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June 2009 | Volume 28 / Number 1
Workforce Optimization

Workforce Management That Works

By Brendan B. Read

Senior Contributing Editor, Customer Interaction Solutions


Efficient and effective contact center operations and the enterprises that rely on them depend on one key component: the employees. Ensuring that the right staff are there when and where they are needed to maintain customer attracting and retain quality is made much easier with workforce management (WFM) solutions. WFM automates processes that have traditionally been laboriously managed via spreadsheets.

With the strategic importance of WFM to contact centers it is critical that the right tools are purchased. Customer Interaction Solutions sought advice from leading firms on how effectively to evaluate and purchase them. We asked questions on:

• Key trends in assessing and buying WFM solutions including interest/use of peer and social networking
• Impacts of trends in contact center operations including empowering staff to set schedules, increasing use of home based agents and informal agents
• Benefits and challenges of purchasing standalone WFM solutions versus those in suites
• SaaS (software as a service) as a delivery option for WFM solutions?
• Pricing
• Best practices in identifying selecting WFM solutions and suppliers?
• Buying advice




This article has excerpted responses from selected companies. The complete responses from all of the participants will appear on TMCnet.com.

Envision Telephony (www.envisioninc.com)
Jim Shulkin, Director of Marketing

We’ve seen a significant upswing in interest in WFM technologies with the economy because it enables firms to do more with less, though the buying cycle continues to be understandably slow. We’re especially seeing this in SMB accounts, of which an unbelievably high percentage are still using spreadsheets, where WFM has historically been largely viewed as a ‘nice to have’ until now. The economy is forcing companies to improve forecasting abilities, staff scheduling, efficiency and adherence because they’re having to get by with fewer resources and trim costs, thereby elevating WFM to more of a ‘need to have’ status.

We’re definitely seeing organizations stepping outside the traditional lines into social networking communities to at minimum collect information and narrow their choices. It’s one more element now available to them in their increasingly more meticulous decision-making process and buying cycle that’s absolutely getting utilized.

The conventional mentality of buying point WFM solutions because they are ‘best of breed’ has really taken a hit in the last decade. That’s because the suite providers have not only acquired and/or built best of breed point solutions in the market, but have since made significant investments in tightly integrating them into the WFO suites while continuing to advance the point technologies. We believe buying point solutions in this space, such as WFM, puts companies at a real disadvantage because of the many benefits of the suite approach, including:

• Reduced total cost of ownership. There are economies in licensing, services and hardware
• Integration. The value of the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts
• Simplified vendor relationship management
• Synchronized upgrade cycles
• User interface and administration standardization and ease of use
• Economies in training i.e. don’t need to learn multiple systems

SaaS (News - Alert) is compelling simply because it seems to be a hot topic with analysts, but we haven’t been asked for it by our market much yet. Some of the core functionalities of WFM require data transfer and delivery capabilities that are simultaneously massive and needed in virtual real time. This presents challenges for a true SaaS model or even simply an entirely Web-based solution delivery model. As it did for CRM, I suspect that both the technology and market appetite for SaaS solutions in this space will evolve, but are extremely immature right now. SaaS WFM will likely start in smaller centers where the technology and volume barriers are not as high and where the attractiveness of the SaaS cost model is at its peak. We could see this relatively soon simply because WFM does now finally appear to be making significant inroads into SMB markets now.

We have not seen significant adjustments being made to pricing recently. Many of the vendors are developing ‘right-sized’ versions of their core products to appeal to the growing interest in the channel and SMB markets. These reduced functionality versions of products are being offered at lower prices to penetrate those markets, but we have seen little evidence of significant recent shifts in pricing strategies for the primary core solutions.

Closely evaluate and identify what your specific business really needs and focus on having those needs met by the solution you choose. WFM is a mature technology and in many ways has become a commodity. So not unlike other technology products, many vendors have to some extent ‘over-engineered’ features and functionality into the solutions. Not because the market has demanded them but simply in an attempt to de-commoditize their offering in the markets eyes. This often results in bells and whistles that the vendors care more about than the actual customers do, but the costs of those features are baked into the solutions.

Therefore look at what the product offers, make sure it meets your core primary needs, and don’t get overly hung up or enamored with shiny objects that you likely won’t use. Keep it simple, now’s not the time to over-buy and there are lots of choices available that don’t require you to.

Monet Software (www.leftbanksolutions.com)
Charles Ciarlo, President and CEO

Contact centers are clearly more cost sensitive and are specifically avoiding large upfront capital expenditures and costly software implementation. Therefore, the new SaaS model for delivering WFM is getting more traction because it reduces the upfront cos

ts and minimizes the risk, since subscriptions can be terminated, unlike purchasing a premise-based software/hardware solution. Contact centers are using a variety of channels to find out more information about our solutions. There is more online search using Google (News - Alert) and Yahoo, use of online media, such as video, webinars and online meetings, and use of e-mail versus phone to communicate.

Web based WFM solutions that are delivered as SaaS are addressing these contact center trends. They encourage collaboration between supervisors and agents, allowing agents to enter exceptions, and bid on time slots. Since these web based solutions only require a web browser and a secure login, it is therefore available to remote and home-based agents. This is especially important for real-time adherence and intra-day management. The flexibility of the SaaS solution easily includes informal agents. These developments are affecting WFM solutions as they are prompting contact centers to look for those that are highly scalable at low cost and flexible enough to include remote and home-based agents. They are seeking solutions that have ease of use, so that even remote agents or informal agents can be added without a lot of training and which provides access from anywhere over the web, to minimize deployment costs and provide flexibility.

Suites offer fully integrated functionality, however, for many small and medium sized contact centers, suites might provide more than they actually need. Also, since each center has different needs, the ‘best of breed’ approach might be more efficient.

Salesforce has proven in the CRM space that SaaS is the new model to deliver software, especially in the small to medium sized companies. The SaaS model is not only more flexible, and takes less time to implement, but it is also more scalable, costs less and reduces the risk. With the increase of virtual call centers, home-based and remote agents, a web-based WFM solution that does not require software implementation is the perfect solution.

Also, WFM often requires peak performance for running forecasting and scheduling scenarios, with the SaaS model these peak performance requirements can easily be addressed through a scalable elastic cloud computing model. The moment the customer needs more ‘power’ it gets added, without having to buy more servers that don’t get used most of the time. Therefore, the SaaS model is a win-win for the WFM vendor and the customer.

With WFM solutions that are delivered as SaaS, vendors can offer robust, enterprise class WFM functionality at a dramatically lower price, and also eliminate costly upfront investment and capital expenditure. The true SaaS model (in contrast to using the hosted client server that many WFM vendors offer) has a huge cost advantage through multi-tenant architecture and scalable elastic cloud computing that results in lower prices for customers. At Monet, we have experienced first hand, that true SaaS enabled WFM reduces our cost as well as the cost to our customers, thereby offering affordable WFM solutions even for small 10 to 20 agent call centers, which was not possible with on-premise solutions.

We give our customers the following checklist for selecting a WFM solution:

• Key capabilities
• Time and resources to implement
• Total cost of purchasing, running and maintaining the solution
• Usability
• Risk
• ROI and payback

Our advice is ‘Try before you buy’. SaaS offerings allow contact centers to try WFM in their real environment with real data. This is a great opportunity to see if the WFM solution meets the needs of the contact centers and dramatically reduces the risk of the purchase.

Verint (News - Alert) (www.verint.com) Bill Durr, Principal Global Solutions Consultant


The economy has clearly impacted spending, and managers across the board are being charged with ‘doing more with less.’ This squeeze has resulted in an increased interest in technologies, such as WFM. Whether in the contact center, back office, retail bank branch or elsewhere within an organization, WFM is proving to be a necessary technology both in ‘up’ and ‘down’ economies, and companies are responding accordingly in their IT purchasing decisions.

We have seen a shift in the past year with the ways companies approach WFM technology investments. Although traditional information gathering avenues--such as one-on-one sales meetings and resources such as industry analysts, company websites, and the media are still very much alive--peer groups and other social networking tools have created a new environment for gathering information.

Just as contact centers have adapted to these changes by incorporating multi-channel communications, such as chat and e-mail, vendors have similarly embraced social outlets, such as blogs, that allow for open dialogues. Customer recommendations have always been the most effective way to communicate the benefits of technology solutions, and we see social media is another way to allow us to reach more of the right decision makers.

Today’s robust WFM solutions are doing more to truly empower agents, for instance, enabling them to manage their own schedules without impacting service levels. This can build both morale and retention, while also freeing up managers to focus on coaching and performance-related tasks. For example, staff can:

* Request preferences for start times by day and preferences for days off during the week * View published schedule and time-off information with the ability to check the status of shift swaps, shift bids, time off, and vacation requests * Post, negotiate and request shift swaps via an online swap board and forward to managers for quick and easy processing * Create, withdraw and be wait-listed on time-off requests, even down to portions of a day.

IP technology is allowing organizations to more easily reap the cost benefits associated with at-home workers. IP-enabled WFM software capabilities—such as agent desktop activity tracking, remote coaching, eLearning and advanced scheduling have made adherence concerns: long a key worry of managers with home agents, a non-issue.

Forecasting and planning in informal contact centers like the retail bank branch where customer demand is sporadic and can vary greatly throughout the day. With WFM, branches can deploy the right number of staff with the appropriate skills based on forecasted demand, employee availability, past schedule patterns and other attributes. WFM in such environments also allows branches to manage employee preferences locally, enforce shift length and breaks, and manage pooled employee resources across multiple locations.

Suites can offer easier installation and implementation, and reduced learning curves and training expenses, which translate into lower cost of ownership and a faster return on investment. Couple that with solutions and services that draw on a structured upgrade path and single support organization, and organizations can gain significant advantages having WFM as part of a broader WFO suite.

When WFM is part of a suite companies can gain synergies from such solutions that complement such as quality monitoring, recording, speech analytics, data analytics, customer feedback surveys, performance management, eLearning, and coaching. Unified solutions like this empower organizations to capture and analyze customer interactions, make improvements to workforce performance, and optimize service processes. Suites also allows for coordinated delivery of support, service, and maintenance, resulting in reduced total cost of ownership.

The pricing for workforce management software has remained stable. The demand for the technology—especially given the current market conditions—continues to remain high, Organizations are seeking solutions that will maintain operational costs, while also improving the overall customer experience.

Companies should take a proven and phased approach to identifying, selecting and implementing a WFM solution. Organizations should get started by examining their specific business and technical requirements, defining criteria for project success and identifying risks. They should make sure the immediate capabilities are there today and that the technology can fully support them as their operations change and as their business grows.

They also should look for key differentiators, such as a proven professional services group that can oversee the project beginning to end, a customer service organization that can address requirements in a skilled and timely basis, and business consultants who can deliver training to staff and share best practices on how to help fully leverage the technology implementation. Visiting other customers to see the vendor’s solutions ‘in action’ is a best practice that should never be underestimated.

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