This article details the results of the most recent SWPP quarterly survey on critical workforce planning topics. In this survey, which focused on workforce management for back office functions, approximately 200 call center professionals representing a wide variety of industries participated and provided insight into numerous workforce planning questions.
The largest percentage (45%) of the participants was from large call center operations with over 500 seats, followed by 17% with 201-300 agents. Twelve percent of the survey participants
represent centers with 101-200 agents. All types of call center operations were represented in the study, with the biggest percentage representing financial, insurance, and telecommunications industries.
WFM in the Back Office
The survey participants were asked if the workforce management team has been asked to forecast or schedule for non-phone back office tasks in their organization. Sixty-eight percent of the participants indicated that they have been asked to perform this function. Based on the responses to questions that follow this, it appears that some of these operations may have integrated back office tasks within the call center as agents perform both types of work. In other cases, the back office functions are separate from the call center activities.
Forecasting for the Back Office
The survey respondents were asked if they are currently forecasting volume for the back office tasks and 65% responded that they do, while 34% do not. Forecasting for this type of work can be challenging as the types of historical data that call centers have relied on may not be easily accessible for non-call activities. It may also rely heavily on agent behaviors (such as remembering to mark on a tick sheet) so may not be accurate for either total or time of arrivals. Handoffs between departments and multistep processing that can span several hours or even days further complicate the forecasting of this type of work.
Scheduling for the Back Office
hen asked if the WFM department is currently scheduling for the back office tasks, over three quarters of the respondents indicated that they do. This is a higher percentage than those who forecast. Given the sequential nature of the back office work, the scheduling process is different in that timing of such things as arrivals/departures, breaks/lunches, and other activities may be less critical than when the speed of answer goal for calls demands seconds of response time. Here adherence to schedule details may not be as important as ensuring compliance with the overall total scheduled time in each day, as the work can be done on a more flexible schedule. However, ensuring that there is enough staff to complete the workload within the response time goal is still the objective.
Work Types Tracked
When asked what type of work is tracked for WFM tasks, the responses are fairly dispersed with 27% in Account Management tasks, 17% each in Billing and Complaints, and 16% in Claims. However, 23% indicated that none of these types matched the types of work they are tracking. As the concept of WFM in the back office continues to evolve and grow, the variety of contacts that the WFM team will be asked to handle is likely to continue to expand.
How Work Types are Tracked
When asked to describe the method that is used to track the back office works types, the responses are quite varied. While a third use some type of operational system such as claims, complaints, or CRM systems, another 30% use some type of proprietary homegrown tracking system. Only 16% indicated that they are using a vendor-supplied solution and 6% report using agent tick sheets. This is one of the more challenging elements of WFM for the back office since the ACD tracking and reporting tools we are using for calls are not typically going to be effective for non-call activities. Determining when a back office task arrived, when the agent began the work and ended it, and the total handling time for each is not always as readily available as needed. Getting a data link into the systems that the staff use and ensuring that the data is accurate for WFM purposes can be one of the more difficult parts of a back office WFM implementation.
How Daily Statistics Are Reported
When asked how they report daily statistics from back office work tasks, 23% indicated that they report only by work type, while 10% report only by agent or staff member. However, two-thirds (67%) of the respondents indicate that they report by both work type and staff member that likely enhances the value of the data to the managers of these back office functions. To a large extent, this capability is a function of the data available from the systems being used to capture the activities.
Verification of Self-Reported Work Items
Without the detailed reporting capabilities to automatically identify the activity levels, WFM in the back office is somewhat dependent upon the self-reporting of the staff. When asked how these self-reported activity levels are verified, 40% indicated that they do not verify the numbers. One-third use system logs while another 20% does a random sampling of those work logs. Tracking activity levels in the back office is a new function in some of these departments and may take some time to become complete and accurate, especially where the process is dependent upon the agent to make some record of their activity. Given the challenges call centers have in ensuring that agents use the ACD work state buttons correctly, it is reasonable to expect similar types of challenges in the non-phone work when the process is dependent upon the agents’ behaviors.
Monitoring for Schedule Adherence
When asked how the team monitors adherence to the planned schedules, 57% indicated that they use a vendorprovided WFM system. Excel spreadsheets are used by 18%, while 7% use a home-grown prorietary system, leaving 18% who use some other method. Given the sequential nature of back office tasks, if this is the only work this person and team is doing, adherence to schedule details may not have the importance that it does for inbound calls where the service goal is in seconds. This may be a situation where we need to “pick our battles” and put less emphasis on exact timing of breaks and more on the quality of the data recorded to ensure accurate forecasting of the workload to be performed.
Staff Effectiveness Factors
Survey participants were asked to identify what factors they use to determine the effectiveness of the staff. Respondents were able to make more than one selection if appropriate and the average number of choices was two. Of all of the responses, one-third use supervisor observation and another 27% utilize the annual performance review. Self-reported productivity measures such as tick sheets were chosen by 20% and rework rates by 8%. This is another significant challenge of managing the back office operation.
Agents Handling Both Phone and Back Office Tasks
The survey participants were asked if their inbound phone agents also performed back office tasks. Almost two-thirds (62%) indicated that they do have mixed responsibilities but 35%
responded that their inbound call agents do not handle back office activities. In some centers, agents switch back and forth in blocks of time so that they can get a break from one type of
work and do another for a while and then be available during peak load periods for call handling.
Percentage of Back Office Work
When asked what percentage of the back office work the inbound call agents perform, more than half (54%) indicated that it is small – less than 10%. However, nearly one-quarter (23%) handle between 11-25% of that work while 18% handle between 25-50% of the back office tasks. Only 5% indicated that their inbound agents do more than 50% of the back office work.
Workforce management for the back office is evolving rapidly. As customers choose a variety of communication methods in addition to phone calls and as organizations begin to realize the benefits of managing staffing in non-call departments, this will continue to grow and change. It is interesting to see how many of the respondents are already deep into the forecasting and scheduling for these tasks but those who are not yet doing them can reasonably expect the demand to increase in the near future. Implementing back office WFM is not a small undertaking. It will require finding a reliable mechanism to identify the workload (both volume and handle time). However, once that hurdle is overcome, the benefits of improved manageability of these functions is significant and well worth the effort in most cases.