workforce management

Workforce Management Basics in Today’s Contact Center: Part 1

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For seasoned workforce managers, predicting contact volumes and creating perfect schedules are second nature – even although, to those of us on the outside, they seem to speak a whole different contact center language! Workforce management can be overwhelming and confusing for those thrown into the Workforce Management trenches for the first time. In the simplest terms, WFM programs seek to ensure you have the “right” skilled agents in the “right” place at the “right” time, whether that’s achieved via Excel spreadsheets or using sophisticated WFM software. The ability to achieve the “right” staffing mix has a direct impact on customer service metrics like service levels (SLA), average speed of answer (ASA), and customer satisfaction (CSAT). With people representing 67% of the cost of a typical contact center, “right” staffing also has a direct impact on operational metrics like labor cost, as you seek the perfect balance of meeting customer demand while avoiding over- or understaffing.

While workforce management is a discipline with many detailed moving parts, WFM activities really boil down to four basic components – forecasting, scheduling, intraday management, and employee engagement. This blog is Part One of a two-part series that aims to demystify these four components. Let’s look at forecasting and scheduling first.

Forecasting

Many say that forecasting is part-science and part-art, but simply stated, forecasting is the process of analyzing past historical contact volumes in order to predict future contact volumes across all channels, like voice, chat, email, social, etc. This can get tricky because looking at the past and just applying those same numbers to the future fails to factor in emerging trends, which may impact future volume and more. Luckily, computing power and data analytics have advanced to where it is possible to utilize Artificial Intelligence and advanced algorithms to make forecasts more accurate, and automatically factor in these trends. The best WFM solutions even eliminate the guesswork by ensuring the best algorithms are applied to your forecast for the dataset and time period for which you are forecasting. It is important to then measure the accuracy of your forecasts on a regular and ongoing basis to ensure you are iteratively improving and make corrections as necessary.

Scheduling

Scheduling picks up right where forecasting left off. Forecasting predicts your future contact volumes and how many people you need to support those volumes, and then scheduling assigns the right people to those volumes for each time interval. Scheduling is a critical contact center function, but like forecasting, can be tricky. Without the right technology, executing each schedule can be a bit like creating a wedding seating chart – “Aunt Alice can’t sit at the same table as Cousin Jim, but Cousin Jim must sit across from Uncle Jeff at a table near the bathroom but far from the bar.”  This complexity is probably why a 2018 ICMI survey of 600+ call centers found that less than 1/3 of contact centers are very satisfied with their existing scheduling process. Those contact centers are probably experiencing the symptoms of a bad schedule, which can include:

  • Not having enough agents to service your customers, making your wait time and ASA skyrocket, and your CSAT and SLAs plummet.
  • Having underutilized agents twiddling their thumbs, leading to huge labor waste.
  • Having the wrong agents available to answer customers for the skills or contact types that are coming in.
  • Having upset or unengaged agents because they were scheduled to work during dates and times they preferred off.

Good schedules ensure you have the best staffing mix to meet your customer demand, while balancing operational costs and desired schedules of agents. The best WFM technology can deliver this in minutes – and also leverage machine learning technology to ensure that your schedule get iteratively smarter each time it’s run. Forecasting and scheduling are the first half of the equation as it relates to contact center workforce management basics. Check back soon for Part two of the series, where we will address intraday change management and employee engagement!