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Customer Inter@ction Solutions
May 2007 - Volume 25 / Number 12
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Calculating The Return On Investment Of Workforce Management

By Rick Seeley and Rick Glew, IEX (News - Alert) Corp.


Vendors know how important proof of return on investment is to the success of a workforce management project — and, ultimately, to the success of the proposal they put on the table and the company’s willingness to make a commitment. This is to the contact center’s advantage. Vendors understand the need to be accountable and demonstrate the long-term value of the company’s products in a way everyone can agree on.

The well understood need to present compelling ROI figures, however, also creates risk that figures may be inflated or circumstances exaggerated in order to gain buy-in on the benefits of a specific solution. That is why the ROI terms should be clearly outlined by the contact center, in accordance with business needs and project expectations. Allowing vendors to establish the entire ROI proposition without any input from the center is a recipe for confusion, particularly when it comes to attempting to compare the merits of different project plans or different vendor solutions.

That said, deciding on the true implications of ROI can be done successfully and in a collaborative manner. The contact center just has to know where to look, what to expect and how to measure.

Before even considering a particular workforce management solution , identify how, where and when improved visibility and accuracy into agent scheduling could benefit the business. Think about how a deeper understanding of agent skill sets could contribute to improving customer service. Also, identify ways changing demands on the contact center, including new channels and the resulting shift in the mix of contacts, will need to be addressed by more timely and accurate agent scheduling. Once the project team has built this understanding, the group will be able to direct the terms of the ROI discussion with vendors interested in satisfying the organization’s needs.

When Less Is More
Productivity is a crucial component of workforce management ROI. At its core, the discipline of workforce management focuses on reallocating resources to be more efficient and effective, closing shrinkage gaps, reducing overtime, paring down talk time and so forth. Hard ROI measurements often zero in on these clear-cut advantages. If better workforce management aids in the creation of a schedule that takes 150 hours of overtime per week out of the schedule, and the fully loaded cost of each hour of overtime is $22, then that solution provides a $3,300 per week ROI through overtime reduction alone. Similarly, a schedule that consistently takes 70 hours of regularly scheduled time out of a plan can produce savings equivalent to 1.75 full-time employees (FTEs). These calculations are straightforward and meaningful to all of the stakeholders.

Some efficiency gains are more subtle and less easy to see on the floor but are equally important to include in the workforce management ROI calculation. Organizations with ineffective or manual workforce management processes not only produce inefficient schedules, they spend too long crafting them. Reporting specialists or floor supervisors may be investing extra hours poring over spreadsheets and vacation request logs attempting to craft a schedule. By taking them away from the spreadsheet and putting them back on tasks that create real value, companies can realize a greater return on investment than they are already making in these managers and technical specialists.

Keep in mind that return on investment never takes places in a vacuum. New scheduling models that save overtime and/or FTEs return true value to the organization only if they can be executed without adversely affecting customer satisfaction or revenue opportunities. Good workforce management is not simply enabling agents to slam the phone down in lieu of making a potentially profitable upsell or protecting customer value through delivering a completely satisfying experience to the caller. Good workforce management strategy means creating the right opportunities for the right agent to handle contacts at the right time.

ROI analysis should also include a look at indirect and intangible benefits. The flexibility, transparency and fairness provided by workforce management can play a positive role in agent retention rates. Stability in the agent pool means less time and money spent in hiring and new agent training. It also means more skilled agents who have the time and reach to develop a full understanding of the business and its products. This increased proficiency can also lead to stronger customer experiences, higher satisfaction rates and greater loyalty in the long term. Experienced, knowledgeable agents have a better ability to close calls quickly, accurately and on the first attempt — all characteristics which are appreciated by time-pressed customers.

ROI: It’s Not As Easy As It Looks
When considering a workforce management system investment, avoid always equating ROI with the concept of less. Staffing fewer agents, spending less time on the telephone and fielding fewer live customer inquiries can represent a net benefit to your overall operations. Many workforce management improvements, however, accompany and support a broader change in contact center strategy. The real, positive impact workforce management capabilities bring is not in “making something less” but rather in keeping the contact center running smoothly and efficiently in a world of changing demands.

Consider a business undergoing a significant overhaul in its self-service capabilities that manages two primary types of customer calls: level one inquiries, the simple transactional exchanges which take an average of 120 seconds to handle; and level two inquiries, the more complex customer support issues requiring advanced agent skills, which take an average of 240 seconds to handle. Self-service is well suited for reducing the number of simple, transactional exchanges that require agent attention. This has a few crucial implications, all of which are within the scope of a workforce management tools to address. But not all of them result in an obvious “less is more” ROI case.

• A reduction in simple calls reaching the agent queue means fewer agents may be required — at least, to staff level one inquiries. Call projections and agent skill profiles can be used by the workforce management application to ensure that level one does not become over-staffed as demand drops.

• The reduction in simple calls, by extension, means that a greater proportion of calls reaching the agent queue will require complex skills to address. Again, workforce management provides payback by ensuring that agents of sufficient skill are in the queue and available.

• However, average talk time in the center may increase, because the shorter level one calls are now being handled by self-service. First-call resolution rates may even decrease as well, because more complex calls tend to require additional contacts. This is not a failure of workforce management or an indication that it has not delivered projected ROI — it is a success of the overall contact center strategy to drive simple calls to self-service. Workforce management ensures the operation is properly staffed and ready to handle inquiries that reach the contact center, even if the service strategy calls for a greater preponderance of complex, high-touch calls which take longer, on average, to resolve.

Bear in mind that there may be additional costs associated with bundled solutions which require big-bang implementations, wide-ranging replacements of other applications or those that force the organization to change significant aspects of the customer care operation to accommodate them. These systems can also lead to a longer and overall more costly change management process, as people must be retrained to understand changes in everyday operations imposed by the needs of an oversized suite solution. Open systems, which focus on providing top-notch business improvement functionality where and when it’s needed, can preserve the unique environment while still delivering the benefits the business expects. It is difficult to put too much emphasis on the importance of being allowed to do business the way the company sees fit rather than being forced into narrow requirements dictated by a system with preconceived notions of workflow and management.

Return on investment is a significant requirement for any project, and quality solution providers will take demands to see transparent and clear ROI projections seriously. By equipping the project team with the right expectations and understanding of how workforce management can directly and indirectly create business benefits, the organization is well positioned to adopt a solution that returns meaningful value in both the short and long term.

Rick Glew is the Director of Marketing at IEX Corporation (www.iex.com), a NICE Systems Ltd. (News - Alert) company. At IEX, he developed a comprehensive ROI tool designed to align business goals and technology requirements through a collaborative process. Rick Seeley is an IEX solution engineer with more than 15 years of contact center management experience.

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