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Finding the Right WFM Solution is Hard

Workforce management applications are used by contact centers (as well as back offices and branches) to forecast the volume of interactions they are expected to receive, to determine the right number of resources needed to handle the transactions, and to generate optimal staff schedules at a given service level (or response time goals). The process is complicated, but can be greatly enabled, automated and simplified with the right WFM application. The challenge is to find the right WFM solution for each operating environment.
Contact Center WFM Competitive Environment
In the last few years, the WFM market came to life as the challenge of managing contact centers made WFM a necessity for all but the smallest environments. This substantially increased the addressable market, as did the age, complexity and inflexibility of the more established WFM solutions – a growing number of companies are now willing to trade off functionality for ease of use. The introduction of strict work rules in some European countries drove the need for truly localized WFM applications, and the cloud made these solutions available without a capital investment. While it is still complex for a vendor to build a WFM solution, the barriers to entry have changed, along with customer expectations. This does not mean that all of the solutions are equal; far from it. (It will take them 4 – 6 years to build a feature-rich WFM.) Many of the newer entrants are coming to market with more basic products that have more intuitive user interfaces and are easier to use.
The Algorithms Matter
Another factor to consider when selecting a WFM solution is the underlying algorithms used to forecast and schedule the various contact center channels. (If the algorithm is bad, the forecasts and schedules will be inaccurate.) When contact centers just handled phone calls, WFM vendors could employ the erlang C algorithm. There are known mathematical challenges in using erlang C to forecast and schedule contact center calls, but at least there is a body of science to support it. This is not the case for many of the modeling techniques and algorithms that the emerging WFM vendors are introducing to the market to handle newer channels, including chat, email, social media and back-office work. The forecasting requirements of these channels are different from calls – they include deferred activities, carry-over, the need for agents to handle multiple interactions simultaneously, etc. While it is possible that one of the newer algorithms could be more accurate than some of the more established ones, someone needs to prove it scientifically.
Other Considerations
WFM applications should do a great deal more than forecast and schedule. They should come with real-time adherence capabilities that track whether or not agents are doing what they are scheduled to do. They should have agent self-service modules that empower and engage the staff by allowing them to submit their schedule preferences, initiate schedule swaps, request vacations, overtime or voluntary time off, and a great deal more. Some of the solutions have strategic planning modules that allow managers to forecast the number of resources they will need by skill up to 5 years into the future, and also project the costs for budgeting purposes. Other solutions come with training and payroll modules, just to mention some of the functionality from this fast-growing WFM sector.
One area of major weakness in all of the WFM solutions is intra-day management, the ability to change schedules on the fly throughout the day, when forecasts differ from what was projected. Currently, with manual intervention, some of the WFM solutions identify areas of concern. But none of the WFM solutions fully automates the re-scheduling process; a sub-market of vendors, specifically Intradiem and WorkFlex, has emerged to address just this issue.
Final Thoughts
Workforce management is mission-critical for most contact centers with more than 50 agents because it improves productivity and helps ensure that the right number of resources with the right skills is available to handle the forecasted volume of transactions. Prospects can now purchase a WFM solution on a stand-alone basis, as part of a WFO suite or from their ACD vendor. The functionality, price, level of integration and benefits vary greatly, and no two systems are the same. Despite all of the known challenges in implementing and using WFM applications, it’s usually more cost effective to use a WFM solution than to do workforce management manually. However, buyers should do a great deal of due diligence before making a WFM selection, as the degree of differentiation between offerings is greater than ever.


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Ask the Experts

What is gamification and how is it relevant for contact center environments?

DMG defines gamification as the process of incorporating gaming methods and techniques into business applications and processes to accelerate adoption, promote user engagement, and drive ideal behaviors by making the user experience fun, motivating and rewarding. In essence, gamification mimics the instant gratification and reward system inherent in gaming devices, and applies it to real-life business situations to improve productivity, enhance performance, increase sales, etc. Gamification is starting to become an accepted business practice in the contact center arena.
Companies looking for an “edge” in order to differentiate their service, without making a major investment in their technology or people, are considering gamification as well other techniques to focus front-line employees on key behaviors. Contact center workforce optimization (WFO) solutions support gamification by tracking incentives for agents when they achieve outstanding results on user-defined key performance indicators (KPIs), and enabling organizations to systemically start contests, recognize individual achievements and drive the right behaviors to help sustain superior performance. In a contact center, gamification elements can be used to create challenges or contests centered on adherence, quality, or improving the customer experience, for example, and then award or assign points and rewards based on employee performance, skill proficiencies, and/or demonstrated subject matter expertise. Interest in gamification is growing rapidly, but right now there is no consistency in the definition and the features included in these modules. DMG is seeing more vendors add gamification features into their solutions in response to the growing influence of Millennials on corporate culture.

DMG Consulting LLC is a leading independent research, advisory and consulting firm specializing in unified communications, contact centers, back-office and real-time analytics. Learn more at www.dmgconsult.com.