Short Message Service (SMS)

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January 2010 | Volume 28 / Number 8
Workforce Optimization

Short Message Service (SMS)

Managing Workforce Performance

By Brendan B. Read,
Senior Contributing Editor

If there is one central objective of contact center management it is achieving optimal performance from the agents. This can be measured by yardsticks such as increased customer retention, loyalty, issues resolved, sales, and collections and/or reduced costs.

To reach that goal requires obtaining, analyzing and then utilizing that data to drive performance. That is the essence of integrating performance management (PM) with contact center workforce optimization (WFO) solutions (PM/WFO) accomplished via tapping information from many sources including ACDs and CRM systems, speech and screen analytics and surveys. With PM/WFO supervisors can see what is happening in real time, find out why and coach and train agents to boost results.

Jim Davies, research director, Gartner, uses the example of Fred, a contact center agent who has a cross-sell ratio of 1 in 20 calls, but his center’s target is one in 10. If Fred’s center didn’t have a PM system his supervisor might not know there is a problem because that data has been recorded on the CRM but not linked to the contact center. He might spot it if he had luckily picked a call of Fred’s to monitor; most calls selected tend to be random.

“With PM you’re constantly capturing that data,” says Davies. “If Fred’s center has PM integrated with the CRM and WFO the tool would automatically alert Fred and his supervisors. It can then schedule a coaching session or e-learning based on Fred’s availability and track his subsequent sales performance. Performance improves because Fred has had that training course and learned to be a better-cross seller.”

More firms are, not surprisingly, turning to PM-enabled WFO. Ryan Hollenbeck, senior vice president of marketing, Verint cites the interest to organizations’ needs to get their arms wrapped around their customers to retain them.

“Even in the most challenging economic environment, if you completely neglect your customers and you don’t focus on their experience, and only to cost cutting what we’ve found is that most of our customers say it severely impacted customer retention, “says Hollenbeck. “They end up in a situation where they’re seeing a lot of customers defecting and they’ve figured out that they can’t afford that.”

In turn these needs are prompting suppliers to devise more innovative solutions. Interactive Intelligence is enhancing its workforce management (WFM) software, Interaction Optimizer by adding agent scheduling preferences with ranking criteria. This will enable supervisors to use performance criteria to determine schedules and incent agents to boost their effectiveness so they can get their desired shifts.

“The relationship between WFO and PM is becoming increasingly important as contact center leaders are urged to improve agent performance feedback and more effectively evaluate its impact on the contact center overall,” says Troy Plott, product manager, Interactive Intelligence. “This urging is due in part to the increased scrutiny of staff expenses and the current economic climate. PM is a critical tool to ensure maximum efficiency and effectiveness.”

Beyond The Dashboard

To help contact centers delve quicker and deeper into performance and productivity issues PM/WFO tools are going beyond just pulling out and posting information on dashboards. More solutions now have data mining that enables managers to spot trend seams that point to larger issues, utilizing analytics tools to permit them to find root causes so they can correct deficiencies or maximize opportunities. They integrate structured information such as from ACDs and CRM systems with unstructured raw data obtained such as from recordings and screen captures and make sense of them in meaningful ways.

Gartner’s Davies uses this comparison. A standard dashboard would say “average wait time was 23 seconds last week.” With data mining it would report that “wait time was 23 seconds because these five agents were out sick last week unexpectedly.”

“With advanced analytics and data mining you’re no longer saying ‘here’s the data,’ you’re actually beginning to say ‘this is what the data is now telling us,” says Davies. “Data mining gives more power to contact center managers so they can get to grips with what is going on and help them make decisions.”

Verint has written in new integrated dashboards in its Impact 360 WFO solution that enable contact centers to aggregate information from different Impact 360 functions, reports and third-party sources. Verint’s product features patented data mining technology that can analyze many metrics including average handle time (AHT), percent talk time per day, evaluation scores and first contact resolution (FCR). The new integration feature, explains Hollenbeck “helps solve the problem of accessing disparate information throughout the enterprise by serving as a central repository for information.”

Making tapping into unstructured data from voice recordings more feasible are new, less expensive, yet value-rich speech analytics tools. For example Envision Telephony’s Envision InteractionIQ analytics solution focuses processing power on the most pertinent and relevant interactions. It also sets up saved searches to have only filtered recordings including specific voice data delivered to an inbox to expedite review. Envision has linked InteractionIQ with its new Envision WFM solution that contains user-friendly drag and drop schedule interfaces, powerful what-if analysis capabilities and customizable menus for each role.

More data analytics-rich solutions are on their way. dvsAnalytics plans to add to its Encore WFO product desktop analytics through a partnership with Iontas, speech analytics via CallMiner and a multi-tiered data access design to enable Encore to work with any recording solution.

Enabling Multichannel Performance

New PM/WFO solutions are being rolled out to enable contact centers improve performance across increasingly popular other channels including chat and e-mail/SMS, social media, and IVR and web self-service. One firm, Calabrio will release Calabrio One Web 2.0 framework for its WFO solution in phases over this year. It will feature software widgets that will permit managers to track, analyze and optimize agent performance when handling new channels as they emerge.

“Many of our customers provide e-mail services, but tracking performance across other channels such as chat and social networking are still emerging,” explains Kristen Jacobsen, director of marketing communications, Calabrio. “We do believe that more channels will take hold, as e-mail has. Our Web 2.0 framework will enable us to help customers optimize those services delivered via other types of communications.”

NICE recently added multi-channel analytics to the NICE SmartCenter Interaction Analytics solution. It can automatically correlate a customer e-mail requesting a product upgrade with product feedback communicated via social media. It can then ensure that when the same customer calls the contact center, an agent they talk to automatically knows about those recent activities. The insights gleaned in this example help identify a potential up-sell opportunity, as well as product design-related input valuable for the marketing department.

“You need that analytical capability to look at your interactions with your customers and understand their overall experience across all touchpoints and find ways to enhance it,” says Oren Ezra, vice president of solutions marketing, NICE. “For if contact centers want to effectively serve customers and differentiate themselves from competition they’re going to have to effectively serve customers by whatever channel they choose.”

The Best Laid Plans…

“The best laid schemes of mice and men/go often askew” – Robbie Burns (translated into standard English by Wikipedia)

Contact center managers live those words. No matter how carefully they plan there is almost always some event such as a viral infection, traffic jam, sudden call spikes such as from a hot product, or a workforce calculation error that can wreak havoc on staffing hence on service levels.

The ability to respond to those situations is what Dr. Turgut Aykin, president of ac2 Solutions calls “performance optimization” or PO. His company, which makes the artificial intelligence-based Advanced Workforce Optimization (AWO) WFO solutions, has a tool, the AWO Performance Optimizer. It enables PO by monitoring, tracking and reporting the contact traffic, performance and agents’ adherence to their schedules.

The AC (2) president uses the analogy of launching a rocket. Planning involves setting the target trajectory and, once it is in flight, then making midcourse corrections to adjust the trajectory for deviations from plan and new conditions, and monitoring and learning from the earlier launches to ensure that it reaches the target. WFO is the planning and PO is the midcourse correction.

The information gathered by PO minute by minute enables managers to adjust schedules by rescheduling breaks, training periods, shortening wrap up times and consolidating routing queues. If the gap between service levels and agent availability are wide and long managers can ask staff to cancel meetings or training, call for reserve staff, work overtime, route calls to other centers or divert calls to outsourcers.

“There are two dimensions to performance: the first is the forecasting and planning, predicting customers’ needs and inquiries so you can deploy your resources properly and the second is how well you can monitor and respond to what is or will happen and the action you take once a day begins,” says Dr. Aykin. “For how well you respond and adapt determine the performance achieved.”

Adjusting Metrics to Meet Corporate Goals

For performance management methods and by extension contact centers to be truly effective the right metrics must be used: those that align the centers’ goals with those of senior management.

Allyson Boudousquie, director of business process management at Aspect, says developing successful customer service, collections or sales and telemarketing strategies therefore requires that managers truly understand their contact center metrics in the context of overall business and financial goals. These same managers must then determine what information will best help them identify whether or not the contact center is successfully contributing to corporate objectives.

Yet the metrics to attain corporate goals may not be the same ones that contact centers have traditionally used in the past to measure their performance i.e. AHT. For example, an organization that wants to increase profitability by 20 percent, decrease operating costs by 10 percent, and improve customer retention rates by eight percent should translate these high-level objectives into operational metrics. They can include revenue per call, schedule compliance and service level scores.

“The traditional goal of keeping costs down is still necessary in this economic environment, says Boudousquie, “but companies need to set new goals, put new practices in place, and invest in technology that takes them beyond traditional contact center management to a workforce optimization process that aligns operational performance with corporate strategy.”

Workforce/Performance Tips to Weather Economic Storm

Monet Software, which makes workforce management solutions points out that in these challenging economic times, every call and every dollar count. In response it has published a white paper available for download with 10 tips aimed at boosting efficiency, service levels, customer base and revenues and ultimately performance. Here they are, in summary:

1. Implement a flexible shift model
A flexible – as opposed to a fixed shift – model can more precisely match staffing with demand. This change, implemented gradually so that the staff can get used to it, can increase service levels by one to two percent, and result in a similar percentage of personnel costs savings

2. Keep track of shrinkage
Many companies underestimate the sheer volume of shrinkage (i.e. paid time but not available for calls.) It can be reduced by employing a flexible shift model, increasing forecast and schedule accuracy and by monitoring and improving schedule adherence.

3. Improve schedule adherence
Schedule adherence can be improved by educating agents on its importance by measuring and tracking adherence using WFM solutions and by rewarding agents for following it.

4. Cross-train agents
Training agents to handle multiple skills and use skill-based routing can reduce the number of agents needed. The productivity gain from giving each agent two skills alone can easily be 10 percent to 15 percent.

5. Compare ACD logon time to time-clock entries
Make sure agents are logged in and ready for calls coordinating with the clock time. Consider using the ACD agent log-in and log-out times for payroll.

6. Smarter scheduling
Consider in scheduling all agent activities including breaks, multiple skills of agents, training, time-off, and a realistic buffer for shrinkage. Create schedules by agent rank to reduce costs and increase sales and teams made with agents with matching personalities to boost performance.

7. Keep top talent on your team
Accommodate scheduling needs and provide schedule visibility to team members to keep them loyal and productive.

8. “Check out” your spreadsheets
Spreadsheets are inefficient and inflexible. Switch to WFM solutions instead.

9. Think big for small or medium size centers
It may be ironic, but smaller or medium-size contact centers are more difficult to manage because every agent and every call has more effect on the overall performance. See where improvements are needed and use appropriate tools or software solutions in response.

10. On-demand solutions reduce cost and risk

On demand or software-as-a-service WFM solutions can increase operational efficiency without the capital investment, IT resources and long and painful implementation times.

(To download this paper, go to

The following companies participated in the preparation of this article:

AC (2) Solutions


Calabrio (News - Alert)


Envision Telephony

Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert)

Monet Software


Verint (News - Alert)

CIS Magazine Table of Contents

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