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Call Center/CRM Management Scope
July 2004


Evaluating And Selecting A Workforce Management Solution

By Aaron Burby, Envision

You've sold senior management on the value of a workforce management solution but how do you go about selecting and implementing the best solution for your contact center? Whether you are buying a new workforce management solution or replacing an existing one, there are two initial questions you will need to answer before proceeding. First, what challenges facing your contact center can be addressed with a workforce management solution? Second, how will you measure success in selecting and implementing a solution? Once you've answered these questions, you can evaluate workforce management vendors, select a solution and present a recommendation to the executive team.

What are the main challenges facing your contact center?
Identify the challenges that motivated you to suggest evaluating workforce management solutions in the first place. Challenges may include overstaffing, low service levels, higher shrinkage than desired and inaccurate forecasting. Be sure to consider your future call center challenges in the analysis. For example, you may project call volumes will increase by 25 percent over the next year, and you will be expected to cover this increase with the same number of agents. Prioritize the challenges in the order of importance to you.

What are the key success metrics in selecting and implementing a solution?
Clearly documenting the challenges will help you define the success metrics for selecting and implementing a workforce management solution. Utilize the identified challenges to understand why you are interested in workforce management, how a workforce management solution will address these challenges and what you hope to accomplish with implementation of the selected solution.


The metrics should include key success factors and specific measurable objectives for issues you are trying to resolve. Many contact centers neglect to place high enough importance on pre-implementation consulting with vendors. Be sure to include metrics for consulting, implementation and training processes, as well as metrics to evaluate the ongoing relationship with the vendor post-implementation. Contact centers that ignore these critical areas often never fully realize the value of the solution purchased. Some examples of objectives with key success factors include:


' Maintain a consistent service level goal of 80 percent of calls answered within 30 seconds, with the same number of agents;
' Decrease average speed of answer by 20 percent;
' Reduce abandonment rate to three percent;
' Dedicate time for pre-implementation consulting;
' Formally introduce the selected solution to agents one month prior to rollout ' August 2, 2004;
' Roll out to contact center on September 6, 2004;
' Reduce average handle time from 310 seconds to 280 seconds by December 31, 2004 and
' Realize first annual return of $1.2 million.
 

Ensure that your highest priority challenges are directly represented by defined, measurable success metrics. Once you have a comprehensive set of key metrics identified, it is time to begin the evaluation process.

 

Evaluation Process
There are nine important steps in the evaluation and selection process. Every contact center has unique challenges, different priorities, separate initiatives and distinctive cultures, so not every step may be applicable to you. You may elect to follow all of the steps or only a few. After examining these steps, take a few minutes to identify which are most appropriate for you and your center. Some steps may require more detailed planning, depending on the nature of your organization. The steps outlined will help you focus on finding the best solution for addressing the specific challenges of your contact center.

1. Create A Realistic Evaluation And Selection Timeline

The first step in the evaluation process is to create a timeline that will keep the project on track and to ensure every element is properly addressed. It is important to have realistic milestones and dates throughout the process to ensure successful evaluation and selection results. Several factors to consider in defining milestones and dates include: project priorities; high demand periods; budgetary timing and everyday responsibilities.


Contact centers often have competing project priorities that may cause delays due to limited resources. In addition, every contact center has periods that are busier than others. Ideally, the center should plan projects outside of peak periods, otherwise major project delays can occur. If dealing with fixed budgetary timing, contact centers also should be careful not to plan initiatives close to the end of a quarter or a year, in order to avoid losing budget. Large call centers may hire a consultant to help them evaluate, select and implement new technology and products.

 

Smaller centers often do not have this luxury. Whether or not a consultant is tasked with this role, many internal stakeholders are required to successfully select and implement a workforce management solution. Internal stakeholders often have full-time responsibilities that compete for their attention. All of these factors should be considered in creating a realistic evaluation and selection timeline with identified milestones and deliverables.


2. Build A Cross-Functional Team
The second step of the evaluation process is to identify a core team, comprised of key individuals across the enterprise responsible for evaluating, selecting and implementing the workforce management solution. Building a cross-functional team fosters a stronger buy-in to the solution's implementation and integration into the contact center's business processes and ensures that potential improvement areas are not overlooked. The team of individuals you select should be willing to solicit and incorporate feedback from others within the organization. Keep the core team small; three to five people usually limit 'group decision paralysis,' allowing for more efficient decision making. The core team and additional stakeholders may include:


' Agents;
' Supervisors;
' Trainers;
' Telecom engineers;
' Information technology;
' Marketing;
' Human resources;
' Customers or strategic business partners;
' Managers;
' Director and
' Vice president.
 

It's important to involve all the stakeholders, lessening resistance to using, supporting and trusting the solution. It is common for agents to be initially resistant to deployment of a workforce management solution as it may be viewed as restrictive. By involving agents early in the process, you help them understand the ways the solution can benefit them, transforming resistance into excitement. You may want to consider adding strategic business partners or trusted customers to your team roster.

3. Examine Current Processes And Technology
The third step of the evaluation process is to examine the center's current workforce management processes and technology. Identify process gaps or capability gaps that need to be addressed while selecting a solution.
Important questions that will guide the examination of the current process include:
' How are forecasts created? How are they utilized?
' How are schedules created, handled and distributed to agents and managers?
' How do you take advantage of flexibility in shifts and schedules?
' Is forecasting and scheduling centralized or decentralized?
' Are training and e-learning incorporated into the current scheduling process?
' Is time allocated for agents to review evaluations and captured phone calls?
' How are agents kept on task?
' What drives changes in expected call volume, and how does that affect forecasting and scheduling?
' What special marketing events affect volume of calls and training for agents?
' How are real-time changes made to schedules?
' What changes are necessary to guarantee metrics, such as service-level adherence, abandons and average speed of answer, are met?


The team should take the time to document the current processes so it is clear to all involved how the center operates. With this information at hand, the team can more easily define its specific challenges.

4. Identify Challenges Relative To Process And Existing Technologies
The fourth step of the evaluation process is to identify process or technology challenges associated with a workforce management implementation and usage. You may find that the contact center has been unable to find the time necessary to provide relevant ongoing training to its agents. Or maybe the center is experiencing radically higher call volumes than expected. Perhaps the contact center's average handle time skyrockets when agents are ill-prepared to handle new issues. No matter what challenges your center is facing, the team should document each to be able to outline the specific requirements needed to meet those challenges.


During this step of the project, it is crucial to begin to archive traffic volume by half-hour or quarter-hour increments for each skill or queue managed within the center. This will ensure you have detailed data to create accurate forecasts. Most call management systems capture and retain such data for a specific time range and then truncate the information into daily totals. Regardless of which vendor is selected, the center will be able to create accurate forecasts only through using the available data. The more incremental data you can archive before the workforce management solution implementation, the more accurate and flexible your forecasts will be.


5. Determine Workforce Management Requirements That Meet Challenges

The fifth step of the evaluation process is to determine the workforce management requirements that address your center's specific challenges. There is a multitude of features available in workforce management solutions, but that does not mean that your center will benefit from all of them. If a vendor suggests a new feature or module that interests you, explore if it addresses identified challenges and what benefits you would realize. With a well-defined list of requirements that relates to your challenges and success metrics, you will be better equipped to objectively evaluate vendor solutions.


6. Predict Future Requirements
The sixth step in the evaluation process is to identify future workforce management requirements. For example, if the contact center is planning to incorporate direct agent training throughout the day but is not yet doing so, the team should include this future business process into the requirements. Or if the contact center primarily utilizes full-time employees on a fixed shift basis but is planning to move to a more flexible staffing model, then the team should include 'the ability to schedule agents in flexible shifts' and 'the ability to set hourly requirements on a per-agent basis' in the solution requirements.

7. Create An Initial Return On Investment Model
The seventh step in the evaluation process is to perform a return on investment (ROI) analysis based on the specific success metrics you've identified. An effective way to create an initial model is to assign tangible financial returns to specific success metrics. Always remember that conservative estimates result in more realistic return expectations. Although it will likely change throughout the process, it is important to create an initial ROI model to ensure your challenges are addressed and vendors understand your expectations.

8. Identify, Evaluate And Select Vendors
Armed with identified challenges, key objectives, a timeline, documented processes, requirements and an initial ROI model, your team is ready to embark on the eighth step of the process ' to identify, evaluate and select vendors. Most contact centers select a pool of vendors to evaluate from various sources, such as technology vendors currently in the center or peer centers, or proactive searches. No matter which vendors you choose to identify and evaluate, it is important to consistently focus on your specific challenges and the key areas of value identified in your ROI model.


One important element is to make sure each vendor understands your center's culture and environment. Spending significant time getting to know you, your business and your challenges is evidence that the vendor will be a strong partner now and in the future. Provide the vendors with documentation of the details identified up to this step, and answer any resulting questions they may have. If during the evaluation process anything should change, be sure to update all vendors involved.


Insist upon product demonstrations in context with how your contact center operates. Most vendors will happily utilize your data to simulate how the product will work in your environment. It is crucial during this process for you to understand how their technology will apply to your center's requirements. Some important questions to ask:


' How does it integrate with my ACD?
' How will it integrate with other systems in my center, such as quality monitoring and e-learning systems?
' How easy is it to administer?
' Can you (the vendor) meet my timeline requirements?


As it is absolutely crucial the system meets your requirements and integrates with your business processes and technologies, it also is critical you evaluate the vendor's implementation process and a long-term relationship with the vendor. Evaluate his or her commitment to your needs after the implementation. You should feel comfortable this will be a true partnership. Indications that the vendor is invested in an ongoing relationship are evidenced by the provision of operational and technical consulting before and after implementation, technical expertise during implementation, complete and relevant training, exceptional support and positive ongoing interaction. Don't forget to look for outside evidence of the vendor's level of commitment, such as customer references. Customer site-visits and references should be given significant consideration in the evaluation process.
 

Vendors typically will give you an idea of the potential ROI in implementing their solution. Look closely at their models and compare them to your initial ROI model. Make sure to include each vendor's price in the analysis. Validate that the returns identified by the vendor address your challenges and are based on conservative assumptions. It is usually beneficial to err on the conservative side in your models. Returns in workforce management implementations can be enormous, but they are dependent on how effectively you use the system and often require significant process reengineering to be realized. Question any assumptions that make you uncomfortable. Remember that you need to sell this solution to management and that you will have to rely on realistic ROI metrics to back up your recommendations.


Throughout the process the team should evaluate its level of trust with each vendor. Ask yourself these questions: Do you believe what he or she is telling you? Do you feel the vendor would be a trusted partner? It is important you are confident the vendor will deliver the highest level of attention to your needs. Is he or she responsive to requests? Is he or she diligently interacting with you? Is the vendor taking the time to truly understand you, your contact center and your challenges?


Before making a final selection, make sure any follow-up questions have been answered. Schedule reference visits and calls, and review your analysis. Then the team can confidently make the recommendation to management.


After selecting a vendor, there is still a great deal of work ahead. By first investing the time and energy to complete the steps in the evaluation process, you will have selected the right workforce management vendor who will help guide you through the process and ensure your success metrics are met. A vendor can be your greatest asset or liability. By choosing a vendor who fits with your corporate culture and philosophy ' one whose product solves your challenges and meets your success metrics ' you will establish a long-term partnership that will realize the greatest potential return.

9. Communicate To Your Team, And Start Planning For Implementation
The final step of the evaluation process is to communicate your selection to the entire contact center and begin planning for implementation. It is important the rollout is clearly communicated to all stakeholders. After communicating to management, focus on communicating with the agents and supervisors, as they are the key to any workforce management solution's success. Give them all the information necessary to make the transition as quick and easy as possible. Change is hard for anyone, but if it is handled well, you can achieve success.

Aaron Burby is product manager for Envision Workforce Management for Envision (www.envision.com), a company dedicated to providing solutions that deliver business results by maximizing the performance of the contact center workforce.


 

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