Performance monitoring and benchmarking within the call center have
been around since the industry's infancy, including measurements such as
average hold time, number of calls in queue, call abandon rate and number
of calls handled per agent. But these past-performance factors and
equations were incomplete. A more proactive performance-monitoring
application is workforce management, which is designed to optimize
staffing levels by improving scheduling efficiency, enhancing agent
performance, increasing employee satisfaction and minimizing costs, while
also increasing customer satisfaction levels.
Unfortunately, many workforce management (WFM) products can be quite
expensive, which results in only large call centers implementing these
solutions. TMC Labs discovered an inexpensive ASP-model WFM product called
Irene Online, which addresses the needs of the small to medium-sized call
center, but larger call centers can benefit as well. To help meet service
levels more effectively, Irene provides an accurate day-by-day and
hour-by-hour forecast of how many calls you should expect to receive.
Then, it will build schedules that assign agents at the right time to
match the arriving call volume. Irene can also help reduce abandoned call
rates (the number of times a customer hangs up while waiting to be
served). Irene is a 'closed-loop' solution that performs forecasting
and scheduling, followed by tracking the results. The 'results' or
outcome of the schedule is comprised of 'call data,' which is then
used to modify or adjust future forecasts and schedules. This completes
the closed-loop process. In order to perform forecasting and scheduling,
call history must be manually or automatically updated from your ACD.
ISC's Irene is completely browser-based, so not only is it operating
system independent, the application can be executed anywhere a browser is
available. Irene has some interesting features. One feature call center
supervisors will like is that agents may enter their own 'trades' for
swapping schedules subject to supervisor approval. Irene also supports
uploading of the schedule data to payroll systems.
Another interesting feature is that it supports 'on-board work' and
'off-board work.' When individuals are on-board, they are performing
tasks related to making and receiving telephone calls. Conversely, off-
board work is defined when the employee is performing
non-telephone-related tasks such as clerical work. This is a nice feature
since off-board work scheduled time is taken into account when calculating
the needed resources to handle the call volume. For example, suppose half
your agents are busy packaging special Christmas gifts to be sent to your
top customers. Obviously, more agents will need to be scheduled that day
to handle telephone calls.
Speaking of holidays, you can have special days defined for those periods
when call volume does not follow usual patterns. For instance, the holiday
season is often a time when call volume increases. Irene takes into
account this 'seasonality.' In fact, if you use the last three
Christmases to forecast/schedule the next Christmas, Irene looks at the
neighboring average call volume around each Christmas to figure out what
the relative ratio was at that time of year versus the previous year. It
then figures out an appropriate percentage to weight the call volume and
thus raises the resources required accordingly.
Irene features the ability to enforce rules about hours worked per day and
per week, breaks and employee preferences for start and end times, days
off, etc. Using Irene, you can record absences, overtime and schedule
Irene's documentation consists of a small manual that has its pages
printed in landscape mode, requiring us to turn the manual on its side in
order to flip through the pages. This took a while to get used to, but
nevertheless we were pleased with the overall content and organization
within the manual.
We would like to see some usability improvements. For example, we'd like
to see a drop-down box listing the employees rather than having to type
each employee's name in a simple text field. We'd like to see a
calendar control added to the Web pages that pops up a graphical calendar
window allowing the user to use the mouse to quickly scroll by month or
year, rather than having to type the dates manually.
During our tests we were able to raise the call volume and see how it
affects the service levels and the schedule accordingly. Creating a
schedule is just a few simple steps. After a preliminary schedule has been finalized, it can be
printed and posted. Like all workforce management solutions, Irene learns
from previous call history to forecast future schedules. The reports
within Irene are excellent and feature easy-to-read graphs. One of the
more interesting graphs is plotting the agents required by hour.
We should point out that for the $20 per agent, per month price tag you
receive unlimited phone support. This can be a key determining factor when
choosing a WFM solution. ISC actually is 'proactive' in its support as
well. They have monitoring running in the background checking for errors.
If an error occurs, ISC will contact the customer to let them know if the
problem is on the customer's end or if something needs to be fixed on
Currently, Irene has only rudimentary skills-based scheduling. When we
contacted ISC to inquire about future skills-based capabilities, they told
us 'we will soon have superb skills-based scheduling unlike anything
seen in the industry before.' Self-acclamation not withstanding, we
certainly look forward to seeing more comprehensive skills-based
scheduling in the next version. We should mention that receiving updates
instantly via the Web is the beauty of an ASP-model workforce management
solution. Customers instantly receive any improvements to the feature-set
or functionality at no additional charge. Overall, TMC Labs was impressed
with the power and flexibility of this ASP workforce management solution.
Any call center manager still using spreadsheets for scheduling should
seriously consider ISC's Irene as its very low cost obviates the excuse
that workforce management solutions are just too expensive.
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