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January 2009 | Volume 27 / Number 8
Workforce Optimization

What’s Ahead In The Workforce Solutions Industry?

By Brendan B. Read
Senior Contributing Editor, Customer Interaction Solutions

Contact centers revolve around people: their raison d’etre i.e. clients, customers, donors, patients, and students, serving whom with staff incur 70 percent or more of their costs.

Hence workforce solutions, which from forecasting to scheduling and management enable contact centers to efficiently deploy their staff to ensure quality and cost-efficient service. Having the right people available at the right time, matching supply including people with specific skillsets with projected and planned volume is key to contact center success.

Given the criticality of workforce solutions, we have contacted the leading suppliers to find out what’s ahead in their industry, and in turn, for contact centers.

Aspect Software (www.aspect.com) Bob Kelly, Vice President, PerformanceEdge Group at Aspect (News - Alert)
We see companies taking a more holistic view of workforce optimization solutions, not just forecasting and scheduling software, but combining agent training, quality monitoring and performance management solutions to drive improvements and efficiency in the contact center. Having a suite of solutions that work together is key. Performance and quality assessments are combined, leading to a targeted coaching process and increased agent training, while ensuring that time is being well spent by the supervisor, training the right people at the right time.

Unified communications is going to be an important contributor to the extension of workforce optimization to enterprise knowledge workers that are involved in assisting the contact center and to manage back office workers. This will allow companies to easily align and optimize resources across all customer service groups.

Additionally, more companies understand the concept of a workforce lifecycle, rather than looking at performance optimization solutions as different pieces. The concept of a workforce lifecycle really ties together the whole process from hiring through training, staffing, performance and quality assessments and understanding where there are opportunities for efficiency and effectiveness improvement. Feedback from workforce optimization capabilities can be used to target the best hiring candidates, and the lifecycle continues.

All of the benefits we have described can only be gained from a complete workforce optimization solution. We don’t see workforce management standing on its own: it has to be part of a suite. Synchronizing capabilities together is a competitive advantage, as long as the suite provided by a vendor can accommodate products that the customer has already installed. This includes adding on capabilities over time to evolve into a whole suite. There is tremendous value to the suite approach as long as the customer isn’t forced to immediately replace applications, but can take advantage of technology refresh cycles.

Additionally, the use of speech analytics, together with performance management analytics, can automate processes and give more complete customer insight. This is something we have seen emerging this year and we expect speech analytics and performance management analytics to accelerate in 2009 and into the future.

Service oriented architecture is an important feature that can facilitate the ability to tie together multiple applications within the suite. Software as a Service is definitely a valuable option for some customers; we expect to provide a complete choice of licensing options.

Training on using workforce tools is an important issue: workforce optimization software is becoming more complicated. Some companies using different interfaces for workforce management, quality management and performance management will have a tougher time training agents because they don’t have a consistent view. Additionally, managing agents and reports is more complicated because reports are being pulled from different tools from different vendors. When you have to learn three or four different applications and how to administer them, you don’t have a holistic view of patterns and trends to train agents.

It’s important that contact center agents are trained and organizations invest in training on an ongoing basis. For example, at the Aspect customer conference we run a number of sessions that provide very in-depth training classes for our customers, offering a view of technology and feedback from peers on where to make improvements.

Calabrio (News - Alert) (www.calabrio.com) Tim Kraskey, Vice President, Marketing and Business Development
We see the mid-market segment continuing to outpace other markets for our business. We continue to package and bundle workforce features with other contact center applications (WFO, quality, performance management, real-time customer interaction) making it easier for contact centers to buy, maintain and integrate from a business process standpoint. Also, during trying times in the economy, WFM specifically can have a very fast payback and ROI. Having a more real-time view of staffing or human capital needs can save companies a great deal of money – having the right people in the right place at the right time.

The smaller contact centers are embracing packaged or integrated suite solutions in a more systematic way. Also, virtualization is driving the need to leverage commercially available solutions in order to manage multiple sites, time zones, and skills across wide geographies to more powerfully leverage IP networks. These suites of applications or services are moving beyond just WFO and adding the CTI (News - Alert) /screen-pop agent and supervisor views of the customers’ experience.

We see Web 2.0 architectures and bundling of other applications as being the definite direction of the market. Not just the WFO/performance management applications, but also the real-time customer interaction tools and CTI/screen-pop. This is being driven by the push around performance, and the need to streamline tools and processes. Optimization takes place over time with traditional workforce optimization solutions, but the real-time element is critical and many improvements can and should be made in real-time - before it is too late. Consolidation of these tools becomes critical and contact centers don’t want the extensive integration projects. They want it to work together out of the box and make only adjustments to the workflows that fit their business process. This is where a web 2.0 architecture becomes key.

Training is a key focus for Calabrio. Usability is key. Some tools are simply too complex to use successfully and inadequate training compounds the problem. Any product that requires more the 2-5 days of training should raise a red flag. It is probably too complex. Our products are built for third party distribution, so we are not involved in every implementation. Therefore, it is critical to our success, the success of our partners and the success of our customers that the software be intuitive and easy to use. The model we stress is to train using the customer’s own data, so they are left with a usable system they understand how to use when the integrator completes the deployment after a few days.

Envision Telephony (www.envisioninc.com) Jim Shulkin, Director of Marketing
The most significant change we see occurring is the actual payoff to the promise the industry has been talking about for years, that being the reality of the contact center as a harbor for the exchange of valuable information with the rest of the enterprise, as much as it is an instrument to deliver and fulfill customer service. Capturing, aggregating and delivering valuable information from customer interactions to the organization has been talked about for years, but has largely failed to gain widespread or tangible traction, success or even prioritization in most organizations – especially those that are smaller or mid-sized. We see this finally beginning to mature as the technology (much of which has also spent several of the past couple years largely in hype cycle) that arms contact centers and organizations to actually do this becoming more affordable, easier to use and more mainstream.

The primary driver and use for advanced WFO solutions is resident in the contact center, as managers utilize it to optimize operations and deliver improved performance metrics and customer satisfaction scores. However, this is enabling centers to better understand, and for the first time in application, see the types of information that is available and really package and deliver it in ways that are easier to digest and more meaningful to other parts of the organization. This creates an opportunity for centers to improve on legacy performance standards while increasing the value-add of the function – a notion that’s more important and vital to center managers now than maybe ever before.

One of the biggest trends we’re seeing is the convergence of full-time and selective recording requirements. This has been facilitated by the elimination of cost barriers due to the adoption of solutions such as VoIP, to a much more widespread preference for full time recording to achieve both the goals of compliance and quality, but also to gain valuable business trending and analytical information by capturing all the information available from customer interactions. The powerful analytical tools now available provide businesses with extremely useful information about their respective customers, markets and competition, in addition to trending information that is used to optimize center and business performance, reduce costs and increase business predictability. So the move to full time recording in conjunction with the use of complementary WFO analytical tools is where we see a lot of new interest and activity.

With a focus on “doing more with less” in the coming economic/calendar cycle, we expect to see workforce management (WFM) made more of a priority for small-midmarket firms and for the break even and ROI points on the technology to shift substantially downward in terms of number of agents required to see the return more quickly. This will require WFM solutions to be easier to use, highly integrated with other WFO solutions (and able to integrate with tools of other vendors) and to deliver a more flexible and manageable TCO in smaller center environments.

Turnover is the nature of contact centers and when people leave often, it’s not always top of mind for management to formally schedule training on existing WFO technologies for new personnel. Because many of these people have experience or familiarity with other systems they often believe they don’t need the formal training. But systems vary, as do user preferences, so they’re typically not fully aware of the current technology’s capabilities or able to fully or accurately utilize them as a result. This creates a lot of frustration with WFO technologies that we’ve witnessed for other products, as well as our own. We find that when new employees do receive product training and are able to use the products fully and correctly, however, it tends to greatly mitigate resulting unhappiness with whatever technologies are being used.

NICE Systems (News - Alert) (www.nice.com) Tom Butta, Chief Marketing Officer
Workforce management solutions for the back office continue to grow, in part because of newly available technologies such as transaction monitoring and activity logging. Our company has several installations in retail operations, but there does not seem to be significant growth emerging from that sector, most likely due to the financial woes plaguing the retail industry. Contact centers are applying workforce solutions to achieve goals that are strategic to the organizations, such as customer retention, as well as important operational goals, such as cost efficiency through controlling average handle time.

Using open source software is one way to reduce the costs of software engineering. Those cost savings should be passed on to the end user of the software. Now that open source software is as robust as licensed software, you don’t have to give up as much functionality as before.

For the very low end of the small-to-medium business markets there doesn't seem to be an increased interest in WFM Software as a Service (SaaS (News - Alert)). The medium-to-large markets seem to prefer the security and control of premise-based software.

Workforce management software must interact seamlessly with key systems in the contact center in order to access the necessary analytics to make smart business decisions. Bundling technologies such as call recording, analytics, and workforce and performance management, simplifies implementation and insures quality interaction between systems, reporting and results, often at a lower cost than by purchasing piece meal solutions.

VerintWitness (www.verint.com) Bill Durr, Principal Global Solutions Consultant, Verint (News - Alert) Witness Actionable Solutions
There is growing interest in WFO in the small and medium size enterprise marketplace for the simple reason that the penetration into this market sector lags that of larger centers. There also is rising demand for this type of technology—workforce management and WFO in particular—across the broader enterprise. Verint Witness Actionable Solutions is seeing this in branch banks and retail, as well as across back-office operations departments, such as applications processing, billing, claims and collections, and order fulfillment

It used to be that workforce management teams were thrilled to simply publish schedules that specified when agents were supposed to start and end shifts, and take their breaks and lunches. The trend seems clear: workforce management teams are doing much more sophisticated activity scheduling these days. In addition to start and stop, breaks and lunches, the following types of activities are now being optimally scheduled: • Team meetings • One-on-one coaching sessions • eLearning breaks • Work in other media • Project work • Myriad off-phone activities.

We see a real failure on the part of user organizations to properly train software users who come into their positions after the vendor implementation training is long over. Anecdotally, we believe that 20 percent of the solution knowledge is lost with every employee that cycles through the system administration/use position. With turnover so high in contact centers, it is not unusual to find system users who are three and four people removed from the initial vendor training.
This is the reason why it’s important to remain close to your vendor and take advantage of the courses offered.

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