Twelve Secrets to Finding the Right Workforce Management System
By Paul Leamon, IEX Corp.
The contact center is the frontline of an organization. Customers turn to it to resolve issues and, consequently, to form opinions about the company based on their experience. Those experiences directly impact the bottom line.
For many, workforce management is often their first line of defense. These systems offer dramatic operational improvements — raising service quality while reducing costs. Although justifying the need for an automated workforce management system is simple, making an optimal purchasing decision can be tough. Seemingly small differences in the functionality of different products can have a major impact on the relative success of the contact center operation.
The following outlines a structured decision-making process; one that’s designed to help contact centers ensure the workforce management system they choose will meet all their requirements today and long into the future.
Establish An Evaluation Team
Establish a cross-departmental evaluation team that includes a representative from each department likely impacted by the technology. This includes contact center management, forecasting and scheduling staff, as well as IT, training and human resources. Having an evaluation team in place ensures decisions are carefully weighed and measured while building consensus among the group.
Define Expected Results
Once the evaluation team is in place, the group should clearly define what it expects to achieve.
The center may expect to reduce personnel costs, improve service delivery or gain the ability to plan and manage a complex environment. Once expectations are set, examine current business processes to see if changes are required. Knowing what the center wants up-front will help gain buy-in from internal stakeholders and will define measurable goals.
Develop Evaluation Questions
In order to meet the group’s expectations, build a list of vendor evaluation questions. The new product should streamline tasks within each user group and provide a pathway for adding new features and functions as departments grow. Questions should focus on how the system performs different functions, such as skills-based scheduling. Again, seemingly small differences in functionality can make a huge difference.
Get A Live Demonstration
It is not enough to simply see a PowerPoint presentation. The team will want to spend at least four hours going over the actual product to assess how it meets the center’s operational requirements. Once the team has seen live demonstrations, the next logical step is to submit a request for proposal (RFP). (See Sidebar B)
The vendor should supply a list of customer references with its RFP response. Ideally, these references will have the same size of operation, ACD and contact types. In addition to relying on the customer references supplied by the vendor, it may be prudent to call customer references they didn’t provide.
Evaluate All Costs
The cost of a workforce management system is more than only hardware and software. It’s important to understand all the initial costs and ongoing expenses. There may be additional staff costs associated, ACD upgrades required and much more (See Sidebar C). Keeping these things in mind will ensure the organization has budgeted for everything and is fully prepared for implementation.
How much is the system hardware/software/implementation?
What staffing resources are required to use and support the system?
How much will the initial training and consulting cost?
What ongoing training, consulting, maintenance and upgrade expenses are associated?
Will it require IT infrastructure, connectivity or additional network bandwidth?
Are ACD upgrades or add-ons needed?
Does it require interfaces to quality monitoring, payroll, e-learning or other systems?
Build The Business Case
Management will naturally expect a strong business case before approving a workforce management budget. To build a strong business case, justify the investment in hard returns — direct, tangible savings — and soft returns — added values such as increased customer loyalty and employee satisfaction.
Most workforce management systems will pay for themselves in six to nine months. Reduced staff hours, lower overtime expenses and fewer overstaffed periods are only a few of the hard savings.
Ensure Smooth Implementation
Before the organization moves into the implementation phase, make sure there is a communication liaison. This person should identify the stakeholders and ensure they are involved in the process. Stakeholders usually include contact center management, the forecasting and scheduling team, the IT department and human resources. The workforce management vendor should also be heavily involved in the communication process. Keeping stakeholders informed will ensure the project’s long-term success.
One of the most important stakeholders is the IT department. It’s important to understand all of the IT requirements needed to support the workforce management system. Without the appropriate network for data communication, even the best workforce management system is useless. As part of the project, the IT team may need to acquire and install, prior to installation, some or all necessary hardware and software to support the system.
Build A Realistic Timeline
Building a realistic implementation schedule can be a challenging feat. The project manager must calculate lead-time for procurement, data collection, training, process changes, validation testing, cutover and phased implementation. As a rule of thumb, 6 to 12 weeks is realistic for most organizations.
Design The Training Program
An onsite training course, using the center’s data, is recommended. Agents will need an overview of the system to help them understand how it will impact them. More specifically, they will need to know how to access schedules, how to request changes and how to make trades. Supervisors will need to know how to enter exception codes and use real-time tools. IT will need training on system backup and support. Contact center management will need to understand system capabilities: the types of analysis and reports that can be obtained, what support the workforce management team needs for success, and the operational changes that might be beneficial. Upper management must determine their information needs and be taught how to get it.
Training shouldn’t simply end after everyone understands the basics of using the system; it will continue as new features are introduced, as employee turnover occurs and to ensure optimal system usage.
Re-evaluate Current Processes
Deploying a workforce management system presents an ideal opportunity to promote positive change. So start looking for new ideas. Don’t simply accept the status quo. Identify the changes that can be made right away, and then set some long-term goals for the others. It’s okay to use existing processes to do initial system testing. But automating a bad process may only make it faster, not better. Use the system to test ideas and see how they work.
However, be careful not to try too many changes at once, or it will be difficult to tell what’s working and what’s not.
Foster Ongoing Improvement
Once the workforce management system is in place, be a champion for excellence. Strive for a culture of continuous improvement by setting goals and measuring them. Compare those results to industry benchmarks. Do an annual review of results, either with the vendor or with another industry expert. This will help the center justify “improvement” monies in each year’s budget.
Don’t be satisfied with the initial payback and success. Use the “what if” analysis capabilities to investigate how added product features and functions can further enhance operational efficiency. Seek better ways to use the existing infrastructure to fine-tune current practices.
Workforce management technology offers tangible and easy-to-track benefits. Conducting a thorough evaluation of the systems on the market will ensure the center finds one that aligns with its operational requirements. Once that’s done, it’s easy to construct a sound business case. In most cases, payback comes within 12 months. Proper planning will ensure implementation goes smoothly. During this time, it’s important to consider what operational processes can be improved. Align the contact center’s goals with those of the enterprise at-large, and don’t simply settle for the initial success. Foster an environment of continuous improvement. Never be satisfied with the status quo.
Paul Leamon guides the product direction for TotalView, the workforce management system offered by IEX Corporation. During his 15 years at IEX, he has consistently and successfully translated customer feedback into real-world solutions. Leamon is an inventor and co-inventor on several noteworthy workforce management patents that have been granted or are pending. Inquiries can be directed to [email protected].
Maggie Klenke, a founding member of The Call Center School, also contributed to this report. She can be reached at [email protected].
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