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Workforce Management: The Contact Center’s Easy Button?


 

Workforce management technology has a profound impact on the day-to-day lives of the people working in the contact center. It defines agents’ working hours, when they take breaks, lunches, attend training or go on vacation. The ripple of change that occurs with a workforce management implementation, however, extends beyond the agents to the management team, the IT department, the training group and human resources, among others.

Despite the far-reaching impact of workforce management technology, businesses often overlook the need to establish a strong foundation based on sound processes and procedures before putting a system in place. Instead, they get caught up with the bells and whistles of an automated system and buy into the misnomer that workforce management is some sort of 'easy button.' It's not.

Achieving optimal results with a workforce management deployment takes a symbiotic relationship between the people, processes and technology in the call center. When one of the elements is out of balance, efficiency and effectiveness inevitably suffer.

Whether the organization is putting a workforce management system in place for the first time, replacing an existing system or just trying to breathe new life into one that's already implemented, there are four key elements that can help ensure success:

' Build a solid planning foundation;
' Develop a workforce management team;
' Get key stakeholders to embrace the change; and
' Create a culture of continuous improvement.

Build A Solid Planning Foundation
Even before the company selects a workforce management system, operational goals should be reevaluated. Take a look at objectives such as average handle time (AHT), average speed of answer (ASA) and first call resolution. Then assess current time-off management, training and performance evaluation processes. Assessing the current situation versus desired results will help identify areas for improvement.

Being armed with a wish list of operational improvements will help the center identify and prioritize workforce management system requirements. For example, let's say a center staffed with an average of 150 agents per day has determined that one of its key goals is to reduce non-productive time. Right now, schedule adherence among the group averages 82 percent. The center, however, would like to see a 10 percent productivity increase. Based on this information, finding a system with an effective real-time adherence module will be important because, as seen in Figure 1, increasing productivity could save the company more than $350,000 a year. By Rick Seeley
IEX Corp.


Once new operational goals such as adherence have been defined, the call center should begin to consider the types of processes it will put in place to support those goals. In the example in Figure 1, the call center set a 92 percent adherence goal. However, it will be difficult to meet that new standard without a process in place for entering schedule exceptions into the workforce management system. When schedules are not adjusted to reflect the numerous exceptions that take place on a daily basis, adherence results will suffer.

Setting goals and establishing processes, however, will meet with limited success without a mechanism in place to define how results will be measured and shared. From an adherence perspective, if the goal is 92 percent, then shrinkage is eight percent. Using that baseline, adherence should be measured by agent, team and management unit to see how everyone is performing to plan. Naturally, the center will then want to share those results. Reports can be delivered to agent desktops, showing them how their performance compares to that of their peers. At the same time, management may want to see adherence results by team with the ability to drill down to the individual level.

By taking the time to identify goals, put sound processes in place and determine the best way to measure and share results, the center has established a solid planning foundation. The next step is to build a workforce management team.

Develop A Workforce Management Team
First-level training by vendors can teach employees which buttons to push to create a forecast and run a schedule. It takes an experienced workforce planner, however, to recognize forecasting and scheduling anomalies that put service goals at risk. For example, someone with limited experience may not think to include a schedule variance to accommodate a new marketing campaign.

Yet either because the center doesn't see the need or simply due to budget limitations, many contact centers don't employ an experienced, full-time planner. Instead, workforce planning gets added to the supervisor's laundry list of responsibilities, data entry staff gets moved into the position or there's a part-timer put in place. Whatever the case, without someone dedicated to workforce planning, the system will be underutilized and the results will surely reflect a lack of focus.

Therefore, in an ideal world, the cost of hiring a workforce planner should be built into the workforce management implementation budget. If hiring an experienced planner isn't possible, look internally to identify someone who can grow into the position.

Once that person has been identified, start the education process by providing the employee with first-level workforce management system training. Once the employee is proficient in one skill, add additional training until he or she is fully capable of running the system. Also, look to resources such as the Call Center School, the Call Center Networking (CCNG), International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) and the Society of Workforce Planning Professionals (SWPP) for classes that will complement system training with industry best practices.

Get Key Stakeholders To Embrace The Change
Beyond establishing a planning foundation and building a WFM team, getting buy-in from key stakeholders is the organization's next biggest challenge. Workforce management brings a ripple of change that can be felt across the organization. Whether the team fights that change or embraces it oftentimes depends on how things are communicated.

If key constituents ' agents, managers, supervisors, HR, IT, etc. ' are left in the dark until a world of change is thrust upon them, they will likely fight it. Agents will have the perception that WFM is just another ploy to control their lives, management will be frustrated and neither HR nor IT will be supportive. Furthermore, it won't be long before executive management wonders if they really got their money's worth.

On the other hand, if key players are involved in the process up-front, they will be more likely to embrace the change. To help facilitate involvement from the group, form a cross-evaluation team that includes at least one representative from each key department. This will ensure decisions are carefully weighed and measured, taking each perspective into account while building consensus among the group.
Workforce management
brings a ripple of
change that can be
felt across the
organization. Whether
the team fights that
change or
embraces it oftentimes
depends on how
things are communicated.


Part of the cross-evaluation team's charge should be to develop a communication strategy designed to help everyone clearly understand the changes that are taking place. The communication should explain the big picture while helping each individual understand how changes will affect their daily lives.

Create A Culture Of Continuous Improvement
Now that the planning process is in place, the WFM team has been established and everyone has embraced the change, what's next? Staying on top of the contact center's objectives can be just as challenging, if not more challenging, than establishing them in the first place. So it's important to foster a culture of continuous improvement.

This means continually tracking and identifying business trends and making the appropriate adjustments to the daily plan. In conjunction with changes to the planning process, work with groups such as human resources to enhance goals, staffing and training. Also, continue working with the WFM vendor to identify training opportunities. There may be features and functionality that the call center can take better advantage of once the WFM team has mastered the basics, or knowledge that might get lost when turnover occurs. Additionally, it's important to keep networking. User groups, conferences and industry organizations offer a plethora of new ideas.

Figure 1. Basic Schedule Adherance Calculation
• 150 agents = 1,125 hours phone time per day
• 1,125 hours phone time per day @ $11 per hour = $12,375 per day
• Adherence goal = 92 percent
• Planned Non-productive time = eight percent
• Eight percent non-productive time = $990 per day
• $990 per day x 365 days = $361,350 per year
• Each percentage point of this eight percent equals just over $45,000 of either additional savings or additional non-product time cost.
 

Constantly revisit the organization's processes and procedures to be sure the operation is functioning as efficiently and effectively as possible. If someone asks, 'Why are you doing it that way?' and the response is, 'Because that's the way we've always done it,' a process re-evaluation is long overdue. Workforce management is not an easy button, but it's a whole lot easier to get the desired results if the call center has laid the groundwork for success even before a system is in place. CIS

Rick Seeley has more than 15 years of contact center management experience. Prior to joining IEX Corporation (www.iex.com), a subsidiary of NICE Systems (News - Alert) Inc., he was a contact center manager at Brinks Home Security. In addition to his contact center management experience, Seeley was a founding member of the Board of Advisors for the Society of Workforce Planning Professionals (SWPP). He can be reached via e-mail at rick.seeley@iex.com.

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