What’s Hot in Contact Center Workforce Management
What’s Hot in Contact Center Workforce Management
By Donna Fluss
The last few years have witnessed great innovation in the workforce management market as vendors have extended solutions beyond forecasting and scheduling. The single channel call center has evolved into the multi-media contact center and service organizations have begun to migrate from cost centers to more strategic profit centers. 2005 is expected to be a landmark year for contact center workforce management, as vendors add new functionality, offer new applications and package existing solutions for non-traditional target markets.
A Point Solution No More
The inclusion of performance management applications in workforce management (WFM) product portfolios is the defining trend in the transitioning WFM market. From a strategic standpoint, contact center performance management is a means of aligning the objectives of the contact center with the goals of the company, utilizing data from disparate sources, including the automatic call distributor (ACD), computer telephony integration) CTI, WFM, quality evaluations, eLearning and customer relationship management (CRM) suites. At a tactical level, contact center performance management provides scorecards and dashboards for capturing, tracking and reporting the key performance indicators (KPIs) that are used to measure departmental operations and productivity. Scorecards and dashboards can be developed for agents, teams, groups, centers, sales, marketing and the executive suite.
Performance management solutions complement and enhance existing workforce management applications by measuring how well contact centers are meeting departmental goals, such as increasing sales and improving customer loyalty. Performance management improves contact center productivity by enabling supervisors and schedulers to identify operational challenges and take corrective action when departmental goals are not being met. A growing number of WFM vendors are offering performance management capabilities (through internal development or partnerships); among them Aspects Performance Optimization for eWFM, BluePumpkins Advisor Enterprise (now part of Witness Systems), IEXs Merced Performance Suite and Concertos Analyzer. Expect to see more WFM vendors seek to offer enhanced solutions through partnerships with performance management vendors or build this functionality themselves.
WFM Solutions are Improving
2005 represents the beginning of a new stage for the transitioning WFM market. Current and planned releases will bring added value to contact centers and enterprises with the inclusion of real-time adherence and preference-based scheduling applications (see sidebar).
A relatively new feature in WFM products is real-time adherence (RTA). RTA provides a picture of agent activity in real time and compares it to scheduled activities. This feature aggregates ACD information and presents it to agents or managers through a dashboard or separate screen. Managers can view agent log in/log out times, see agent status (i.e., available for calls, busy, break, etc.), and determine if agents are spending more than the allocated amount of time on any particular activity. RTA also enables managers to compare the number of scheduled agents to the number of available agents.
The ability to identify schedule deviations in real time allows managers and schedulers to make staffing adjustments on the fly. RTA acts as an early warning system, spotting agent-scheduling deviations so that they can be fixed before they become significant service issues. Specifically, RTA lets supervisors know when agents breach pre-defined schedule thresholds or state adherence (by spending time on an unplanned activity). When agents are not in compliance with their schedules, they can be alerted via a pop-up message, email, or a gentle reminder. RTA allows supervisors to take immediate action when agents are out of sync with their planned schedules. This results in better service and more satisfied customers. It also prevents other agents from being deluged by large volumes of diverted transactions.
There are a number of vendors that offer real-time adherence modules. Examples of WFM products that incorporate RTA functionality include Symons Community, IEXs TotalView, Aspects eWFM, GMTs Planet-Jupiter Edition and ISCs Irene. Envision plans to release an RTA module in Q4 2005. The majority of WFM vendors plan to offer this functionality by the end of 2006.
Preference-based scheduling is steadily gaining ground in the workforce management market. This feature allows workforce management supervisors to take agent wants and needs into consideration when creating schedules. These applications use rules-based approval guidelines, such as seniority, performance and attendance, to automate the assignment of schedule preferences. They also give schedulers the ability to manually approve or reject agent requests.
High agent attrition rates and low morale have forced contact center managers to look for creative ways to keep their employees satisfied. Allowing agents to select their own schedules improves their job satisfaction. However, previous attempts at manual preference-based scheduling were time consuming and generally unsuccessful. Preference-based scheduling applications streamline and automate the process of approving or rejecting agent requests, based on pre-defined business rules. This feature enables supervisors and workforce planners to spend their time on more important tasks, such as intra-day scheduling. When used properly, preference-based scheduling will increase agent job satisfaction and reduce agent attrition.
Everyone wants to have control over their work environment, including contact center agents. Preference-based scheduling allows agent input into scheduling, but it must be used selectively, as case studies have shown that giving agents blanket control over their schedules will decrease the efficiency of the contact center and increase agent expenses. A best practice that gives agents more control over their schedules without adding a huge overhead is to offer agents one of their top schedule choices. This gives agents a measure of autonomy and at the same time gives the workforce planner much-needed flexibility in selecting appropriate schedules that contribute to the overall efficiency of the contact center.
Aspect, IEX, Blue Pumpkin, Pipkins and Genesys now offer preference-based scheduling applications. These solutions are also available from a number of other WFM vendors, including ISCs Irene and Portage Communications AgentTime Scheduler.
The Bottom Line
Contact centers of all sizes and in all vertical markets can benefit from contact center workforce management. These applications have improved greatly with innovations in performance management, real-time adherence and preference-based scheduling. The enhanced WFM applications are compelling, enabling managers to compare actual performance with departmental goals and to identify operational problems before they become significant issues. These feature-rich offerings streamline and automate the process of approving or rejecting agent requests and improve employee satisfaction by giving agents greater control over their daily lives. Not all contact centers will need all of the functionality that these offerings provide; users should carefully select products and features that meet current needs and provide all of the necessary functionality for the next couple of years.
Standard Modules vs. Value-added Products
At the most basic level, users should seek offerings that include the following functionality:
- Long-term scheduling
- Intra-day scheduling
- Capacity to handle multiple skills
- Historical adherence
Added value products that end users should evaluate include the following:
- Contact center performance management
- Real-time adherence
- Capacity to handle multiple channels
- Capacity to handle multiple sites
- Proficiency-based/three-dimensional scheduling
- Web-based interface
- Vacation planning
- Shift/schedule bidding/swapping