Workforce Management’s Best Years Lie Ahead
By Donna Fluss
Last year was the best one in decades for the contact center workforce management (WFM) market, and 2016 is shaping up to be even better. The WFM market has finally awakened and is expected to continue picking up momentum. End-user organizations that have been sitting on the sidelines for years, making do with difficult-to-use and dated WFM solutions, have begun a major refresh cycle. Established and new WFM vendors are spending substantially on research and development (R&D) now that they see the opportunity to recoup their investments through new sales. As a result, companies of all sizes and levels of complexity can now find solutions to help them improve the performance of their contact center, and maybe that of their back-office operating departments and branches as well.
WFM Vendors are Investing in Their Future
WFM remains the most important productivity tool in the contact center, and it will continue to be so for years to come. But WFM is about to undergo a metamorphosis. Millennials are challenging many of the established practices in contact centers and forcing managers to reconsider their approaches. Schedule flexibility has been discussed for years, but it is difficult to implement with most of the older WFM solutions. It’s time for change, and the vendors are starting to get on board.
The market is seeing investments in new architecture and databases that are greatly enhancing and speeding up processing capabilities and innovation. System complexity is being addressed with major enhancements in workflows and the user experience, as evidenced by improved user interfaces. Cloud-based solutions are becoming more common and improved. The vendors are not simply making their solutions deployable from cloud-based data centers like Amazon Web Services (AWS); the new generation of cloud-based WFM solutions is delivering on cloud values, such as faster time to market and deployment, and responsiveness to customer needs. Vendors are also introducing innovation more quickly because they can use the cloud as a “sandbox” where they can test their new capabilities without having to undertake an entire replacement cycle.
Back Offices and Branches Drive Growth
With 2.5 times more employees than front-office contact centers, back offices have a tremendous need for WFM capabilities. Add in the opportunity for adoption in retail stores and branches, and the back-office and branch market could dwarf the sales of contact center WFM solutions. Vendors that get it and see the big picture are building in the features that back offices (and branches) need. Sales to these emerging market segments are slow, but the deals, when they happen, are very large. DMG projects WFM seats to grow by 11 percent in 2016, 2017, and 2018, and by 12 percent in 2019 and 2020.
Selling to back offices is harder than vendors initially thought it would be. Back-office managers do not want retrofitted contact center WFM solutions; instead, they are demanding WFM solutions that are built from the ground up with the features they need to manage their unique operating environments. Back-office WFM solutions must be able to forecast and schedule staff to handle multiple simultaneous tasks, deferred work, and backlog. And back-office managers also want vendors to understand the specific needs of their vertical.
Real-time work allocation and management modules, which control and account for the flow of work into and out of a back office, are starting to emerge as the core components of what are increasingly known as back-office workforce optimization suites. These core modules are needed to track in-progress and completed work and to share this data with WFM solutions so that they can accurately forecast the future workload at the item and activity level. However, until these solutions are widely available in the market, WFM vendors are coming up with semi-automated methods to help companies track their work so they can start to reap the benefits of the new generation of back-office WFM solutions.
Omnichannel Forecasting and Scheduling is a Must-Have
Companies are operating omnichannel servicing environments and need solutions to help them balance their various channels to ensure customers receive a consistently outstanding level of service regardless of the medium. WFM is the key to success, but allocating time in blocks to various channels is no longer the preferred approach. Contact centers need agents who can comfortably move from one channel to another, and their WFM solution must be able to keep up as well. Channel support remains a differentiator in the market, even though it’s a must-have feature in today’s dynamic servicing world. WFM needs are becoming more complex and essential as companies break down the walls between their front- and back-end servicing departments to improve the customer journey and increase company productivity.
The User Experience Matters
Complexity is no longer a sign of sophistication in the world of WFM. Companies need omnichannel and multinational WFM solutions that competently handle domestic and international work rules and can be managed on a centralized basis. End users want workflow and predefined work rules to automate tasks that previously required human intervention. They are asking vendors to simplify their work effort via enhanced user interfaces that streamline processes. The market is at the beginning of a much-needed revolution in WFM user experience, and the next few years will see the delivery of vastly improved solutions. These solutions will reduce the administrative burden on WFM specialists, line supervisors, and managers.
Intraday, Mobility, and Self-Service
Intraday capabilities are finally taking hold in WFM solutions, and the beneficiaries are end-user organizations that now have flexible and mobile-enabled tools to allow them to take corrective action when conditions change during the day. The new intraday management applications alter the scheduling landscape by allowing employees to take an active role in handling their own schedules. These tools are also helping to bridge the gap between front- and back-office departments, which will help to reduce operating costs and improve the customer journey. The new generation of intraday management tools is also helping to change the way that front- and back-office departments interact with one another and with customers. We’re at the beginning of what could be a major change in service strategy for many organizations.
Long-Term Planning Modules Need a Facelift
When it comes to WFM, most of the R&D effort continues to be dedicated to improving the fundamentals: forecasting and scheduling. Vendors are investing in efforts to enhance algorithms to improve accuracy and reduce staffing costs, as this remains the traditional purpose of WFM solutions. But as business complexity increases, it is becoming harder and more expensive to “on-board” employees, which is spurring the need for tools that improve long-term planning. Long-term-planning capabilities represent a major area of opportunity for most of the WFM solutions, and they need a major overhaul.
The Future of WFM
The market needs a new generation of WFM solutions that are designed to optimize employee choice, schedule flexibility, and agent self-empowerment. The shifting paradigm will challenge the established science of WFM and current management thinking, but implementing new solutions and approaches is a necessity for enterprises that want to be employers of choice. The real reason WFM vendors are finally investing in their solutions, however, is so they can win a piece of the emerging back-office and branch opportunity. Regardless of the motive, the WFM market is finally delivering better solutions, and the market is receptive.