Workforce management applications: Cracking the productivity code
By Donna Fluss
Workforce management (WFM) applications are among the most important productivity tools in contact centers. At the most basic level, these applications forecast the volume of transactions, which includes calls, emails, short message service (SMS), chats, faxes and social media interactions and then schedule the optimal number of agents to handle the expected interactions within a specified service level, factoring in agent breaks, training needs, time off and sickness absences. More sophisticated WFM applications come with a variety of core, optional and value-added modules to help contact center leaders optimize agent-related expenses while delivering an outstanding customer experience. WFM applications are used to ensure that the contact center has the right number of resources with the right skills to handle the expected volume of inbound, outbound and blended interactions (see figure 1).
Figure 1. Workforce management functional
The benefits and ROI of WFM
When used properly, WFM applications deliver quantifiable and qualitative benefits for contact centers, agents and customers. The benefits fall into three categories:
- Productivity.Reduces agent waste and inefficiency by better forecasting and scheduling staff needs; reduces agent shrinkage and absenteeism; minimizes agent idle time, which increases productive time; increases agent adherence and reduces abandonment and callbacks.
- Customer satisfaction.Increases customer satisfaction and reduces handling time by using skill-based scheduling to ensure availability of the skills and resources required to address anticipated traffic.
- Agent satisfaction.Eliminates unfair handling and favoritism in scheduling; reduces the administrative time and burden involved in manual scheduling and empowers agents to manage their own schedules.
The payback from a WFM application varies and depends on the size and complexity of the contact center, as well as management’s commitment and ability to change agent schedules. First-time users of WFM applications in contact centers with more than 200 agents can potentially realize staff-related savings of 25% to 40% if the application is fully used and they have the flexibility to alter staff schedules. Organizations replacing an existing WFM application with an application that has more advanced self-service, vacation and time-off management and intra-day capabilities should expect to see incremental savings of 3% to 6%. However, it’s essential to point out that the most significant savings come from consistently applying the real-time adherence features that are instrumental for ensuring that agents are where they are supposed to be throughout the day.
As Millennials enter the workforce, they are altering established expectations for employees and, in some cases, prompting managers to change how they manage staff. Millennials have different expectations and are highly protective of work/life balance and are not as willing to relinquish personal time for their job. Unless agents are part of a flex team, it has never been a good idea to alter schedules to meet the needs of the organization, but now employees may be even less willing to sacrifice personal time to accommodate business demands than in the past.
Today’s contact centers need workforce management tools that strike a balance between the organization’s need to keep their costs down and employees’ personal preferences. The new generation of contact center WFM software comes with an agent preference capability. The WFM application starts by identifying the contact center staffing requirements, then fills schedule requirements using agent preferences as much as is practical. The extent to which agent preferences are favored over strict “efficiency” in scheduling can result in the delivery of suboptimal service during some hours. But when agent preferences are taken into consideration, shrinkage (unplanned sick leave and personal days) is typically reduced, so the result won’t be as negative over time as the schedule might initially indicate.
Intra-day management is key
WFM analysts need flexible and automated intra-day management tools to alert them when contact center performance falls outside an acceptable range and to modify schedules and notify agents about any changes. Intra-day management tools accurately capture real-time performance data from different sources, including your automatic call distributor, email application, SMS system and other channels throughout the day, allowing managers to make immediate adjustments to schedules when volumes and staffing differ from the forecast. Intra-day management adjustments vary from changing agent break times on the fly to creating overtime slots to ensure coverage during understaffed intervals to offering voluntary time off or early leave to improve the center’s efficiency.
Contact centers of all sizes and complexity levels can realize benefits from a WFM application. Now that these offerings are available in the cloud, organizations can give them a try without making a major capital investment or long-term commitment. However, while it is much easier to acquire a WFM application than it used to be, the time and effort required to implement such a system and keep it up-to-date remains substantial. Workforce management is both an art and a science, where success depends on having a good application, management commitment and applying best practices.