Innovative Solutions

Knowlagent''s Matt McConnell on Contact Center Workforce Issues

By TMCnet Special Guest
Matt McConnell, President and CEO of Knowlagent
  |  May 01, 2011

The key to efficiently serving the customers is effective workforce management (WFM): connecting them with the right number of highly-skilled agents for the right contacts at the right times.

Matt McConnell is President and CEO of Knowlagent ( ). He offers these workforce trends and insights:

• The biggest contact center labor force trend is multisourcing. Multi-sourcing is a real mix of people — including insourced, outsourced, onshore, offshore, at-home, in-center, part time, full-time and temporary agents — who serve a company’s customers, but don’t necessarily have the company’s name on their paychecks. As companies have worked to optimize service delivery costs, they ended up with a heterogeneous workforce with different backgrounds, cultures, experiences, trainings and motivations, serving their customers.

This poses a challenge. With a multisourced workforce, it has become increasingly difficult to deliver a consistent message and level of service. At the same time, customers are increasingly demanding personal service. Most companies are concerned with first call resolution (FCR) because customers are demanding it. If you can’t solve a customer’s issue on the first call, it is a threat to the existence of the company. Low FCR is a high lead indicator for churn, and customer churn is a company killer.

However, with the growing need for personal service, there is an equally growing dichotomy in the contact center. On one side you have customers demanding more efficient and effective service on calls, but on the other side, you have a multi-sourced workforce that is expected to deliver greater service levels to customers with complex requests.

This dichotomy is impacting scheduling and adherence today.

By training and coaching agents during call volume downtimes, this carrier met its FCR and customer satisfaction goals. It fixed its customer retention issue — a big problem in the mobility space as the speed of technology innovation changes can often decrease customer loyalty.

• More systems appear to be allowing callbacks, customer self-selecting agents and agents devising their schedules leading to this question: if and how these developments affect agent scheduling?

This goes right to the heart of the labor segmentation issue. Today, agent scheduling is not very dynamic; it is mainly manual. Agent schedules are built from historical forecasts, but chances are, you will be overstaffed or understaffed, which is common in the contact center.

By allowing callbacks and customer self-selecting agents, WFM can be more dynamic with labor segmentation of who you schedule to meet demand. Such scheduling provides a clearer view of “intraday demand,” matching agents more effectively with customer needs.

In the future, companies will become smarter about what labor pool is best equipped to deliver efficient and effective service. I predict companies will do labor segmentation in the same way they do customer segmentation. Labor segmentation, however, is far more dynamic than customer segmentation because it is based on individual skills and knowledge that is over and beyond demographics.

• There is an increasing trend back to personal service. Customers want a human being that will efficiently and effectively meet their needs the first time. When was the last time you heard someone brag about a great experience with an IVR or website customer self-service? Of course, it makes sense to handle simple requests through IVR and Web but, as companies have worked to optimize costs, customers are not fans of self-service through the Web for more complex requests — or, better yet, dealing with an agent perceived as incompetent.

As Kerry Bodine of Forrester recently wrote, companies like American Express (News - Alert), Esurance and have focused on creating a customer-centric call center culture instead of investing millions into call center technology projects. These companies realize that call centers are often the customers’ first — and sometimes only — human interaction with the company. As more companies focus on personal service, the goal of call center managers is to effectively staff capable, prepared agents to deal with various customer issues at the lowest possible cost.

• WFM gave the contact center a more accurate staffing model based on historical call volumes. The reality of WFM is very manual; these tools, at best, staff agents in 15 minute increments. Therefore, if understaffed agents are being called to come in, and if overstaffed they are being sent home: with the risk of not meeting supply and demand.

With new applications, WFM will evolve to be more dynamic in how the technology deals with intraday changes in call volumes and how it matches agent skills with customer needs.

Companies need to have a more realistic expectation of WFM, understanding overstaffing and understaffing occurs. There are tools available today, like Knowlagent, to help deal with intraday over- and understaffing situations, so you can run your call center to deliver personal customer service more effectively and efficiently.

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell