsewhere to get ahead.

Create an Inclusive Work Environment: Welcome a diverse staff who has the skills required to do their jobs.

Be a Responsible Company: Advocate social and ethical responsibility. Have your company encourage participation in activities that make the world a better place.

The objective of these best practices is to develop a positive, creative, and fulfilling work environment. Treat employees well, and they’ll tend to reciprocate and do a better job. Satisfied employees are also more likely to remain with a company because there is little reason for them to go elsewhere.

This is critical for contact centers, which typically invests two to sixteen weeks to train entry-level staff. The common thread among these best practices is that small acts of kindness go a long way to building a strong and dedicated workforce. This is well worth the investment.

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the services industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?



By Sherry Gouel

Hiring the right person for a job is one of the most difficult tasks business owners face. There are so many factors to consider: experience, reliability, work ethic, honesty, professionalism, and the list goes on. Adding the wrong person to your team can be detrimental to the daily work environment, but it’s not really possible to predict if a candidate will work out.

There is another important question to keep in mind during an interview. Besides work skills, does this candidate have people skills? It’s one thing to complete a task well, but can this person work with others?

As with any new job, there is always a training period. A worker can eventually learn the necessary skills to accomplish their work, but if they don’t get along with their coworkers, it will affect the mood around the office. Call center agents must be team players, and tension between workers has a negative effect on the office atmosphere. Having staff that gets along and works well together reflect well on the business and how clients are treated. Having staff that gets along and works well together reflect well on the business and how clients are treated. Click To Tweet

Inclusiveness is an important factor in the workplace. An employee can be great at their job, be punctual, professional, and reliable, but if they cannot integrate with coworkers and be part of the team, it’s unlikely their employment will last. We’ve all met someone that for inexplicable reasons we cannot connect with. We might say, “They just rubbed me the wrong way” or “Their attitude just irritates me.” First impressions happen quickly and are difficult to change. We don’t set out to feel negatively about anyone, but it’s difficult to change our minds about our initial dislike. We tend to avoid this person and make no effort to give them a chance to prove themselves differently.

This lack of connection is difficult to change. It’s best to be proactive by looking for initial signs of friction during the interview rather than finding out a month after hiring them. Getting staff members involved in the interviewing process may help reduce future problems by testing the dynamics between existing staff and new additions. This doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be problems, but it may detect tension that could cause problems.

While no one knows if the candidate will be the right fit, there are a few things that can help. First have a list of questions to ask. Then, keep in mind that while part of the interview process is determining how comfortable and confident you feel talking to this candidate, you aren’t the only one that should be doing the interviewing.

Have existing staff join in to see how they relate to the candidate. It is often during small talk that we get to know and connect with another person. Following the interview, ask your staff how they felt about the interviewee; listen to their feedback and read between the lines. If you’ve narrowed down your choice to a few people, have your staff weigh in on this decision. It will hold them partially accountable in making sure this person gets the proper training and helping them to succeed.

Imagine a different scenario if your staff is not included in the hiring process and the new employee either lacks the people skills or doesn’t connect with coworkers. Will there be any effort to help the new worker feel part of the team? On the contrary—they may do things to exclude or alienate the new employee, hoping to make them quit. Losing employees and having to hire new ones comes with a cost.

If including staff members in the interview process is difficult, then extend the interview time by showing the candidate around the office. Stop at a few stations and allow some of your staff to show the candidate what the job consists of. All it takes is a few minutes of interaction to allow your staff the chance to meet the potential candidate and have a say in the hiring.

No one can predict whether a newly hired worker will be the right candidate, but these steps can better the chances. While a recruit may appear perfect on paper, remember that compatibility with the existing staff is just as important.

Sherry Gouel handles sales and marketing support for Szeto Technologies.

Managing Your Workforce Management Strategy



By Christian Szpilfogel

Over the last fifteen to twenty years, workforce management has evolved from a discipline into a technology sector, moving beyond the simple need to make contact centers more efficient in their planning and replace spreadsheets that took a full-time job to manage. Over time, workforce management has become a way to make managers more effective, allowing them to create and deliver the optimal schedules to meet customer service needs.

As the call center has grown into the more complex contact center, so have the requirements of the workforce. In fact, we now see more complex scenarios in which contact center workers must handle various media types, such as voice, text, and email, in order to serve all expected functions. Workforce management has gone from a “nice-to-have” resource for driving efficiency to a “must-have” tool to effectively staff any medium to large contact center handling customer care.

Given the personalized nature of contact center work, the strategy guiding the workforce management of the call center itself should also be personalized to the company. There are three key factors to consider in developing this strategy.

1) Focus on Customer Experience: It’s critical to understand that customer experience still drives contact center strategies today. Therefore, it’s critical to ensure that any workforce management strategy errs on the side of delivering great customer service. Being slightly overstaffed is nothing compared to missing out on customer opportunities and losing customers.

Acquiring new customers is more important today than it has ever been, as is the sensitivity to losing customers to competitors. That’s why it’s crucial to deploy a workforce management strategy that drives customer satisfaction as well as delivers efficiency and reduces costs. This means that any workforce management strategy and supporting technologies must ensure the availability of the right level of staff and the right people: those who have the skills necessary to serve customers the way they want to be served.

2) Anticipate Changes in Communications Preferences: In addition to internalizing customer service in a workforce management strategy, it’s important to anticipate the changing communications behaviors of your customer base. Today a contact center that is mostly comprised of voice conversation may be sufficient, but will that still be true two, three, or five years out?

If you’re looking at making an investment in a workforce management strategy, make sure any technology involved seamlessly interoperates with the voice component essential to today’s customer service as well as all the digital media routing into the contact center. Moreover, staff must be able to go beyond providing the service customers expect and be well versed in the media customers will prefer in the future, regardless of whether that’s voice, text, or video media. It’s critical to understand customer experience still drives contact center strategies today. Click To Tweet

3) Think about Employees: Apart from minding customer service goals and customer communications preferences, it’s also imperative to think of your employees. Customer service employees are the face and the voice of your business to the customer. Who are you hiring and what do they need from you to be satisfied with their work? A satisfied employee will do a better job and will stay with the company longer. While contact center workers aren’t the highest-paid employees, tools and additional benefits can go a long way toward making them happier at work.

Workforce management plays a big part in this, making it easy to give workers some control over their own schedules and allow them to collaborate with their peers in managing time off, thus building comradery and a sense of ownership across the team. In addition, workforce management technologies also present the perfect opportunity to provide new incentives through gamification to make everyday jobs seem more interesting and to inspire the competitive spirit and passion of employees. This creates a more congenial atmosphere and drives overall performance and employee happiness.

Invest in Workforce Management Technology: When considering a workforce management technology investment, it’s crucial to look at the big picture. Workforce management systems do not operate in a vacuum. Rather, they operate in an integrated fashion within the overall contact center infrastructure.

In addition to always keeping the customer experience in mind, plan for changes in customer communications preferences, and think about your employees. Avoid taking a step backward in critical functionalities by making choices that give you the flexibility to adapt pieces of your overall IT infrastructure over time.

Implementing a strong workforce management strategy that can be easily adapted in the future will help drive efficiency. More importantly, it will help you reach and exceed your customer service goals.

Christian Szpilfogel is the VP of Strategy at Mitel.

Transforming WFO into CEM

Unify Omni-Channel Analytics with Big Data Management

By Bob Brittan

Workforce optimization (WFO) is traditionally used to optimize the performance of the workforce within an enterprise in order to establish customer satisfaction. The market is rapidly transforming to first capturing and then analyzing 100 percent of the customer experience (since sampling does not provide sufficient insights) at every touch point and every channel in order to determine the optimization necessary to create a positive customer experience.

The expanded use of multichannel customer contacts such as phone, email, SMS, chat, and social media, with both structured and unstructured data, require a cohesive customer experience strategy. WFO can deliver on the promise of front-office and back-office unification to provide a seamless customer experience. Nonetheless, all of the many customer transactions and interactions generating data from the multichannel contact sources still reside in data silos. Leveraging this “customer journey” data into meaningful customer intelligence is the next big enterprise and contact center transformation: customer experience management (CEM).

The transition of WFO to CEM requires an omni-channel method to capture relevant customer experience data from every channel, including calls, emails, chats, desktop transactions, customer surveys, and social media. However, capturing 100 percent of the information from all channels produces massive amounts of data, known as big data.

Omni-channel analytics can greatly assist managing big data by automatically analyzing the captured data from each channel and producing only actionable knowledge. The resulting actionable knowledge is channel-dependent and does not provide a holistic, actionable knowledge across all channels. There remains the challenge of associating and encapsulating relevant data from multiple channels to produce a unified and cohesive, actionable knowledge. This latest challenge in big data management can be resolved utilizing advanced cross-channel analytics solutions.

The traditional WFO model has been an inside-out approach to create customer satisfaction. This was accomplished by recording, analyzing, and optimizing the interaction of available internal resources (such as agents) toward customers to create customer satisfaction. CEM enables an outside-in approach: Interactions are recorded and analyzed on all customer experiences at all customer touch points toward the company to align and optimize internal resources (such as agents) to create a positive customer experience.

Transforming today’s WFO to CEM can be done through the unification of WFO and big data management, in which omni-channel capture and analytics, combined with cross-channel analytics, can transform customer experience big data from each channel to across all channels in order to discover actionable knowledge, trends, and actions. The resulting filtered data can yield unexpected benefits that can further align business intelligence with operational goals and objectives.

Bob Brittan is the director of marketing at OnviSource, Inc. Bob has more than twenty years of experience in consulting, product marketing, and social media marketing for emerging enterprise technologies and contact centers focusing on front- and back-office workforce optimization, automation, and unification solutions.

[From Connection MagazineMarch/April 2016]

Are Your Best Agents Leaving? Here’s How to Stop Them

By Chuck Ciarlo

What’s worse than contact center agent? Attrition, attrition that claims your best agents.

Turnover is inevitable, though rates vary widely. Many contact centers get by with 20 percent attrition, though 50 percent is an unfortunate possibility.

No matter which agents leave, managers face additional recruiting and training costs to keep the contact center adequately staffed. But if they are honest, they will admit that some resignations are easier to accept than others.

When the agent who spends an hour a day on Facebook leaves or whose average handle rate consistently lags behind, it’s a departure with a quick recovery time. But when one of your top-performing veteran agents moves on, it becomes a much bigger cause for concern.

Sadly, it often seems like the underperformers are going to be with you a long time, while the superstars always have one eye on the nearest exit. If your contact center experiences this type of situation, here are some of the most likely causes and practical solutions to help keep your most valued employees.

You Are Not the Only Game in Town: Wait, you say your contact center is the only one within fifty miles? Congratulations! You’ll take your pick from the top candidates in the local employment pool. Unfortunately most contact centers are located in cities where there is ample competition for outstanding agents, and the best ones will always have other options.

The agent who can turn angry callers into satisfied ones and up-sell a $10 order into a $50 purchase can get a job anywhere. If you want to keep them, make sure they realize you noticed their achievements, and reward them accordingly. If John is doing a great job, let him know. Don’t wait for his next employee review or training session. A gift certificate to a local restaurant or movie theater can do wonders for morale and create a healthy competitive environment as other agents strive to be recognized.

Better still, put some of your best agents on a management track if they have the qualifications and give them more responsibilities, along with commensurate compensation. You will eventually lose them as an agent that way, but at least you’ll gain another valuable member of your team.

Ditch the Assembly Line Attitude: While it’s necessary to expect every agent to possess the same job skills, it’s not right to treat them all the same. The last conversation a manager has with an agent should not be the one that took place at the job interview six months ago. Get to know them as individuals. Agents have personalities and quirks just like the rest of us. Indulging these qualities – as long as they are not disruptive to the workplace – will engender loyalty.

The Breaking Point: Burnout is every agent’s nemesis. How would you like to listen to angry callers every day, yelling and questioning your competency as if you had personally designed and built the smartphone they can’t figure out how to use?

Since customers rarely call to thank everyone for the fine service and excellent value they received, dealing with a disgruntled public will always be part of the agent’s job. As a manager you can’t change that, but you can change the contact center environment to one that is more supportive and builds stronger relationships between managers and agents.

There is no cure-all for burnout, but sometimes it helps to just listen, even if an agent needs to vent for five minutes. Create an atmosphere where agents feel comfortable discussing the frustrations of the job and won’t be labeled as grumblers for doing so. The more valued an agent feels, the more he or she can absorb the negative aspects of contact center work.

Listening, support, and opportunity for advancement can help keep your best agents in place, and in many cases these options don’t add anything to your budget. You can’t escape attrition, but you can limit your losses to the agent who always shows up late and takes the last donut.

Chuck Ciarlo is the founder and CEO of Monet Software.

[From Connection Magazine – November/December 2015]

The Hidden Knowledge in the Unified Communications System

By Stephen Davis

A call center manager holds a critical – and often stressful – role within the organization. Responsibilities include handling call volumes with agents, shifting staffing levels, and coaching new call center employees. Unified communications (UC) systems can make these demanding tasks much easier so managers can focus on what really matters: improving service by coaching their staff. But that wasn’t always the case.

The Old Way: In the age of analog systems, getting a more complete solution that enabled some level of data retrieval required paying for expensive add-on features or services, such as call recordings, call queue, and call reporting. Not only would the add-on features have to be purchased separately, but integrating them with the analog system and managing them was often challenging for everyone involved. The integration process was cumbersome; it usually ended up with the company hiring an additional in-house team member (someone with specific experience) or paying consultant fees to outsource managing and extracting data from the systems.

On top of all this unexpected overhead, it could take days to receive the requested call logs from the company’s IT department. Even then, managers had to hope everything was provided as needed from the cobbled system with no gaps in the data. This delay and potential missing data could cause staffing decisions to be slow to meet business demands.

The New Way: Fast-forward a few years: There’s a big difference in the speed and accuracy of the data collected, not to mention the ease of management and the reduced cost. UC solutions now provide Web-based access with an access control list that puts the power in managers’ hands, allowing them to easily extract information such as queue logs and status, concurrent calls by agent, and call log details to track the number of calls received and placed by hour, day, and week.

Graphical Analysis: Data, even that from a business phone system, tells an important story that helps shape decisions. In fact, the level of detail and ease of access that advanced UC features provide to a company allows managers to make real-time or near real-time decisions, especially where staffing is concerned. Has the company launched a new product and needs to train teams? When is the best time of day to take agents offline without affecting the queue wait times?

Using a graph of calls per hour allows a manager to quickly see this data and know which times are good for pulling agents offline for training. The data also indicates times of extreme traffic, confirming when full staff is required to adequately manage that call volume.

Monitor Now or Record for Later: Call center managers cannot monitor all calls at the same time, but they can review calls later with call recordings. The UC-enabled system should make this easy by allowing the IT manager (or call center manager with the proper access control list) to schedule and record which queues or agents are required, along with what type of calls: inbound, outbound, or both. The system can even off-load the recording to an FTP server for easier access. This can be used for training, but if a manager has issues with customer expectations, he or she can listen to the call recording to find out what was promised.

Because the call center manager is often actively training agents and may not be able to watch the queue metrics in real-time, scheduling options can be utilized. The manager can receive an email hourly or daily with the details of the call queues, including average wait time, average entry position (into the queue), number of abandoned calls, or even maximum wait time. All of this data, delivered straight from the system, gives managers enhanced visibility into business operations and allows them to react to and change the staffing of the queue.

Empowerment: In an age of instant results, having a view into the data from a UC system is critical. The system, along with access to the right data from the system, can empower a company to better service their customers by helping call center managers quickly and proactively make staffing changes for call volumes.

Stephen Davis is a sales operations analyst for Digium (www.digium.com), a business communications company based in Huntsville, Alabama, that delivers enterprise-class unified communications. He has experience administrating and developing in Salesforce.com and Pentaho Business Analytics/Data Integration, and has a background in sales and customer service. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @SDavis1112.

[From Connection Magazine – November/December 2015]

Workforce Management: Productivity, Engagement, and the Customer Experience

By Kyle Antcliff

A company’s frontline workforce can often make or break an organization. Studies show that customers’ interactions with contact center agents directly and significantly affect brand reputation, revenue, and profits. A recent Harvard Business Review study found a 240 percent annual revenue difference between companies whose customers rated their experiences as “great” compared to those whose customers rated their experiences as “poor.”

Productivity:
Workforce management issues often revolve around time management and how to balance the competing tasks of training and serving customers. Most contact centers have their agents either scheduled for training or customer work. These competing priorities put a strain on both productivity and service. On average, agents are idle for almost twenty hours a month, but these opportunities are wasted, neither serving customers nor in training.

Due to the siloed and manual nature of tools and operations, workforce management teams spend an unnecessary amount of time monitoring real-time data and reacting to their findings. This highly inefficient practice impacts the operating budget, and it means workforce managers aren’t focused on the things that matter most: customer and agent development.

The technology now exists to enable contact centers to react immediately and consistently to optimization opportunities, such as periods of lower or higher customer demand. Agents can be prompted to work on training or back office tasks, and coaching can be conducted during temporary periods of low call volume. This means that training no longer has to compete with an agent’s schedule. By triggering off-phone work during what would otherwise be unproductive idle time, leading contact centers are reaping productivity, agent engagement, and service delivery gains previously not thought possible.

In the age before these software solutions, contact centers were incapable of responding to the mountains of data coming at them at warp speed and stored in siloed systems. As contact centers manage multiple interaction channels, including chat and social, the proliferation of data will only increase. New software tools enable contact centers to react immediately and consistently to this ever-increasing volume of data.

Agent Engagement: Agent engagement is an often neglected but incredibly important component of the customer experience. Disenchanted agents directly correlate with poor customer service delivery and profit drain. Without question, the customer experience can be improved with contact center agents who are prepared and receive regular face time with supervisors and managers.

As mentioned previously, because serving customers take priority, even the most critical training and coaching activities are often cancelled. However, automation technology can provide contact centers with the ability to prompt agent training and coaching tasks during periods of lower-than-expected call volume. Forward-thinking contact center managers are now able to create much more one-on-one agent and supervisor face time. Coaching – especially when coupled with training – can have a significant impact on agent engagement, attrition, and the customer experience.

Customer Experience: The challenge of coordinating complexity in the contact center reaches another level when one considers the number of channels and tools (which produce a growing volume of data) and the plethora of manual, reactive processes used to “get through the day.” In most instances, workforce management teams spend a significant part of their day manually monitoring conditions and adjusting their frontline workforces in response. This activity consumes significant resources, and reacting manually makes it impossible to address all the problems and take advantage of all the opportunities.

Fortunately for contact center leaders, new technology solutions enable contact centers to unify siloed tools and operations. And from a tactical standpoint, they can use data to trigger real-time workforce adjustments throughout the day. These automated actions are far more effective and responsive to business conditions than traditional, manual efforts. In an environment where seconds and minutes matter, the impact on cost, productivity, agent engagement, and the customer experience are dramatic.

New contact center software enables frontline workforces to react in real time to optimization opportunities such as periods of lower or higher call volume, imbalance across interaction channels, overstaffing, understaffing, and individual adherence issues. A more agile frontline workforce is better able to adjust throughout the day to deliver a more consistent customer experience.

Kyle Antcliff serves as vice president of marketing at Intradiem, Inc., where he focuses on strategies, SaaS product/technology, and P&L management and services. During his twenty years of general management and technology experience, he has successfully built and grown technology and service businesses, both domestically and internationally. 

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2015]

Workforce Optimization Solutions Adapt to Changing Market Needs

By Donna Fluss

The workforce optimization (WFO) market is at a turning point, and much of the groundwork to support the next-generation contact center is being readied. The need to support true omni-channel customer touch points and to gather and aggregate “big data” to understand, evaluate and improve the customer journey and reduce customer effort are mega-trends that are driving investments in service organizations. Technology trends such as mobility, globalization, virtualization, and the availability of cloud-based solutions are driving vendor investments to meet the requirements of the millennial workforce and consumers.

WFO Vendors Deliver Innovation: The WFO vendors are adept at delivering technology and innovation to address specific contact center and enterprise needs and challenges while at the same time revamping their solutions to make the most of the opportunities presented by market trends. This is one of the reasons why contact center WFO solutions never get old, even though the solutions are mature.

The WFO competitive landscape is transitioning, and the mid-tier contenders are seizing market opportunities. These vendors appreciate the need to change the way they do business; they do not want to compete on price but instead are finding ways to disrupt the traditional WFO market by taking new approaches. Some vendors have come up with methodologies to dramatically speed up implementations, while others are concentrating on being great partners willing to “go the extra mile” to keep their customers happy. The business approaches are varied: Some are aggressive, and others are more subtle. Satisfaction is high among customers of many of the up-and-coming WFO vendors, several of whom are highly responsive to customer requests.

The Cloud Is Playing a Growing Role in the World of WFO: Cloud-based solutions are coming on strong, and the WFO vendors are responding to the changing needs of their customers. The cloud is helping make WFO functionality available to contact centers of all sizes, even those with smaller budgets that might preclude a large up-front investment. WFO vendors with a true multi-tenant architecture and a cloud-based provisioning environment have an advantage when it comes to selling in the cloud, whether on a direct basis or through partners. Cloud-based contact center infrastructure vendors who sell ACDs and dialers are actively building partnerships with or acquiring WFO solution providers to round out their product sets and respond to the needs of their end-user clients.

Research and Development Are Increasing the Value of WFO: On the product side, user interfaces (UIs) are getting a much-needed and well-deserved overhaul. As WFO solutions deliver more integrated and aggregated data, analytics-driven processes, and more real-time information, end users need unified and streamlined interfaces with a common paradigm to render information in intuitive presentations. This includes mobile-enabled apps for administrators, supervisors, and agents. Agent engagement is another important concept that is also contributing to UI redesign, as more organizations realize the great benefits that result from giving agents access to real-time performance information and gamification features that motivate and empower them to self-manage performance.

WFO Solutions Deliver Customer Journey Analytics: The need to capture and evaluate the full omni-channel customer journey is a groundbreaking trend in its infancy, even though the concepts have been discussed for years. Big data and increased processing speed are making it possible for companies to capture and analyze massive amounts of customer information quickly enough to make the findings useful and actionable. DMG expects to see substantial investments in the area of customer journey analytics, as it gives companies deep insights into how well they are doing business with customers on a multi-channel basis.

Final Thoughts: The market is on the verge of ushering in a new era of servicing that will require a new generation of WFO solutions powered by predictive and prescriptive analytics. These solutions will also automate decision making, enable organizations to recognize and treat the “whole customer,” and respond in real time with personalized, concierge-like customer care. Although this “contact center of the future” is still years away, the groundwork is being laid, and WFO solutions will play a major role in helping companies achieve their goals.

Donna Fluss is the founder of DMG, a vendor-independent research and consulting firm that analyzes contact center and back-office technology and best practices. Contact her at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com with any questions you may have and to learn how to make today’s innovative and powerful technologies and best practices work for your organization.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2015]

Workforce Management Systems: It’s All About the Algorithms

By Bob Webb

Workforce management may be the most undervalued of all contact center solutions. Often it is bundled and sold as part of an end-to-end solution by vendors who specialize in other software and have no in-depth knowledge of workforce management. Some solution providers minimize the value of workforce management in favor of their area of expertise – when, in fact, workforce management is the cornerstone of any contact center operation. Accurate forecasting and scheduling is imperative for achieving the balance of having agents consistently in the right place at the right time. There are many vendors who offer workforce management; however, their products are not all equal. The disparity lies in the algorithms.

Many workforce management systems lack critical functions and flexibility to meet the needs of contact centers, or their platform is unable to maintain sufficient historical call data to generate accurate forecasts. The most common problems found with workforce management systems are inaccurate forecasting and an inability to generate requirements at the interval level. Both of these problems, coupled with inadequate scheduling algorithms, can prove costly and hurt a company’s bottom line.

Algorithms: Workforce management software should use mathematical algorithms for accurate call volume forecasting and scheduling based on data exclusive to each center’s target service levels, fluctuating call volumes, agent skill sets, and “what if” scenarios. Accurate forecasting takes into account all the historic dynamics. Systems that use a weighted moving average can only use thirteen weeks of historical data, which is not enough to provide a statistically valid forecast. Forecasting for specific events that produce wide fluctuations in call volume can only be performed by sophisticated systems using all historical data.

Algorithms should reflect real-life customer behavior and include curve mapping and pattern recognition. In environments where workloads regularly ebb and flow due to definable variables, historical trend analysis is the only way to ensure proper staffing because it is the only methodology that can incorporate complex historical trends into its calculations. Without pattern matching to predict different customer behaviors for different events, the risk of over-staffing or understaffing increases dramatically. Historical trend analysis accurately predicts the continuation of trends, and more advanced algorithms also incorporate pattern recognition to fine-tune forecasts for special events like promotional mailings or national holidays. Each time a particular event reoccurs, the forecasted call volume is automatically adjusted to reflect the change in incoming work caused by comparable occurrences in the past, such as a historical 40 percent drop in volume on the Fourth of July.

Multi-Skilled Agents: An important component of accurate forecasting is having an integrated approach to support multi-skilled issues. It is necessary for forecasting algorithms to directly calculate requirements in a multi-skilled environment, while also avoiding repetitive analytical simulations. A single forecasted set of requirements should be generated for all interwoven skilled activities, regardless of the type of work being offered (such as email and chat). Recognizing secondary skills and accounting for call overflow to available secondarily skilled agents will help eliminate overstaffing. Forecasts based solely on primary skills will generally lead to over-staffing, since overflow cannot be considered as a factor.

Over-Staffing: Over-staffing occurs when abandoned calls are not taken into consideration. Staffing operational costs, which account for 70-80 percent of a call center’s budget, can be severely impacted by over-staffing. For absolute maximum efficiency, software should have an algorithm to incorporate abandoned calls. Systems that don’t understand abandons will always over-staff your call center. This is like the airplane that takes off with empty seats; you will never have another chance to recover that revenue.

Once scheduling requirements are known, use an algorithm that maximizes the achievable quality of service. Avoid using a simple “hours-net-to-zero” scheduling algorithm. Scheduling systems that use a simple net-to-zero algorithm cannot distinguish between schedules that deliver good and bad service. If understaffing or over-staffing during different intervals throughout the day nets to zero, you are not truly meeting your service-level objectives during those intervals. Wasted labor expenses can occur through over-staffing, while understaffing results in lost revenue.

Conclusion: Workforce management is based on science, and it should be approached from a scientific perspective. The best option is to choose a vendor who specializes in workforce management and understands its complexities. Starting with a solid workforce management foundation will help reach service-level objectives with fewer problems.

Bob Webb is with Pipkins, Inc. Founded in 1983, Pipkins is a supplier of workforce management software and services to the call center industry, providing sophisticated forecasting and scheduling technology for both the front and back-office. Its award-winning Vantage Point is the most accurate forecasting and scheduling tool on the market. Pipkins’ systems forecast and schedule more than 300,000 agents in over 500 locations across all industries worldwide.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2014]