To workforce management outsiders, forecasting in a traditional contact center has always been a bit confounding. Erlang C, Box-Jenkins ARMIA, exponential smoothing – oh my! And that was just when we only had basic interaction channels like voice, email, and chat! But as consumer options and expectations for communication have evolved, contact center complexity has increased. So naturally, the complexity of forecasting and scheduling has also increased!
Ensuring you have the right people, in the right place, at the right time becomes all the more challenging when each agent can handle a unique combination of different channels, at different volumes, and the communication and volume trends for each individual channel differ. Did you catch all that? Let me re-state because it’s overwhelming even for the those intimately involved in digital transformation. That was scheduling your people for (1) MANY different channels, (2) varying volumes across those channels, (3) elevation between channels, and, yes, (3) varying trends for preferences and volumes across the days of the week and across the different geographic regions you support.
The unfortunate reality is that most contact centers overlook the fact that as their channel offering evolves, so must their workforce management software capabilities. Rather, many contact centers often implement new communication channels, only to realize after the fact that their existing workforce management software is not adequately capable to handle their new omnichannel, digital environment. For that reason, if your contact center is staring an inevitable digital transformation in the face, now is a good time to evaluate the ability of your workforce management software to make or break your success.
Forecasting in a digital world
Forecasting and scheduling are cornerstone workforce management activities. In the past, contact centers could often make do with basic forecasting using spreadsheets or basic workforce management software to predict future call volumes. Because that’s all the forecast consisted of – call volumes. However, today’s contact center, with its myriad of channels types, faces a whole different level of forecasting complexity. Luckily, advanced workforce management software can make tackling those challenges much easier.
The challenge with traditional forecasting
- All channels are not created equal. Real-time channels like voice and chat require different workload considerations than non-real-time, digital channels – also called asynchronous channels - like email, Twitter, WhatsApp, SMS, etc., as consumer expectations for response rates are vastly different. With asynchronous digital channels, not every channel and interaction are like for like – I expect a quicker response to a WhatsApp inquiry than I do an email, for example.
- KPIs take on a whole new meaning.Basic KPI goals typically used as forecasting staffing parameters, like Service Levels (SLAs), vary greatly from one channel to the next. For voice a typical SLA is to answer in X amount of time, for example 30 seconds or less.For digital channels that SLA might instead be to send an initial response in X minutes/hours/days, and to complete resolution with as few responses as possible, say 3.
In some cases, KPIs may not even be relevant anymore. For example, some argue that abandons – an important KPI for inbound voice channels – aren’t a relevant metric for these new digital channels, because either the consumer sent the message, or they didn’t – they don’t stop the message halfway. Now, whether the message they sent warrants a response or not, or whether they then “ghost” you after sending that first digital message in is another thing that may warrant its own, new metric. But by pure definition, abandons isn’t really a relevant measure for digital channels.
- Every agent has unique omnichannel capabilities. Just the sheer nature of these different channels presents a forecasting challenge in a true omnichannel environment. Couple that with the extra complexity that in most contact centers, each agent has a unique combination of digital skills assigned to them, and each agent also has unique capabilities for the volume of each channel they can handle simultaneously. For example, Sally may have 7 different channel types she is skilled to handle (let’s say, voice, email, chat, Facebook, Twitter, Apple Business Chat, and LinkedIn messenger), and within that she can handle 10 different digital interactions at the same time; whereas Joe, who is less tenured, can only handle 4 channel types (email, chat, WhatsApp and SMS) and 5 interactions at the same time. Multiply these unique, agent-specific parameters across a team of fifty agents – let alone hundreds or thousands of agents – and it becomes a math problem from hell. Definitely one that won’t be solved in a scheduling spreadsheet!
Given this complexity, spreadsheets and rudimentary forecasting capabilities delivered by basic WFM software are simply no longer viable or sustainable options. By the time your Excel wizard figured out what type of forecasting algorithm to apply to get an even somewhat accurate forecast, or figured out a passable workaround in your basic WFM software to forecast for these asynchronous channels, your contact center would probably introduce a new channel – and then they’d have to start all over again!
But of course, at that point, having to recreate your forecasting spreadsheet would be the least of your problems! You’d be too busy scratching your head trying to figure out why you are either consistently over- or understaffed and your SLAs are unpredictably out of control!
The solution: AI forecasting
The aforementioned nightmare does NOT have to be your contact center reality. Today’s workforce management software simplifies right-staffing in a true omnichannel environment down to a couple steps. Leading workforce management software uses sophisticated AI technology and a myriad of patented algorithms that automatically consider your individual KPI goals for each channel type, while also automatically factoring in which agents are skilled with each channel type, and at what volumes. Additionally, the best WFM software will further simplify things by eliminating the need to specify the exact forecasting algorithm that should be applied by automatically picking the best algorithm to fit your forecast’s time period and data set. Erlang C, Box-Jenkins ARMIA, exponential smoothing – NO PROBLEM! I don’t even have to know what those mean!
When evaluating workforce management software, ensure the software can not only provide a mechanism to forecast the different channel types you support, but also provide a way to specify your simultaneous contact-handling and SLA inputs per asynchronous channel within the staffing parameters. This is important because again, even amongst and within these channels, your contact center may want to set different SLAs and goals. For example, you may a response SLA of 12 business hours for most Tweets, and an 8 hour SLA for most emails. However, you may have a subset of Twitter users – maybe influencers with a high following – whose messages should receive a response with an SLA goal of 6 hours. Thus, your workforce management product should make it possible for you to take into account the nuances for these different skills within channels and forecast accordingly.
Additionally, ensure the software leverages Best Pick technology - meaning that the software selects the best algorithm for you -- and that the forecasting interface is simplified and easy to use, reducing the need for specialized WFM expertise. This will empower you to generate more accurate forecasts, more efficiently, freeing your WFM team to be more proactive in their activities and more strategic in their long-term planning.
But what happens if you embark on this digital transformation WITHOUT the right workforce management software in place?
The consequences of an ineffective workforce management approach in a digital world
- Negative impact on customer satisfaction. The consequences of operating on outdated, ineffective workforce management software are amplified in a digital environment. As mentioned, today’s consumers want and expect to be able to communicate with the organizations they do business with via their channel of choice; but moreover, they expect to receive responses within a timeframe they perceive as reasonable. If your workforce management software isn’t producing accurate forecasts, you will be understaffed. And an understaffed team will then slowly begin drowning in interactions, struggle to meet SLAs, and in turn fail to meet customer expectations.
When it comes to execution, I adopt the “do it well, or don’t do it at all philosophy.” As a consumer, if I Tweet a company, and don’t get any response or acknowledgement for a week, that makes me more dissatisfied than if the company wasn’t even available on Twitter in the first place! As a result, I am now not only going to complain to my peers about the original issue about which I was Tweeting, but also add the secondary complaint on the poor responsiveness of the organization!
- Negative impact on agent engagement. Another byproduct of understaffing is poor agent engagement. An understaffed contact center is a worn out, frazzled contact center. Again, agents struggle to keep their head above water, juggling contacts at such a relentless, non-stop pace that their performance levels are jeopardized and there is never time to dedicate to engagement building activities, like coaching and personal development. As such, workforce management software that does not adequately keep pace with the pace of today’s digital environment will cause a direct negative impact on your stakeholders both outside and insight the contact center!
- Unnecessary labor waste. The alternative to understaffing is, naturally, overstaffing, which in itself has negative consequences on the contact center. Few things bother executives more than walking around a contact center floor only to see agents twiddling their thumbs or goofing off because they don’t have enough workload. While agents are much more than dollars and cents, they are also the contact center’s most expensive resource. Contact centers operating without workforce management software that appropriately accounts for new digitals may end up treating all channels as equal, modeling their forecasting and staffing for asynchronous channels the same way they do for voice channels. The problem with that is, though, that as we’ve discussed, agents can handle multiple simultaneous asynchronous channels, whereas they can only handle one voice contact at a time. Thus, the contact center will be grossly overstaffed.
As you can see, there is more to a successful digital transformation than just offering different types of channels. Workforce optimization components – and workforce management especially – cannot be overlooked. So, the next time your leadership team starts talking about introducing more digital channels, raise your voice to ensure that an assessment of your workforce management software is part of the plan. You’ll have happier customers, agents, and executives in the long run if you do!
Want to learn more about the industry’s most intelligent, digital-ready workforce management software? Check out CXone Workforce Management.