The workforce management (WFM) guidebook for call centers

The workforce management (WFM) guidebook for call centers

Jul 28, 2021

 

In the fabulous world of contact center management, we often spend most of our time focused exclusively on the customer experience. There are countless and countless of articles written about the customer experience. And not just in our industry… The customer experience has become the on-trend focus for all service-minded organizations.

For those in the know, the customer experience is just one important piece within the greater scope of customer engagement, where the customer is considered at every touchpoint, across the entire customer journey.

 

“73% of companies with above-average customer experiences perform better financially than their competitors.” Forbes

 

And yet, a critical part of the equation is forgotten or perhaps does not often score equal importance.

What are we talking about? Your staff, of course!

They’re the backbone of your organization. From your call center agents to your back-office personnel, your workforce is the most valuable and most expensive resource. It explains why there’s a lot of talk about the agent experience, workforce engagement, gamification and other means that address generational expectations, new technologies, and a more flexible WFH approach.

With many challenges facing the contact center, here’s an insider’s guide to the key components driving innovative workforce management practices that promote agent productivity and drive exceptional customer experiences.

 

 

WORKFORCE MANAGEMENT’S PLACE IN THE CONTACT CENTER

Whether you have a 50 person call center or a 2000 person contact center, your management approach may differ slightly, but your WFM goals remain the same – to forecast and schedule the right number of skilled agents to effectively manage customer interactions across all channels (voice, email, chat, social media, etc.).

Now, let’s add a third and highly important factor – it must all be accomplished at minimal expense to the contact center in order to maximize revenues and increase revenue opportunities.

From here, you obtain a magical metric called the workforce management service level. Contact centers establish their service levels by balancing customer needs and service-level expectations versus costs. Finding and refining this balance can lead to significant benefits that positively impact the organization, reduce workforce churn rates and significantly enhance the customer experience.

Sounds easy, right?  …not so much!

Many omnichannel environments run 24/7 with unpredictable workloads and competing factors. Trying to optimally manage these workforce requirements without advanced automation tools and solutions is virtually impossible. Consider the fast-evolving omnichannel complexities involved in today’s modern customer interactions. Microsoft Excel can only go so far.

Thankfully, there are many sophisticated WFM solutions that automate, streamline and optimize back-office operations.

 

According to Forbes, “tailoring experiences to each individual employee by leveraging people analytics can help address two big problems in workforce management Talent Retention (4% turnover rate in the U.S. in 2019) and Employee Engagement (85% of employees are not engaged)”

 

 

CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS ARE IN CONSTANT EVOLUTION

The pandemic changed everything.

Savvy customers were already demanding better customer experiences where and when they wanted, but the pandemic accelerated this drive towards faster, more digital, and more autonomous interactions. Those not already invested in true scrambled to adjust with repercussions felt at the WFM level. Stores closed. Limited in-person access to businesses. The result? An exorbitant rise in call center interaction volumes placing pressure on WFM leaders to adjust and readjust plans without ever really knowing when operations would return to “normal” or if they had already reached the “new normal.” The only thing that a WFM manager knows for sure, is that everything is in constant change.

All contact centers perform similar WFM tasks.

  • Forecast interaction volumes
  • Schedule agent workloads based on skills, preferences and business rules
  • Manage intraday activities

Let’s take a look at the BIG THREE WFM components that affect contact center operations:

 

1. Forecasting

Forecasting is at the core of workforce management. Using historical data to determine past demand – inbound interactions by day, week or month – the goal is to predict future demand by identifying patterns and trends. This requires clear data but also insight and analysis that take interaction resolution and speed of transaction into consideration. This complexity becomes a much easier task when using WFM software that can identify trends and uncover patterns to better forecast and predict future customer interaction drivers – something spreadsheets cannot do.

With the ability to input future marketing campaigns and collect data across channels, advanced WFM tools can also produce multiple scenarios providing contact center organizations with even greater insight into potential what-if avenues.

But again, there are always unplanned and unforeseen events that interrupt forecasts. Even the best WFM manager using the best WFM tools must be open to these occurrences, continuously monitoring and adapting their plans.

 

2. Workforce Scheduling

Using forecasted data now comes the tedious task of creating work schedules and assigning individual agents to shifts required to meet forecasted customer demand. By balancing projected customer interaction volumes with an optimal agent workforce ratio, you get the right agent, at the right time, with the right skills for the right customer. Right!

Depending on business rules and workplace incentives, scheduling can be a complex process that delivers important results.

  • improved first-call resolution
  • improved service levels
  • improved workforce effectiveness and productivity
  • improved cost efficiencies
  • improved workforce retention rates

 

3. Intraday Management

Forecasts, plans and schedules play an important role in WFM. But without hands-on daily management to ensure proper execution, things can go terribly wrong. By monitoring service levels to ensure customer interactions are at par with agent availability, intraday management means keeping a close eye on unexpected occurrences, spikes or spurs in volumes. Reforecasting and real-time adjustments can be made to agent schedules to ensure that service levels are being met, and to take advantage of opportunities to lower costs.

This involves two parts:

  1. Making sure staffing levels meet forecasted plans
  2. Making sure that agents adhere to their scheduled shifts

It’s what we call adherence, and everyone tracks it – at the agent level, team level, location level and across various sectors as it pertains to their business.

So now that we have a better understanding of the underlining principles of WFM, what’s its impact on the contact center?

 

 

WFM’S IMPACT ON THE CONTACT CENTER

1. Better, more reliable customer experiences

It’s a given. When a customer contacts your organization they expect consistent and reliable interactions – regardless of the mode of communication. Someone contacting your social channels should receive the same quality of service as someone who prefers to speak with a live agent. Delivering timely and accurate customer service is largely influenced by the number of available, qualified agents and how quickly issues can be resolved. By forecasting accurate staffing levels, customers gain from shorter wait times and an overall better customer experience – each and every time.

 

2. Operational and cost efficiencies

The high wire balancing act of meeting/exceeding customer expectations while minimizing costs is the contact center’s greatest challenge. Proper WFM planning and execution can maximize workforce productivity by optimizing agent schedules and maintaining optimal staffing levels to meet demand and eliminate waste – whether overstaffing or understaffing.

And seeing that resources account for most of the call center’s operating budget, overspending and lost productivity can have severe consequences to their budget. It’s one of the key reasons why WFM and WFM tools are required to reduce costs and increase revenue.

 

3. Workforce Management Engagement

Customer self-service options are growing in popularity. So are the number of channels that your agents have to manage. More channels + more complexity = more agent stress.

You’ve likely heard of agent engagement, but the bigger and broader concept of workforce management engagement provides contact centers with the ability to create exceptional employee experiences. It means taking a more human approach to improving employee engagement, simplifying operations while increasing efficiency.

Agents need more than just support. They need training, coaching and proper tech tools to make their on-the-job work lives run better. Remember, a frustrated agent will push their frustrations down to the customer level, delivering poor customer service BEFORE they eventually move to another job. That’s your reputation we’re talking about.

 

“New hire and training costs can be 1.5 times an agent’s annual salary, not to mention time lost getting fully on board”

 

Workforce Management Engagement reduces agent turnover, increases agent satisfaction, and delivers improved customer outcomes. Building a culture of success, happiness and mutual respect makes all employees feel valued and loyal to your organization.

 

“89% believe workforce engagement significantly enhances the customer experience in the contact center” – Frost & Sullivan

 

WFM IS MORE THAN JUST SOFTWARE

Delivering five-star customer experiences start at the employee level. Establish core workforce management principles, invest in sophisticated WFM solutions, forecast and plan short-term and long-term occurrences, treat employees in an inclusive and respective manner.

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