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Contact Center Workforce Management Keeps Getting Better 

Contact Center Workforce Management Keeps Getting Better

Contact Center Workforce Management Keeps Getting Better

By Donna Fluss e.newsletter

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Contact center workforce management (WFM) solutions forecast the volume of calls (or other transaction types, like emails and chat sessions) and then use this information to schedule the optimal number of agents to meet projected needs. It does this while taking into account agent breaks, training classes, planned vacations and unplanned sickness. WFM solutions automate the process of determining the number of agents that must be hired to ensure that customer transactions are handled at a specified service level. For example, the service level for calls may be the percent of calls answered in 20 seconds. For emails, the service level may be responding to all emails within 24 hours.

The WFM Challenge

WFM is the most complex application used in most contact centers. Many contact center managers view their scheduling methodology as unique and, in some cases, a differentiator for their operating environment. Few are willing or able to use a standardized approach to schedule their staff. A scheduling approach that is ideal in one organization, may not work in another. For example, consider the differences in scheduling requirements for union and non-union environments, or among European Union countries with differing labor regulations.

To address the diverse needs of contact centers around the world, WFM vendors have built systems capable of handling many approaches and options. This functional flexibility has resulted in complex applications that have been time consuming and challenging to implement and maintain. All too frequently, enterprises have purchased and implemented a WFM application only to discover that the effort involved in maintaining the application was not worth the cost and energy. These functional challenges remain, particularly for contact centers using WFM solutions that are more than three years old. During the past few years, the majority of innovation from both new and established entrants has concentrated on simplifying the functional complexity and improving the usability of WFM solutions. WFM remains a complex application, as forecasting and scheduling for multi-site, multi-skill and multi-channel contact centers is challenging. But technical and functional enhancements have made them easier to use, increasing their penetration rate and boosting interest in this market.

Benefits of WFM

When used properly, WFM applications deliver quantifiable and qualitative benefits for contact centers, agents and customers. The benefits fall into many categories, including:

Productivity: Reduces agent waste and inefficiency by better forecasting and scheduling staff needs; reduces agent shrinkage and absenteeism; minimizes agent idle time, which increases productive time; increases agent adherence; and reduces abandonment and “call backs.”

Customer Satisfaction: Increases customer satisfaction and reduces handling time through the use of skill-based scheduling to identify the skills and resources required to address anticipated traffic.

Staff Satisfaction: Eliminates unfair handling and favoritism in scheduling; reduces administrative time (and headaches) involved in manual scheduling; empowers agents to manage their own schedules; and motivates agents to do a better job by establishing a ranking system that gives schedule preference to the best performers.

WFM applications are considered one of the most important productivity tools in contact centers with more than 150 agents, and are essential in large environments with more than 250 agents. WFM solutions are also increasingly viewed as a requirement for multi-site, multi-skill and multi-channel contact centers with more than 50 agents. (Some managers are saying that WFM is also highly beneficial in complex operating environments with as few as 25 agents.) It’s important to appreciate the considerable effort and strong management commitment required to realize the full benefits from WFM.

WFM Functional Building Blocks

The leading WFM solutions address both single and multi-site environments. The packaging of functionality varies substantially among the offerings; some vendors provide core and supplemental modules, while others sell a license that includes all capabilities. WFM functionality is generally broken up into the following seven logical modules:

  1. Administration – used to set up the application and to define work rules, agents and security.
  2. Forecasting – projects incoming call volumes, generally in 15-minute increments.
  3. Scheduling – determines the optimal schedules for the contact center based on contact center productivity, agent satisfaction, or a combination of both.
  4. Intra-Day Capability – allows managers to view their intra-day statistics, compare forecast vs. actual performance, make same-day changes to schedules for absences or training, and conduct “what if” analyses to project the impact of any changes.
  5. Real-Time Adherence (RTA) – reflects real-time variances between agent schedules and actual performance. Allows supervisors to detect slippage, identifying agents who are not where they are supposed to be based on the schedules.
  6. Self-Service – allows agents to input their scheduling needs to a Web-based self-service environment. This will include their schedule preferences, hours and days they want to work, preferred vacation time, time-off accruals, overtime/under-time, etc. These environments are also set up to allow agents to do shift bidding, where they actually “bid” for their preferred hours and trade shifts.
  7. Reporting – provides standard and ad hoc reporting capabilities. The best applications have built reporting into all of their modules and allow users to produce reports from within any of them.

The exact breakdown of functionality varies among the applications. All leading WFM applications are also able to integrate out-of-the-box with all major and many of the smaller ACDs and PBXs in the market.

Many WFM systems have optional, value-added modules, including:

  1. Multi-Channel Forecasting – forecasts incoming transaction volumes for emails and chat sessions. In the future, these applications will also need to address SMS transactions.
  2. Multi-Skill Support – enables the call center to schedule calls and other transactions based on the specific requirements of the transactions and the skills of available agents.
  3. Performance Management – analytics-oriented module that creates scorecards and dashboards to assist users in managing and enhancing their contact center.
  4. Long-Term/Strategic Planner – allows a call center manager to plan a few years into the future; also includes the ability to project staffing costs.

Increasingly, multi-channel and multi-skill functionality are considered “core” components, as most sizable contact centers have these requirements.

What’s Next for WFM

The future for contact center WFM solutions is more promising than ever, which explains the entrance of so many vendors into this technology segment. Leading and contending WFM offerings are currently available from Aspect, Calabrio, Envision, Genesys, GMT, IEX, Left Bank Solutions, UCN and Verint. Users can choose between purchased and hosted WFM solutions. Mid-size contact centers can acquire solutions targeted to their specific needs and price points. Managers have the option of purchasing a single WFM solution that addresses contact center, back-office and branch activities, reducing the support burden for each business unit. Integration between WFM solutions and other workforce optimization products, such as quality management, eLearning, coaching and performance management, is increasing the benefits and contributions of these offerings. Overall usability is improving – vendors have heard the message that ease of use is important and are building efficiencies, such as “single-click” sickness handling, into their applications. The actual penetration rate of WFM solutions is not known, although estimates range from 30% to 45% with a very high penetration rate in very large contact centers and a high install rate in large centers.

DMG Consulting is releasing its first annual Workforce Management Market Report in December 2007, to assist end-user organizations in selecting the right WFM solution at the right price. This in-depth industry Report analyzes functionality and technology as well as market trends, challenges, ROI, market share, pricing and best practices.

About the Author
Donna Fluss is the founder and President of DMG Consulting LLC, a firm specializing in customer-focused business strategy, operations and technology services. Ms. Fluss is a recognized thought leader and innovator in contact center and real-time analytics. She is the author of The Real-Time Contact Center and many leading industry Reports including the 2007 Contact Center Performance Management Market Report, the 2007 Speech Analytics Market Report, the 2007 Surveying and Analytics Report and the annual Quality Management/Liability Recording Product and Market Report. Contact Ms. Fluss at

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