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The Second Act for WFM

April 2023

Workforce Management (WFM) vendors finally get it. Their solutions have improved significantly during the past few years, and much more innovation is on its way to market. Vendors are delivering more intelligent and flexible applications designed to handle the forecasting and scheduling needs of a digitally transforming society, which is no easy feat. 

WFM software initially came to market to optimize the performance of contact centers and keep costs down by forecasting incoming call volumes and assigning agents to best match the customer interaction flow. Until recently, WFM solutions and administrators rarely took employee needs into account as they created schedules, contributing to extremely high contact center attrition rates averaging between 35% and 55%. As this was the status quo for decades, it was accepted as a cost of running a contact center, but it shouldn’t have been, as it’s bad for customers, employees, and a company’s bottom line. 

The WFM Challenge 

The socio-economic environment has changed dramatically in the past few years, and today’s consumers and employees have little patience for negative experiences. Customers are no longer willing to accept poor service. Employees have made it clear that they expect to participate in setting and modifying their schedules as work/life balance is a top priority. As a result, self-service has become the preferred way to get help for both consumers and employees (when it works). To further complicate matters, contact center managers need solutions that help them manage a hybrid workforce, including tools that track each employee’s work location and other components that allow agents to reserve their seat when in the office. 

A more serious issue for WFM solutions is how to treat interactions occurring in a growing number of digital channels that can be synchronous, asynchronous, lengthy, pivot from one channel to another, or take place in two or more channels simultaneously. Making digital channels a “skill” doesn’t work, as there are many of them, each with its own unique characteristics. And, WFM solutions have been plagued with intraday management modules that make recommendations that have to be applied manually and are often out-of-date by the time they can be initiated.

The Way to Fix WFM 

The resolution for these and other WFM challenges is to re-imagine the solutions and revamp most of what they are designed to do and how they have worked in the past. Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies should be embedded at their core to enable these applications to continuously self-improve. Data feeds from automatic call distributors (ACDs) or other work allocation systems should be enhanced to capture the necessary information to properly forecast and schedule digital and voice interactions. The intraday management module should be redesigned to dynamically identify and apply recommendations to improve a contact center’s performance, in real time, by taking into account all shrinkage factors and volume changes. This module should be able to intelligently apply rules and guidelines to automate the process of identifying and offering VTO and OT to the right resources. And it should not need to involve WFM administrators or supervisors to approve/deny schedule changes or PTO requests, eliminating claims of unfairness by agents. But this is just the beginning of how to fix WFM and some of the improvements that new-generation WFM solutions are delivering to the market. Here are the high-level steps that these new applications are taking:

  1. Collects data the WFM solution needs from a feeder system, e.g., an ACD or other operating system
  2. Forecasts volumes using as many as 40+ different algorithms and simulation techniques to find the “best-fit” for each data set to vastly improve the accuracy of every forecast 
  3. Generate staff requirements by skill and work increment; eliminate the need for employees to select shifts 
  4. Invite agents to request the increments that they would like to work, including lunches and breaks; time slots should not need to be contiguous
  5. Allocate all work increments, lunches, and breaks
  6. Deliver the schedules to agents 
  7. Allow agents to change their schedules on an ongoing basis, as needed
  8. Dynamically adjust schedules on an intraday basis

The process is designed to actively engage employees in scheduling and to use salary arbitrage to address tough-to-fill work increments. The new process cannot guarantee that every agent will get the schedule they request, but it should better align with their expectations and actively engage them in creating and managing their schedules via self-service (primarily mobile-enabled) and keep them informed. 

Final Thoughts

The old way of doing WFM, the solutions and best practices, were not ideal, as it was one-dimensional, only considering the needs of the contact center. The new approach, where agents are actively involved in the scheduling process, has already proven to be much more effective, even though there is still room for improvement. WFM can be a highly effective activity when it is supported by intelligent, AI-enabled solutions that can be customized to the needs of each operating environment. 

To learn more about the WFM market and for help in purchasing a new WFM solution, please see DMG’s Enterprise Workforce Management Product and Market Report.