Workforce Management Grows in Importance

April 1, 2021
By Donna Fluss

The workforce management (WFM) market is hot. This IT sector attracted more investments and research and development (R&D) dollars in 2020 than in any prior year.

At first look, it appears as if the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic was what convinced contact center leaders to modernize their WFM practices and tools, which, in turn encouraged vendors to see the great potential for sales of new-gen WFM solutions, but this is only part of the story. The contact center market has been easing its way toward digital transformation for the past few years but did not quite fully embrace it. Enterprise and contact center executives have recognized the need to overhaul and update these operating environments to address the needs of an increasingly digital and self-service-oriented customer base but did not want to make major investments.

Workforce management remains one of the most important productivity tools in contact centers. By correctly forecasting the volume of incoming traffic from multiple media, determining the number of live agents and/or bots needed to handle the projected activity, and then scheduling employees with the right skills to get the job done, WFM solutions enable companies to deliver the service experience they choose for their customers. This was complicated enough when most agents worked on site and supervisors could see what they were doing. It became more complex and important with the mass migration of employees to work at home, necessitated by the pandemic.

The more advanced WFM solutions come with capabilities and tools that have been instrumental in helping contact center supervisors and managers oversee their agents, regardless of where they are working. These tools include real-time adherence, intraday management, mobility, self-service, and bi-directional communications.

Point of No Return

The pandemic ushered in many changes in a short period of time in traditionally slow-moving contact centers. Now that we know that the right technology can make contact centers agile operating environments, there’s no going back. New-gen WFM solutions have been instrumental in making the work-at-home staffing model work, whether it is to support flex scheduling, agent self-service, mobility, or virtual hiring and onboarding of agents. Real-time adherence (RTA) solutions enable managers to track and monitor what their agents are doing throughout the day, providing visibility that is lacking in most other operating departments. The self-service capabilities in the newer WFM solutions enable agents to balance their personal and professional responsibilities. And the solutions that come with agent self-service virtual assistants eliminate many of the barriers in using these capabilities. The new workforce is demanding more flexibility now that remote staffing is a proven, viable option.

Once the pandemic is under control, WFM solutions are expected to be a critical part of the process of bringing employees back to the office. Contact centers that use WFM will have a major advantage over many other departments that lack these essential forecasting, scheduling, and oversight tools. Innovative contact centers will use their WFM solutions to build return-to-the-office schedules that minimize service disruptions. And innovative WFM vendors are building features to allow employees to work safely together on-site.

DMG expects the WFM market to continue to grow rapidly during the next few years. The cloud is the primary driver of market adoption, as it is now possible for contact centers of all sizes, including those with as few as 10 seats, to deploy these solutions. It’s also driving a major and sustained WFM replacement cycle by making it easier for companies to upgrade existing WFM solutions to take advantage of new features or to transition from one solution to another. This is not to say that it’s become easy to implement a WFM solution, but many of the technical limitations, including the need to have multiple servers and WFM administrators, have been eliminated by the cloud.

Challenges to Conquer

The many positive changes, innovation, and strong momentum in the contact center market are astounding, but old and new challenges remain for the solutions and their users. Too many of the vendors still depend on Erlang or modified Erlang as their primary forecasting algorithm. There have always been inherent challenges in applying an Erlang calculation to contact center calls, and these mathematical challenges increase when applied to asynchronous digital interactions.

The WFM solutions need to do a much better job of forecasting for digital interactions, something that is new to them. When an interaction starts in one channel, let’s say an online chat, and then pivots to a call, for example, it breaks the traditional forecasting assumptions, producing a new array of opportunities for WFM solutions. Add to this consumers’ growing preference for self-service solutions, forcing some contact centers to forecast for a hybrid environment that consists of live agents and bots; this compels WFM solutions to get more creative. And these are just a few of the newer forecasting and scheduling challenges confronting contact centers.

DMG expects the WFM market to continue to expand and innovate at an accelerated rate in the next few years. Between the new market entrants and enhancements coming from the established competitors, enterprises have more options than at any time in the past, and more exciting developments are on the way.