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Workforce Management: Getting Better but Not Good Enough

The workforce management (WFM) market is coming on strong. This is clear from the growing number of competitors. A few years ago, the contact center WFM market consisted of three leaders – Aspect, NICE/IEX and Verint – and a few lesser-known vendors, including Calabrio, Genesys, Holy-Dis, InVision (now injixo), Pipkins, Teleopti, and Bay Bridge (acquired by Interactive Intelligence). These vendors are still in business, and many new entrants have come to market to address users’ unmet needs. Newer entrants include CallCopy, eg solutions, Green WFM, Interactive Intelligence, Intradiem, L3 Prime, Noble and WorkFlex. All of the new players claim to serve a new niche. In fact, the contact center WFM market is complicated and highly bifurcated. At a high level, there are now two classes of solutions:
  1. Overly complex applications that are feature-rich but difficult to use, and
  2. Simplified applications that are easy to use, but functionally limited.

The Ideal WFM Solution

DMG has not yet found the ideal contact center WFM solution. But the new, robust competition brings hope that a new solution will emerge that fits the bill. The ideal WFM solution should have the following functionality:
  • Accurate and flexible multi-channel forecasting and scheduling functionality that eliminates over-staffing (good algorithms), and addresses immediate and deferred phone and non-phone tasks and inbound and outbound activities for multi-skill and multi-site environments
  • Support for complex work-rules
  • A flexible and actionable module that automates the intra-day management challenge, including identifying periods of unplanned idle time and using it to assign agents non-phone work
  • A flexible real-time adherence (RTA) module that optimizes staff performance while allowing exceptions; RTA should be “treated” by the intra-day management module
  • A flexible mobile-enabled self-service environment that maximizes agent input and minimizes the administrative time and effort required to create and change agent schedules and manage agent time off
  • A long-term planning module that identifies agent requirements, shift mix, costs and start times for 3 to 5 years into the future
  • An automated time tracker that ties into a payroll or human resource application
  • Flexible, widget-based dashboards that can be customized by individual or role, depending upon the needs of the organization
  • A reporting module that can import and export data and produce customizable and multi-dimensional reports
These modules should be enabled with the following:
  • An easy-to-use framework with system logic, navigation and intelligence built into user interfaces
  • Web-based functionality
  • Rules engine and alerting
  • Ability to conduct “what if” scenarios for all tasks
  • Ability to analyze and manipulate data and seamlessly integrate it back into the application
  • Ability to easily integrate the WFM with other third-party applications
“Nice-to-haves” are:
  • Back-office and branch WFM functionality purpose-built to address work allocation, task management, deferred work and backlog
  • A hiring module that helps qualify candidates’ skills (an online skill assessment tool)
  • A workspace allocation tool that provides a visual diagram of the seating plan and reflects current or proposed agent schedules

Although some of the vendors claim to offer many of these capabilities, no vendor has them all. In particular, no vendor combines intra-day and RTA. But, it would be nice if managers could pick and choose the capabilities they need, instead of having to make trade-offs and compromises.

Selecting a Contact Center WFM Solution Is Harder Than Ever

Having more choices has not made it easier for companies to select a contact center WFM solution. There are now approximately twice as many WFM solutions as there were ten years ago, but many of the newer entrants are niche players. Most of the new solutions were designed for the needs of one or two contact centers, and the products have not been around long enough to have undergone a full re-write to make them more generally useful. (This is a natural evolution for software companies.)

Final Thoughts
End users have more WFM choices than ever before. They can license a solution and put it on-premise, or use a cloud-based offering. They can acquire services to help them with an implementation, or do it by themselves. Despite the many choices, however, there is no ideal solution, and end users still have to make trade-offs when acquiring a WFM application.


DMG Consulting Releases 2012 – 2013 Workforce Optimization Product and Market Report

Ask the Experts

We are looking into the possibility of moving our sales agents from set schedules to a flex- schedule environment. Do you have suggestions on the best way to approach this change?

While it’s a given that contact centers of all sizes need to schedule agents cost effectively based on hours of operation and forecasted volumes, it’s also important to give agents as much control and choice as possible over their schedules, so they can maintain a satisfying work/life balance.
The first step in migrating your contact center is to specify your definition of “flex schedules.” Does it mean that an agent can be assigned to any shift, or does it mean shifts that are static but outside of the typical scope of normal business hours? Flex hours can also mean a mix of part-time and full-time days within the same shift, or even split shifts.
Once the flex schedule is defined, create a forecasting analysis and identify call patterns to determine the optimal mix of part-time, peak-time and full-time shifts to meet agent requirements effectively based on your service level goals. The next step is to survey the agent population about their personal preferences regarding work schedules. This should include information about days and hours they cannot work, prefer to work, or would be available to work if needed. Agents should also be given the opportunity to prioritize what matters most to them with regard to their schedules, i.e., is start time more important than days worked? Is having a weekday off more important than working on a weekend? Would they prefer to work a full-time shift in four 10-hour days? Given the opportunity to design their “ideal” schedule, agents can be very creative, resourceful and flexible. After determining which agent preferences are best suited to address the needs of the business, you can gradually migrate agents to their new flex-time schedules. You many also want to consider giving agents who volunteer for a flex schedule a financial incentive to reward them for their willingness to adapt… Read More

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.