If you work in a contact center, you know that business is different now compared to before the pandemic struck. The most obvious difference may be that most of your agents started working from home – and almost a year later, likely still are. But you probably also noticed a change in your call volumes and patterns. Many organizations experienced a spike in volume at the beginning of the lock downs as well as an increase in handle times. And the timing of when those calls came in changed for many as well.
Your business priorities may have also shifted. Did you have layoffs or a hiring freeze? Were all major initiatives put on hold indefinitely? Has your budget been reduced? Are you just hunkering down in survival mode until the fog of the coronavirus clears?
In this type of environment, when things are so unsettled, it can be difficult to think about investing in technology like workforce management software. But the case can also be made that this is exactly the right time to make this move.
According to research by Statista, business priorities have, indeed, shifted due to the pandemic. Surveyed CIOs identified their organizations’ current top three priorities as:
- Increasing operations efficiencies
- Transforming existing business processes
- Improving customer experience
Other top ten priorities include improving employee productivity and improving profitability. This truly sounds like a job for world-class workforce management software. Workforce management software is all about automating complex processes, optimizing labor efficiency, and managing specific aspects of the customer experience.
So, instead of hunkering down, maybe it's time to take action to ensure the ongoing viability of your organization. Smart investments at the right moment can help businesses survive and even thrive in times of crisis.
This post will explore how workforce management software can help contact centers support several key business objectives, including those prioritized by the CIOs.
What is workforce management?
Before we get started, It's important to define workforce management since there's some variation with how different contact centers define it.
Workforce management encompasses three main processes: forecasting, scheduling, and intraday management.
Contact centers are much more effective when they can plan for expected workloads. Forecasting is the process of predicting future contact volume from voice and digital channels. It's typically based on historical data, done by time interval, and adjusted to account for future volume-driving activities, such as promotions and media events. Forecasting often relies on complex algorithms to make the volume predictions as accurate as possible. Accuracy is critical because forecasts serve as the basis for staffing plans and agent schedules.
Once contact centers complete their forecasts, they can begin building agent schedules. Workforce management software can factor in variables such as average handle time, service levels, and agent skills to determine exactly how many and what type of agents are needed to handle the anticipated volume. Schedules also reflect activities like breaks, lunches, and training. Then, considering agent preferences and planned time off, agents are assigned to the schedules.
Even when forecasting and scheduling practices are solid and accurate, events can occur that disrupt plans - a blizzard can cause high agent absenteeism or a website shopping cart issue can drive up chat volume. Intraday management is the practice of making on-the-fly adjustments when things don't go according to plan. Workforce managers may reforecast volume and adjust schedules based on actual volume. Additionally, agents may volunteer to go home or be scheduled for training if volume is under forecast or they may be asked to come in or log in from home if volume is substantially higher than plan.
The best workforce management software automates these tasks, adds accuracy, and allows contact centers to quickly adjust to changing business conditions.
Features of the best workforce management software
There are many WFM products available on the market, all with their own unique features and capabilities. Contact center leaders should look for WFM tools that use advanced technology to automate their core workforce management processes. Industry-leading workforce management software is characterized by:
AI-infused, omnichannel forecasting
Modern contact centers don't just offer phone support - they also support digital channels like email, chat, social media, and text messaging. And they integrate all these channels so they can provide the seamless, omnichannel experiences consumers expect. Their workforce management software needs to be aligned with their omnichannel goals by forecasting volume from all channels so that multi-skilled agent schedules can be built.
Additionally, when workforce management software uses artificial intelligence (AI) in its forecasting functionality, it can produce more accurate volume forecasts, which has positive, downstream effects on scheduling, labor management, and customer experience. AI can remove uncertainty about which forecasting algorithm to use by choosing the best one for a contact center's specific circumstances. This removes the burden from workforce management staff to have detailed knowledge of this aspect of forecasting.
The best workforce management software is capable of effectively scheduling the right number of skilled agents to meet anticipated demand. But, really, shouldn't that be a baseline capability? Modern WFM solutions elevate the scheduling process by giving agents more visibility and empowering them with more control of their own schedules. For example, agents can view their schedules from their desktops or smartphones, bid on shifts or trade shifts with co-workers, and receive electronic notifications of schedule changes. These types of features add convenience and engagement to the scheduling process.
Simple, intuitive intraday adjustments
In the fast-paced environment of today's contact centers, time is of the essence when making intraday adjustments. A slow reaction might jeopardize the budget or customer satisfaction. Industry-leading workforce management software has dashboards that highlight problems and intuitive interfaces that simplify intraday management. Proactive notifications and automation of some of the components of reforecasting and adjusting schedules further contribute to speed and accuracy. When speed is important, WFM staff shouldn't be hampered by hard-to-use software or cumbersome spreadsheets.
Being in the cloud provides workforce management software with some advantages over on-premises solutions. For example, cloud-based solutions can handle multi-site scenarios more seamlessly. Additionally, functionality is more readily available to remote agents and workforce management staff. Cloud-based software can also be easier to integrate with other systems which is important, for example, for easy access to ACD volume data.
How workforce management software supports business objectives
It's important not to pigeonhole workforce management software into a "forecasting, scheduling, intraday management" box. Those are certainly its main functions, but its reach and impact is much broader. Good workforce management practices, coupled with industry-leading software, can help organizations achieve the following 10 objectives, beginning with the top three identified in the CIO survey cited above.
1. Increasing operations efficiency
If workforce management software could talk, it would say, "Ops is my jam."
WFM software is made to increase and sustain efficiency. The complex tasks it performs all contribute to efficiently run operations. Accurate forecasts allow contact centers to conduct the short- and long-range planning activities needed to make sound hiring, staffing, and infrastructure decisions; optimized agent schedules ensure maximum labor efficiency; and agile intraday management processes ensure continued operational efficiency in the face of changing business conditions. When it comes to increasing operations efficiency in contact centers, good workforce management software is key.
2. Transforming existing business processes
Does your contact center still use a complex series of linked spreadsheets for forecasting and scheduling? Do you still print and distribute agent schedules? These are the types of manual processes that can be transformed by workforce management software. Automating these tasks will free up supervisor and WFM staff so they can focus on more value-added tasks, like coaching, monitoring, and planning. Plus, forecasts and schedules produced by WFM software are often more accurate. Additionally, WFM software makes it easy to run what-if scenarios for better planning, something most spreadsheet models aren't built to do.
3. Improving customer experience
Workforce management software: "This is my jam, too!"
Contact centers constantly perform a balancing act between operational efficiency and customer experience. On the one hand they need enough agents to meet service level goals. On the other hand, if they have too many agents, they might blow their budget. Workforce management software can make sure both factors are taken care of. In fact, organizations that implement the best WFM solutions often find their average speed of answer improves due to more accurate forecasting and scheduling. Additionally, workforce management software can ensure agents with the right skills are scheduled to meet demand. A great way to improve customer experience is to shorten the length of time customers have to wait to interact with an agent that’s qualified to resolve their specific issue – and workforce management software takes care of that.
4. Improving employee productivity
The same qualities that make workforce management software good at increasing operational efficiency also make it great at improving employee productivity, especially if the application is capable of omnichannel forecasting and scheduling. Scheduling agents to handle multiple channels during the same shift will drive down idle time and increase utilization, a measure of agent productivity. For example, if an agent isn't busy with real-time interactions like phone and chat, she can work on the emails she has in process. For maximum productivity, contact centers should also use an omnichannel ACD. But even if the contact center isn't omnichannel, good WFM tools can help it get the most from its agent resources.
5. Improving profitability
Of course, improving efficiency and employee productivity will have a positive impact on profitability by reducing costs, but workforce management software can also help increase revenue by ensuring agents with the right skills are scheduled at specific times. For example, if a business plans to run a series of infomercials, the forecast can account for the additional anticipated inbound volume, ensuring enough agents are working to minimize abandoned calls and maximize sales opportunities. Additionally, the WFM application can ensure the scheduled agents are skilled at sales to drive conversion rates and revenue.
6. Increasing agent engagement
Contact centers fight a perpetual battle against agent attrition. Not only is agent churn expensive, but losing knowledgeable agents at high rates can also degrade customer experience. In response, many contact centers have launched engagement efforts to improve agent retention rates. McKinsey has determined that satisfied and engaged agents are "8.5x more likely to stay than leave within a year" AND are "3.3x more likely to feel extremely empowered to resolve customer issues." When the stakes are this high, contact centers have to pull out all the stops, including empowering agents by giving them more control of their schedules. Workforce management software that includes features like shift swapping and automated time off requests give contact centers one more way to engage agents and improve retention.
7. Increasing support and oversight of remote agents
The pandemic caused many contact centers to move to a remote agent model and research indicates organizations will continue to have work-from-home agents even after the pandemic passes. Remote workforces cause some unique challenges, including management oversight. Contact center supervisors can no longer scan the floor to make sure everyone is there and working on their assigned tasks. Workforce management software that allows managers to track real-time adherence can provide more visibility to agent activity and help alleviate some of the uncertainty of managing remote workers.
Additionally, the remote model has created the opportunity to use block shift functionality more often. This lets agents break up their shifts into blocks of time. For example, a remote agent might work four hours, have a two hour gap, and then work another four hours. This would allow the agent to pick up her kids from school during that two hour gap or take care of other personal tasks, ultimately leading to better work-life balance. Block shifts may not be practical when agents are commuting to work, but at-home agents can definitely benefit from this feature.
8. Increasing agility
Agility may be the secret sauce that helps businesses survive the pandemic. We've all seen examples of organizations adapting to current circumstances - distilleries making hand sanitizer, grocery stores adding curbside pickup, clothing manufacturers making masks. For contact centers, workforce management software has certainly contributed to quick and successful shifts to remote agent models, but the contribution to agility doesn't end there. WFM applications also let organizations quickly adapt to the changing volume patterns and handle times that characterized the early days of the pandemic. Additionally, good intraday management functionality allows contact centers to be agile in normal circumstances as well as times of crisis.
9. Increasing simplicity
Contact centers are complex operations - they're fast-paced, supported by numerous systems, and highly people-intensive. With all these moving parts, contact center leaders should welcome tools that introduce simplicity. The best workforce management software does this by being so intuitive that users can learn it quickly and don't need to be WFM experts with detailed knowledge of the 40 algorithms that can be used for forecasting. WFM software simplifies the complex.
10. Improving omnichannel capabilities
Omnichannel customer service allows customers to move seamlessly across channels within the same interaction. The 2020 NICE inContact Customer Experience (CX) Transformation Benchmark reports that 93% of consumers expect omnichannel experiences but both consumers and businesses think organizations fall well short of delivering on those expectations. To close the gap, 35% of respondents plan to invest in omnichannel technology. They would do well to include workforce management software in their plans. World-class workforce management software can holistically forecast volume for all channels and then build the multi-skilled agent schedules designed to give customers the omnichannel experiences they expect.
Investing in technology might sound risky right now, but the real risk might be inaction. Implementing tools that help increase efficiency, transform business processes, and improve customer experience is a smart activity in any environment, but in difficult times it might be the key to survival. To survive this pandemic, businesses need to be agile, hold on to their customers, and get the most out of their resources. Good workforce management software allows contact centers to accomplish their business objectives while also injecting simplicity into core processes.
NICE inContact CXone Workforce Management software (WFM) empowers you to anticipate business demands and optimize your workforce with the industry’s most intelligent and accurate omnichannel forecasting engine. CXone Workforce Management helps contact centers reduce labor waste, improve agent engagement and schedule adherence, and minimize WFM administrative effort.
To learn more:
- Watch a product demo - CXone Workforce Management Pro-Going Beyond the Spreadsheet
- Read a customer success story - CXone Workforce Management: Just what the doctor ordered
- Download a white paper - Forecasting with Artificial Intelligence