WFM Solutions Adapt to Changing Needs
No contact center technology has undergone as significant a paradigm shift as the WFM sector. Its fundamental purpose and function remains the same, but the process is vastly different. The new generation of WFM solutions gives agents unprecedented visibility into and control over their schedules. But contact centers are also realizing many benefits, including reduced operating costs, optimized scheduling, improved performance, decreased staff attrition and an engaged and committed workforce.
The gap between “old school” and “new wave” WFM continues to widen, and the key differences are flexibility and automation. Flex scheduling, agent self-service empowerment, and adaptive real-time scheduling capabilities are the new standard of WFM and key competitive differentiators. They also happen to be key drivers of agent satisfaction, empowerment and retention.
Contact centers need to be optimally staffed on a 24x7x365 basis, including weekends and holidays. At the same time, contact center staff wants the flexibility to maintain a work-life balance. The traditional fixed-shift staffing approach does not make sense for this type of operating environment, as contact center attrition rates attest. The alternative is flex staffing, where agents are empowered to create their own schedule by entering in their availability and preferred times to work. Alternatively, agents can build their schedule by selecting the days and hours they want to work from a master list of available times, based on the number of people needed per hour. With either approach, agents have control.
It’s critical for contact centers to be able to rapidly respond to real-time conditions. Inevitably, however, variances to plan occur. Companies require WFM solutions that are self-adjusting and adapt in real time to volatile demand and resources, enabling enterprises to bridge the gap between forecasts and reality. Adaptive real-time scheduling software automates the intraday management challenge. It identifies when the service level is out of conformance, re-forecasts for the remainder of the day, determines the skills and resources required to address the new projections, and then executes the necessary changes to schedules to “acquire” needed employees, or to notify agents that they can leave early.
Agents also experience “variances to plan,” and must be able to self-adjust their schedules in real time in response to unanticipated events. Agent self-service portals, enhanced mobile self-service capabilities or mobile apps enable agents to trade shifts, swap hours, request vacation, request time off, or better yet, offset the missed hours from one day by exchanging them with hours on another day when the contact center needs them. Agents with a personal emergency no longer need to be penalized just because they need to adjust their schedules by an hour or two.
WFM solutions use algorithms to calculate omni-channel forecasting, staffing and multi-skill scheduling requirements for contact center environments. These mathematical formulas are the underpinnings of WFM solutions; if the algorithm is faulty, the forecasts and schedules will be inaccurate. As WFM continues its expansion into the back office, branches and other operating areas, vendors need forecasting and scheduling algorithms that take into account the types of work performed in these environments. The WFM vendors are investing in delivering new and enhanced methods to more accurately forecast and schedule omni-channel, multi-skill and blended environments.
Many of the new algorithms or improved simulation models leverage artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, are optimized for each channel; and account for blended environments, multi-skill efficiencies, and the unique characteristics of both synchronous and asynchronous contact types. Emerging AI-enabled capabilities can help determine which forecasting model works best with a given set of historical data. Machine learning is being leveraged to improve pattern detection and identification of outliers or deviations for validating models and forecasts and in an iterative learning process to improve scheduling accuracy and fairness. AI and machine learning are being leveraged in skill/skill-proficiency assignments to support outcome-driven predictive routing strategies. Predictive analytics is being used internally to assist with hiring decisions, to identify and understand the drivers of agent churn, and to recommend intervention. Predictive analytics is also being used to anticipate if work will be completed on time based on data collected about individual work items.
WFM, always a vital contact center technology, has become a necessity due to social, economic and business trends. Today’s workforce demands scheduling flexibility, work-life balance and the autonomy to self-serve and self-manage. Customers require omni-channel support and personalized service. Contact centers need to address operational requirements, satisfy employee needs, and meet customer expectations, while managing costs. AI and automation are driving critical changes in WFM solutions to address these opportunities, and more. But fear of losing control and letting the technology do what it is designed to do is the biggest inhibitor to the adoption of automated and AI-enabled processes. But the compelling technology innovations in the leading WFM solutions clearly indicate that it’s time to take the leap of faith.
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.