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. 

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]

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: Make the Transition from Spreadsheets to Workforce Management

By Lori Kyker

Change can be difficult. Often, we resist change even when it will enhance our life or make it easier. We create justifications for our resistance, and over time the justifications become accepted reasons without further analysis. Technology is designed to make our jobs less tedious; however, many contact centers struggle with implementation or full deployment of software designed to automate the forecasting process. For example, many centers find it challenging to transition from using spreadsheets to utilizing a workforce management tool that not only streamlines processes but provides a strong return on investment.

There are four common reasons for reluctance to proceed with process automation:

Internal Productivity Metrics: Centers that have used spreadsheets exclusively may believe that their metrics cannot be integrated with a workforce management tool. While it is more comfortable to continue with something that is known versus trying something unknown, the truth might surprise you. Workforce management solutions are available that offer spreadsheet integration tools to open reports in Microsoft Excel using data from an Oracle database and allow reports to be created and automatically refreshed in the spreadsheet view.

Tools of this nature allow users to upload existing spreadsheets with the formatting already in place and create additional tabs with the background data needed to populate the report. These tabs can be linked to the final report tabs using formulas or VBA (visual basic for applications) scripts. The reports can be set to auto-update with a refresh rate selected by the administrator. Dynamic dates and rolled-up totals are available to help facilitate ease of use by reducing the additional functions that would need to be added to the workbook. Custom metrics – such as average sales, contacts per order, contacts per hour, and average wage – can be integrated into the workforce management system and displayed in the spreadsheet integration tool, rather than manually reporting on them from a separate external system.

Manual reporting processes can be streamlined by a workforce management solution, saving hours of labor to deliver multiple dashboards and reports. Real-time views of performance data allow for actionable results. Real-time KPIs ensure there is no delay in communication of information, and monitoring this data is critical to provide up-to-date feedback.

Once KPIs are delivered and acknowledged, agents can quickly change measured behavior. This is not true in a manual environment, where agents often do not receive their KPIs for weeks or even months later. By communicating real-time KPIs to agent desktops, productivity can be quickly improved, specifically for typical targets such as average hold time, adherence, contacts handled, and any other goal by which agents are measured.

Size of the Center: Size of the center is a consideration when investing in workforce management solutions. While Excel spreadsheets and Erlang calculators are less costly, experts maintain that these tools are ineffective for centers employing more than twenty-five agents, having widely fluctuating call volumes, or for centers with locations across different time zones. There is an increased chance of errors and decreased level of accuracy. Knowing the need to make changes quickly also becomes difficult, if not impossible.

Cost: Management is often conflicted about the value of workforce management software because of implementation and training costs, as well as the perceived return on investment versus benefits realized. Cost is a major consideration in acquisition of workforce management software, with most in-house installations exceeding six figures. One viable alternative to purchasing a full-blown platform is to consider a hosted system. A hosted solution offers many advantages over in-house models:

  • little or no capital investment
  • no risk of major systems failure
  • pay as you go and only for what you need
  • no interruption to business since upgrades can be performed during slow times
  • fast implementation
  • minimal need for in-house IT support
  • rapid adjustment to changing business conditions

In addition, users enjoy the same benefits as in-house installations, and they can experience those benefits before making a decision to purchase an in-house system.

Whether you choose a hosted system or an in-house installation, each choice pays for itself through better staff utilization, reduced administrative costs, and the ability to run “what if” scenarios before making costly changes. Forecasting can be performed for both multi-channel and multi-site environments. Real-time adherence options provide help to ensure that agents are in the right seat at the right time and performing assigned tasks. An unexpected benefit is greater agent empowerment, as workforce management software allows agents to have a degree of control over their schedules. This can have a direct impact on attrition rates, as well as a reduction in supervisory administrative tasks.

Management Buy-in: An additional issue faced by contact center personnel responsible for conveying to management the importance of automating the forecasting system can be the inability to define and articulate how workforce management can improve service levels and increase efficiency. The vernacular of a contact center may not be understood by those who do not work in that environment, and poor communication can result in the failure to justify the need for a workforce management system. An important point to remember is that people buy benefits, not features. Therefore, decision makers need to understand what will be gained by the purchase of a software solution and not simply presented with the features.

Conclusion: Workforce management software can be instrumental in improving a company’s bottom line through improved customer service. Busies and abandon rates are reduced, and target service levels are more easily achieved. An investment in workforce management software in today’s contact center environment is critical to remaining competitive and providing the service customers expect.

Whether you choose a hosted system or an in-house installation, making the right purchasing decision to meet your needs on the front end eliminates the need for future adjustments. Investigate before you buy, and talk to more than one vendor to ensure you are getting the right solution.

Lori Kyker is a senior consultant at Pipkins, Inc., founded in 1983, and a supplier of workforce management software and services to the contact center industry, providing sophisticated forecasting and scheduling technology for both the front and back office. For more information, visit www.pipkins.com.

[From Connection Magazine December 2013]

ObamaCare’s Effect on Full-Time Versus Part-Time Call Center Hiring

By David Filwood

Two of the main reasons employee quit rates are high in the call center industry are low pay and lack of healthcare benefits. In call centers where there is low pay and no healthcare benefits, the above-average agents are the ones who jump ship first. This leaves the “loyal” workers – average and below-average performers.

Paying your call center employees reasonable wages (above minimum wage) can help motivate your above-average agents to stay with you longer. According to People Report (www.peoplereport.com), a company that provides HR metrics for the fast-food industry that has employee turnover issues similar to call centers, employers who pay at least a portion of the healthcare insurance premiums for their full- and part-time employees have retention rates ten times higher than employers who don’t.

In spite of this, the media has recently highlighted stories about employers who are using the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also referred to as Obamacare, as a reason to cut their workers’ hours. According to these reports, some employers are converting full-time employees into part-time workers in order to remain under the fifty full-time worker cutoff for the ACA employer mandate. Any new job openings are then for part-time work.

The ACA employer mandate requires large call center employers to provide healthcare to full-time employees who work thirty or more hours per week. A call center is deemed to be large if it has fifty or more full-time employees. Under the current provisions of the ACA, a call center employer could resize and structure their workforce to have 1,000 part-time agents and forty-nine full-time employees and still be considered a small employer.

Even though implementation of the provisions of the ACA law dealing with the employer mandate have been delayed until 2015, this trend towards part-time employees has already begun to take hold in some industries.

There’s no magic formula to determine if part-time work is the wave of the future or appropriate for your call center. Generally speaking, here are some pros and cons for these two primary workforce approaches for call centers.

Part-Time Pros: Call centers made up of part-time employees provide for reduced compensation and benefit costs, and they are attractive to desirable labor demographic segments such as students and working mothers. This also allows for greater schedule flexibility, which lets employers adjust staff levels to better meet caller demand.

Part-Time Cons: Part-time call centers may see less employee loyalty, including higher turnover and inconsistent employee productivity. Potential workers can simply choose not to go to work for companies that play the “part-time only” game, resulting in fewer candidates to fill part-time call center jobs or leaving only less-desirable applicants. In addition, with higher turnover and a larger workforce, training costs increase.

Full-Time Pros: Call centers comprised mostly of full-time hourly employees have the potential for higher productivity and service consistency. This is due to higher employee retention, stronger employee loyalty, and more solid team unity.

Full-Time Cons: Full-time call centers tend to carry higher compensation and benefit costs. And by depending on a smaller workforce to carry a larger workload, burnout and emotional exhaustion become a bigger factor.

In considering these items, keep in mind that top-performing contact centers tend to drive their revenue and performance through superior hiring tactics. Be sure to factor this reality into any employment strategy.

David Filwood is the founder and principal consultant with TeleSoft Systems, providing consulting, hiring, and training solutions to call centers.

[From Connection Magazine November 2013]

Avoiding Buyer’s Remorse for Workforce Management Systems

By Bob Webb

Having buyer’s remorse over the purchase of an appliance, an article of clothing, or even an automobile is one thing. Remorse over spending tens of thousands of dollars on a software system that was supposed to make your life easier is quite another. Buyer’s remorse isn’t the result of one or two bad choices – it’s a compilation of multiple mistakes that only become visible after the software is implemented.

Some common reasons for software purchasing mistakes are:

  • Lack of pre-planning and not adhering to a budget
  • Buying features you may not need for years
  • Using a “follow the crowd” mentality
  • Succumbing to the idea that one solution can fix all your problems

Software is a tool, not a magic bullet. As any craftsman can tell you, a tool is only as good as the person using it. Overbuying software is just as financially dangerous as under-buying, and overbuying is the biggest purchasing mistake companies make. This includes buying software that is complex, difficult to implement, does not match current or future business needs, or exceeds their budget. Overbuying can also result from exaggerated vendor promises.

Buyer’s Remorse: Avoid buyer’s remorse by following a few simple steps:

Understand the Importance of What You Are Purchasing: In the contact center world, workforce management software provides a foundation for all other services. If a workforce management system is not functional or does not gather enough data to generate an accurate forecast, other software becomes secondary.

Many companies purchase software based on features only, ignoring other critical factors such as scalability and flexibility, which includes the software’s ability to grow with their company and meet ever-changing needs. If the technology does not match your ability to implement and manage the software, the result is a purchasing mistake and wasted resources.

Don’t Follow the Crowd: If you buy into the idea that “bigger is better” or because a vendor has more customers they must be superior, you risk making a purchase that does not fit your needs. The market is competitive, and vendors position themselves in the most favorable light through revenue reports, analyst ratings, magazine endorsements, and sometimes, exaggerated claims. Due diligence is important, but understand your needs and ensure they are being met.

The best method of vendor evaluation is customer referrals. Ask about promises made versus promises kept. Examine nuances that make a difference in functionality and performance, such as how frequently the software is upgraded and how changes in the software will affect your organization. Additionally, inquire about customer service and software support.

Evaluate Your Vendor: The quality of the vendor is as important as the quality of the software. Some companies have been acquired and their products merged with other solutions outside of their area of expertise. A company may have a solid reputation for developing their own solutions but lack innovation and functionality with acquired software. Vendor considerations should also include longevity factors as well as the likelihood of the company being acquired and merged into an organization with which you have no prior relationship.

Signs of a Purchasing Mistake: Common problems that constitute purchasing mistakes involve inaccurate forecasting and an inability to generate requirements at the interval level. These problems often result from inadequate scheduling algorithms. Accurate forecasting uses several components, including the amount of historical data available, the nature of the data, the forecasting period, an infinite number of different service objectives on one or more work streams, and algorithms that reflect real life customer behavior.

A workforce management system should be able to maintain several years of historical data in order to generate an accurate forecast. Bottom-line criteria for a functional workforce management system include:

  • How much data can it store and use?
  • Can it account for inflation due to abandoned calls?
  • Can it recognize seasonal fluctuations and growth trends?
  • Can you input special event information and apply correlation factors?

The biggest clue that you have made a purchasing mistake is experiencing over-staffing or under-staffing. Both scenarios are deadly to bottom-line revenue. Idle agents or unanswered phones lead to disastrous business results through wasted labor expense or customers lost to poor service.

Responding to a Purchasing Mistake: If you have buyer’s remorse and need to take action, what should you do? Should you just work with what you have, or replace it? This is a difficult decision, and companies have few good options.

The likelihood of your vendor providing a viable solution is low because they put you in this precarious situation in the first place. If a solution is offered, what are the chances of success, and how long will the process take?

Replacing a workforce management system can be costly and frustrating, but it may offer the best option. Before replacing a system, though, ensure that the original software was implemented correctly and all users are adequately trained. Poor training can result in underutilization or software not meeting service levels.

Workforce management is based on science and should be approached from a scientific perspective. Systems with time-tested and proven algorithms are most likely to produce forecasts that eliminate scheduling errors such as under- or overstaffing. Avoid buyer’s remorse by taking the time to carefully evaluate your business needs before investing in a software solution.

Bob Webb is VP of sales at Pipkins, Inc., a supplier of workforce management software and services to the call center industry, providing forecasting and scheduling technology for the front and back office.

[From Connection Magazine May 2013]