Confessions of a Workforce Management Provider
By Daryl A Gonos, Co-founder, WorkForce Management Software Group, Inc.
Hi, my name is Daryl and I have been a provider of workforce management services and technology for nearly 25 years. This is my first WFM Anonymous meeting….
All kidding aside, I have had the great fortune of working with a small team focused exclusively on workforce management systems and practices since 1990. This group has consulted, delivered, integrated, trained, developed, and supported every type of user in contact centers across all industries including utilities, government agencies, financial institutions, technology providers, credit unions, business process outsourcers, hospitality companies, insurance groups, healthcare companies, etc. We have used most all of the well-known products, though not all the products’ latest versions. We have resurrected, newly deployed, and optimized workforce managements systems and practices for a combined 100 years or more now.
We think we have learned a few things along the way that may seem to go against conventional wisdom. Here are a few observations we wanted to share as a developer, provider, and supporter of workforce management software that may seem unusual, at first.
1. Installing software on server is only the first step on a long workforce management journey.
WFM is just not like other call center technologies. Once you install a quality monitoring system for instance, it records calls, with CTI and screen pops. Your WFM system will collect data from the ACD but otherwise it just sits there. It does not generate forecast or produce schedules. We often say that workforce management software is like MS Word. It’s kind of a blank slate. Books don’t write themselves and you have to engage your WFM solution to produce a forecast and manage your staff.
Installation is the first step of a never-ending quest to deliver more consistent service for your customers and control the cost of providing that service. Your software is simply a platform for executing those processes.
2. Schedule optimization is overrated.
Let’s face it, most contact center agents work fixed schedules. That is overwhelmingly the case within our user community. Agents work 7-3 or 8-5, etc. The only real area of opportunity for optimization is thru placement of off-phone events such as breaks, lunches, and meetings. So that can be limited but even so it produces tremendous measureable benefits. Being able to intelligently assign off-phone events during slower intervals produces gigantic savings. Removing 10 overstaffed hours and placing them into understaffed hours increases efficiency both coming and going.
3. Process automation is underrated.
When your center was looking for a solution, they should have been trying to identify as many of the processes that the product could automate for everybody in your center, as well as how well the system could assist the “scheduler” or create efficiencies. Dozens of tasks that are done manually will almost instantly be automated. The value comes from multiple sources: administrative time savings, better visibility into data, less errors, and standardization of those processes across different personnel. What is the value of being able to view your transactional call data by date range and skill? How much more effective will your agent be if they can see their schedules online and be reminded of upcoming events like meetings and trainings. What processes will be uniformly standardized across your teams? How do your agents swap shifts today? How do agents pick up overtime? How do you execute VTO? How do your agents request time off? How do you manage call-outs? All of these events are occurring today in your center but they are probably decentralized and completed differently by each person. Automation of everything is as or more important than optimization.
4. The agents’ interests are underserved by contact center personnel evaluating WFM software.
Forecasting and scheduling get all the attention, but in a 100-agent center there are two, three, or four people forecasting, scheduling and managing while there are 90 agents out there interacting with the solution all day long. Prospects spend hours looking at forecasting and scheduling features and five minutes looking at the features that impact the most people, the agent portal! Analysts can plan all they want, but if the agents are not engaged and in lock step with the plan, you will still be chasing service level just like you did when you used MS Excel. The agents are the key to workforce management success and the features in their portal really matter. Their interests are routinely underserved during the demonstration of the evaluation of workforce management technology.
5. If you did zero staff planning and schedule optimization, adherence reporting still makes it all worthwhile.
Just knowing where your people are, or are not, is a huge step in a contact center. If you ignore all of the staff planning and schedule optimization algorithms and features, WFM technology justifies itself on this information alone. Even if your schedules and off-phone events are fixed, you can capture 10 or 20 percent more productive hours simply by giving your agents access to their schedule and their adherence metrics. In a 100-agent center that is the equivalent of adding 10 or 20 staff, without hiring a single person.
6. Intra-day agility separates the kids from the grown-ups.
Given enough time, anybody can create a plan. A really great WFM team is agile. They plan, in advance, for variance! They plan for this action when they are understaffed and plan B when overstaffed. They document that, automate it, and it becomes part of their everyday culture. Many users live and die by their published schedule and there is plenty of value in that, but that is old school workforce administration. The ability to quickly flex your workforce to respond to the dynamics of your customer behavior can make or break a center every day. The ability to respond to those dynamics proactively, refine schedules in response to that new behavior and communicate those changes to your agents with speed and dexterity can turn your center into a world class operation. We admire that like one does a marching bands’ precision.
7. It’s not you, it’s me.
Yes, I stole this from George Costanza’s immortal line from Seinfeld. Seriously though, as I mentioned, our team consulted widely prior to developing and delivering our own solution. In all those years, never once, did we advise that the solution to a clients’ WFM effectiveness was a new workforce management platform. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to migrate to a new solution, such as connectivity/technology issues, it is no longer supported, or is expensive to own or upgrade, though, it just does not work for us is not likely one of them.
If you are struggling with results, look to your workforce management process cycle (planning, scheduling, intraday management, agent empowerment) for areas of opportunity to better leverage your investment. See item 1! Whatever you find outside of legitimate roadblocks to success, the issues preventing effectiveness are probably not software based. I hope to see you at the next WFM Anonymous meeting, but no later than SWPP Annual Conference March 2-4 at the Omni in Nashville!
Daryl Gonos is a founding partner of the Workforce Management Software Group, the providers of the Community workforce management solution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit WFMSG on the web at www.wfmsg.com.