Scouting Report: Real-Time Adaptive Scheduling—WFM’s Next Evolutionary Step
By Donna Fluss
Most contact center managers agree that there is ample opportunity to improve their workforce management (WFM) solution, their WFM best practices, and most likely both. Workforce management software remains the most important productivity tool in larger contact centers, but these solutions and related practices haven’t received enough attention over the years. Part of this is due to their complexity, but more often it comes down to people not wanting to wake up a sleeping tiger.
But the time for action on WFM has come. Good enough isn’t acceptable in today’s demanding economy. WFM is an essential tool for front-office (i.e., contact center) and back-office operating areas; it’s also a necessary one for companies that want to deliver an outstanding customer experience: It is designed to ensure departments have the proper number of resources with the right skills at the appropriate time. For large contact centers, with complex operating environments employing hundreds of people with a wide variety of skills, a sophisticated tool is required to determine which staff members must be on hand at every interval to ensure that personalized service can be delivered, or at least that the necessary resources are available, with the right skills to get the job done.
Intraday Management Must Improve
Companies need flexible, easy-to-use, and precise WFM solutions that accurately forecast their capacity requirements (also known as volumes) and schedule resources with the right skills to meet the anticipated demand. The market challenge is that even the most accurate WFM solution (if there is such a tool) cannot anticipate and plan for unexpected events, which create varying levels of chaos because they render forecasts mostly useless. Examples of these types of events are “acts of God” (snowstorms, hurricanes, and tornados), operating errors (billing or system mistakes), or highly contagious viruses or food poisoning. All of these kinds of events have an unanticipated impact on the volumes of incoming interactions, the resources available to handle them, and sometimes both. Therefore, it’s essential for a WFM solution to have an intraday management module that “flexes” with the unpredictable nature of daily business and identifies organizational needs and how best to address them in real time.
Intraday management is an area of weakness in most contact center WFM solutions. Most of the intraday management modules that are standard components of WFM solutions notify administrators after they’ve identified an issue. But these modules are designed to simply alert managers, not to provide guidance on how to respond to staffing or volume anomalies. Consequently, they are ineffective at helping managers adhere to service levels, forcing them to have to reforecast and schedule manually, which is complex and time-consuming. (And often by the time the updated forecast and schedule is created, the situation has changed again and the recommendations are useless.)
Introducing Real-Time Adaptive Scheduling
The market needs WFM solutions whose intraday management capabilities automate the process of identifying and fixing unanticipated changes in demand and resources. DMG refers to these new intraday capabilities as real-time adaptive scheduling for WFM. While the name emphasizes scheduling, to perform this task the WFM module has to be able to identify an out-of-adherence situation, reforecast, determine the skills and resources required to address the new projections, and then “acquire” the needed employees.
These real-time adaptive scheduling modules will be enabled by faster processing capabilities, which are likely to be delivered in the cloud. It’s certainly possible to place enough processing power on a customer site to be able to reforecast hundreds and possibly thousands of agents and skills in real time. But cloud-based solutions are designed for surges and are able to analyze a massive amount of metadata from the automatic call distributor (ACD) as part of the forecasting process. These environments are typically engineered to handle 100 percent more capacity than anticipated, enabling them to respond quickly enough to render the scheduling module’s recommendations useful.
Real-Time Adaptive Versus Old-School Intraday
Figure 1 points out the differences between the ineffective intraday management capabilities of old and the new real-time adaptive scheduling modules for WFM solutions. The new adaptive solutions are designed to respond in real time and fully automate the process of determining which resources are needed. These modules are progressive and proactively address changing needs—agents might already have been asked to alter their schedules by the time the WFM administrator and contact center manager become aware of a problem. The system notifies management of how a staffing situation is being addressed instead of just alerting them to an issue. This improvement alone is enough to justify an investment in real-time adaptive scheduling, as it gives management the peace of mind that comes from knowing it can meet service-level commitments even in challenging conditions. This is a game changer for contact centers. (For outsourcers that are penalized for not meeting service levels, it can save thousands of dollars and improve relationships with their clients.)
Source: DMG Consulting LLC, February 2017
Real-time adaptive scheduling capabilities can be third-party offerings, but they must be fully integrated within any WFM solution. These new modules must be able to use information from third-party applications so that they have the intelligence to route interactions to the appropriate resources. Such information could come from the automatic call distributor, CRM, quality management, speech analytics, or performance management solution. The point is that real-time adaptive scheduling should be able to look outside of the WFM application and call upon resources that are not part of the contact center.
This next generation of intraday management tools will be free from the classic WFM limitations of fixed schedules and rigid compensation. Since the goal is to make sure that contact centers have the right resources at all times, especially when they’re hit by unexpected changes, real-time adaptive scheduling solutions must be free to adjust salaries to attract the necessary resources, which means that they must come with compensation modules that balance incremental employee expenses against the cost of not meeting service levels. Real-time adaptive scheduling must be designed with the new employee paradigms in mind and concentrate on variable resources instead of prioritizing full-timers and longevity. In the future, contact centers must address fairness at all levels to more fully engage their employees. This will position service departments to achieve their primary mission of delivering an outstanding customer experience.
Enterprise and WFM vendors have underestimated the impact and cost of mishandling their intraday staffing challenges, largely because they haven’t had a way to address the issues. But the new generation of intraday tools, real-time adaptive scheduling WFM capabilities, provide innovative ways to handle these challenges. These new solutions will enable companies to meet the essential goal of delivering a consistent service level at the same time as they address the needs of Millennials and their colleagues, who expect flexibility and fairness in the workforce.