NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – April 1, 2021 – The Society of Workforce Planning Professionals (SWPP) has announced the five finalists for the 2021 Workforce Management Professional of the Year Award, which recognizes a workforce management professional who has shown outstanding leadership in the industry. The finalists are Dr. Debra Bentson of Kaiser Permanente, Richard Dean of Marriott Vacations Worldwide, Cherri Lindquist of Company Nurse, Aaron Jacobs of GE Appliances, and Anton Nithianandarajah of TD Bank Group.

“I am very proud to present these five workforce management professionals as finalists for this distinguished award,” said Vicki Herrell, SWPP Executive Director. “Each year, there are so many outstanding nominations that it continues to be a difficult task for the SWPP Board of Advisors to select the top five. Each one of these individuals has demonstrated great skills, leadership, and ability in our industry, as well as delivered measurable results for their companies.” The SWPP Board of Advisors selected the five finalists from nominations submitted on the SWPP website. The Workforce Management Professional of the Year is chosen from the five finalists by the Board of Advisors and announced at the 2021 SWPP Virtual Summit for WFM, which will be held virtually throughout the month of April 2021.

Dr. Debra Bentson is Senior Workforce Manager for Kaiser Permanente (KP). The Human Resources Inbound Call Center operates in one location with 130 agents on an 11-hour, fiveday schedule handing approximately 50,000 inbound calls, emails and web submissions per month. The WFM team consists of five people led by Dr. Bentson and utilizing Genesys IVR, Salesforce HCM, Aspect WFM, NICE QA/My Vitals, and MS Office technologies.

Debra has several qualifications and credentials including Doctor of Business Administration, Certified Workforce Planning  professional (CWPP), and a depth of industry training. Debra joined the KP team four years ago and has added substantial value to the business in two primary areas of Forecasting as well as Development and Education.

Aside from the required company training, there was no structured training plan focused on workforce management. This resulted in existing technology and training opportunities not being offered or available for the team to learn to their potential. She creates a structured development plan each year for the team focused on expanding knowledge, fueling curiosity, and develop networking.

The first layer of training includes all the required company training. The second layer of training includes elements to enhance contact center and workforce management knowledge. The team members are all members of SWPP and half of the team (including Debra) has earned their CWPP certification. Currently the team is working on continuing Aspect training and certification paths. Every member of the team is working on building awareness, knowledge, and competency is all areas of workforce management.

The third layer of training is focused on networking and meeting the bigger world outside of the department and company. This includes attending conferences presented by SWPP, ICMI, Aspect (ACE), and NCCCA (Northern California Contact Center Association). The team is involved in the Kaiser Permanente Aspect group to share best practices among over 100 colleagues within the company to share the knowledge wealth and best practices.

In the area of forecasting, Debra improved the forecasting methodology by shifting the process from “R” and Excel to Aspect and Excel. Key benefits of shifting the forecasting process include:

  • Removing the time, effort, and energy of doing tedious, manual keying, building formulas, and allowing them to repurpose the time for additional analysis.
  • Cross-training in one source removed the issue of the forecaster being the single point of failure.
  • Everything from the forecast, schedule, and intra-day management is tied together in one application.
  • They reuse the same processes for the transactional and other non-contact center business areas. This consistency in process and methodology allows the leadership team to review forecasts for different channels comparing apples to apples, makes the FTE requirements defendable, and allows flexibility to changing assumptions.

Changing the forecasting process delivered on the promise of stabilizing the forecast. The work done in one of the initial back office teams resulted in a reduction of 20 full time positions, over $1 million dollars annually, by applying the rigor of determining work standards, projected volumes, and normalizing history to provide staffing requirements aligned to the work to be completed.
Debra uses her expertise developed through continuous learning, active participation in the industry, and knowledge of best practices to guide and craft her department’s efforts to deliver value in all phases of workforce management.

Richard Dean is Associate Director, Workforce Management for Marriott Vacations Worldwide. The company operates five centers located around the world in Utah, Florida, Mexico, Ireland, Singapore, and Thailand on a five-day, 9AM-5PM EST basis handling over 20,000 contacts per month consisting of calls, email, web, and chat. The technologies include TeleOpti, InContact, and Salesforce and the WFM team includes 10 people.

Before Rich joined the team, Marriot had depended on hiring internally to staff this function with mixed levels of success. There came a point when it was clear that a WFM professional was needed, and that person was Richard Dean. One of the keys to his success is his ability to seek first to understand before trying to be understood. He is never “the man behind the curtain” and works to help Operations teams to better understand WFM. It would have been easy for Rich to simply look at the typical data and start to jump to conclusions and make decisions about the business. Instead, he spent time understanding what makes the business different. After he did that, he was able to make many critical suggestions for improvement – from a place of understanding and not just based on cold, hard numbers.

Rich suggested a book on call center WFM that the management could all read together as a team – Operations and Support teams. At his suggestion, they bought books for everyone and did a weekly “book club” of sorts where they discussed a chapter in the book. This process was invaluable and gave the team a better understanding of call center WFM in general and a better appreciation for the work that WFM does.

Rich consistently asks questions and looks for ways that WFM can provide data that will support the business in making better decisions. Like many call centers, they have experienced an increase in call handle time during COVID-19. Rich and team were able to show leaders that ACW and ATT were significant contributors to the increase. After much discussion with operations leaders, it was settled that they needed to look at the amount of documentation happening during ACW and come up with some limits so that agents could move on and more effectively answer other callers. In February of 2020, ACW was 111 seconds. Since changes have been implemented, they have seen this decline, and by the end of 2020, ACW leveled off to 75 seconds. As of mid-February 2021, ACW is still at about 75 seconds which is where it was pre-COVID-19.

Continuing to focus on process improvements, Rich worked with his team to create an AHT against average report. This report is actionable and provides valuable data to support coaching and call monitoring efforts. Managers can see which specific team members are outliers for higher-than-average call handling. The monitoring team is then able to look for specific areas that could help the associate with their call efficiency.

Another report that was developed to enhance efficiency is the call transfer report. This report has helped managers understand call transfer behavior on their teams. They have been able to analyze process efficiency, training and communication opportunities as a result of this report.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that in addition to his WFM expertise, he is an excellent leader. Rich has turned a very “green” WFM team into a team that is highly engaged, supportive, and incredible WFM professionals. Rich has a continued focus on their ongoing development via personal mentoring and stretch opportunities.

Aaron Jacobs is Director of Workforce Optimization & Analytics for GE Appliances, which is one of the largest appliance companies in the US. Although all agents are now working from home, the company previously operated three centers, seven-days and 14-hours per day processing approximately 2 million inbound phone, chat, email, and social media contacts per month. The technology in place includes Calabrio One, AWS Connect and Salesforce. The WFM team consists of 10 members.

Aaron began his contact center career while still in high school and has held a variety of roles over a 25-year career. His experiences have resulted in a variety of awards and honors including certification on several WFM systems and he is working toward a master’s degree in Data Science as well.

Joining GE Appliances in January 2020, AJ serves as Director of WFM and Analysis which utilizes everything he learned over the years. AJ was well on his way to developing a cohesive WFM plan for GE Appliances contact centers when COVID-19 hit. It was then that AJ faced an additional, never-before-seen challenge: he had to redefine the entire process to support shifting all of the call center employees from working in corporate contact centers to working remotely, from home — and they only had two weeks to do it.

That challenge, however, wasn’t the only one caused by the pandemic. AJ quickly realized the pandemic didn’t just amplify all of his contact center’s problems — it created new ones, too. Contact center volumes had skyrocketed by 50%, and were far exceeding the existing plan’s forecast and budget.

In only a year — and in spite of the unforeseeable and unimaginable challenges posed by COVID-19 — AJ has implemented a formal WFM plan and executed deliberate operational changes that already are delivering tangible, significant results to GE Appliances’ contact center. Some examples:

  • Cost per call has decreased by 15%.
  • The contact center workforce only had to grow 20-25% — to 800+ total — in order to cover an unexpected 50% increase in calls during COVID-19 19.
  • Adherence has improved by 20%, to its current rate of over 90%.
  • Attrition has shrunk — by more than 25% in some groups.
  • A singular forecasting and scheduling methodology measures the accuracy of volumes and handle times in order to ensure the right number of agents are scheduled in each business unit to deliver the service level that’s required.

The resulting benefits to GE Appliances’ bottom line are equally impressive. The organization was able to prove significant savings — the equivalent of 2-3 teams of full-time employees — for a 12-month time period. There’s also been an opportunity to generate more revenue for the company than before, with the team working hard to turn the call center from a cost center to a profit center.

But an environment of continual improvement requires sustained commitment, intrinsically inspired leaders and highly engaged team members. That’s why, for instance, AJ debriefs for 30 minutes with his team every morning on what happened yesterday, what’s happening today and what they need to get ahead of for tomorrow. That’s why he meets weekly with every business owner to review trends and staffing in order to optimize processes on a consistent basis. It’s with this spirit of team and connectedness that AJ sets the standard for service and support at GE Appliances.

Cherri Lindquist is Clinical Nurse Manager for Company Nurse which provides nurse triage services for worker’s compensation and injury prevention contacts. The company operated three centers with 150 agents prior to COVID-19 but all are virtual today. The organization utilizes Genesys Cloud technology and has a WFM team of three people.

The center operates 24 x 7 x 365, handling 10,000 contacts per month that are primarily voice but moving toward more digital interactions. Company Nurse is a provider of nurse triage services in the worker’s compensation industry. As an ally in workplace injury management, Cherri’s team helps companies navigate the complicated and time-consuming process of completing incident reports and responding to information requests. To get workers’ compensation claims off to an ideal start, Company Nurse has registered nurses available to triage workplace injuries when they occur. With one call, injured workers get the care they need, without delay. To meet the customers where they are going, the company needed to offer more than the phone channel and expand to text and chat. This precipitated the implementation of the Genesys Cloud and the move from Excel-based scheduling.

When Cherri’s company bought the new system, she thought her only challenge was going to be implementing a new workforce management system and defining all of the new processes needed to support the new system. Little did she know that a pandemic was lurking around the corner ready to add more complication to her already large task. In a span of 48 hours, COVID-19 forced Cherri and her team to move the entire contact center out of three physical locations (in Colorado, Kentucky, and Arizona) into a fully virtual environment. Not only did Cherri (and team) rise to the occasion, they have actually begun driving efficiencies they might not have thought possible in a virtual environment. Since the pandemic began, they have seen a 20% increase in call volume but with Cherri’s team at the helm, they have been able to handle that influx of volume without having to add new agents. Her team oversaw a decrease in AHT of 13%, a decrease in agent idle time of 21% and an estimated savings of $50,000 per year by reducing overflow calls.

Cherri is most proud of the schedule adherence improvement by more than 10 points. In the center, adherence was in the low 80s but with the WFM system and virtual environment, it is now in the mid-90s. This increase in adherence did not happen by accident. These results are a direct result of the leadership Cherri and her team have displayed throughout the pandemic. Cherri has been able to bring more visibility to the impact each and every member of the team has, not only on their customers but on their peers, as well. This visibility has been a key driver in performance improvement at Company Nurse. Cherri has been able to publish schedules further in advance and has the tools to bring full schedule visibility to the entire team. They can see their schedules and their coworker’s schedules and this is huge because it allows them to make the best decisions based on the information available.

Cherri has navigated the implementation of a new routing system, new channels of communication, a global pandemic, and yet her team is performing better than ever. They are getting to more interactions than ever before and doing it more efficiently than when they were all going into the call center.

Anton Nithianandarajah is Senior Manager, Workforce Management for TD Bank Group. The bank employs approximately 90,000 people and is the second largest bank in Canada. The company operates 19 centers 24 x 7 with 10,000 agents. They handle 7.5 million inbound customer service, sales, investing and insurance contacts per month utilizing NICE IEX, Genesys Decision, and CISCO. The WFM team consists of 150 people.

Anton has over 20 years of progressive experience with WFM through multiple financial organizations. He can see a problem from every aspect and can drill down to the lowest level while remaining able to see the big picture. He continually taps into his wealth of experience to bring new approaches to WFM problems and has a unique ability to navigate business, technology, and WFM spaces with ease and bring the utmost confidence to any project. He has received the TD Annual League of Excellence Award twice and the NICE Innovation Award in 2020.

Anton led a huge WFM transformation project which undertook a complete talent review, organizational design, and procedural overhaul. Utilizing a core team of WFM industry veterans, Anton provided the framework and expertise to drive transformational change across the TD contact center footprint. He moved the WFM department from a business-siloed structure to a streamlined
functional structure. From this, WFM Centres of Excellence were formed – Forecasting, Scheduling, Command Centre & WFM Support. Leveraging a team of experienced Lean Six Sigma Black Belts, every process was mapped and redesigned with a simple mandate of simplification.

Moving schedule generation to monthly vs. weekly, approximately four WFM team FTEs were saved, allowing the Scheduling CoE (Centre of Excellence) to shift into an insightsdriven team providing more value-add activity for the Business Operation. Team Manager requests were moved from Excel-based forms to a fully-automated web portal leveraging bots. This automation saved two FTE for WFM and reduced the completion time of the forms from 3 minutes to 20 seconds.

Launch of the Genesys Decisions system allowed the Forecasting CofE to discard Excelbased forecasting and immediately realize a 3-5% improvement in forecasting accuracy. This also led to downstream improvements in capacity planning and supported stronger Service Level outcomes. Implementation of NICE Employee Engagement Manager (EEM) met with over a 90% adoption rate by frontline agents and queue optimization strategies through agent empowerment garnered approximately $4 million reduction in operations expense.

Overall, the transformational initiatives secured 18% efficiency gains amounting to $2.8 million in annual operational savings, improved WFM team morale with a 5% improvement in Employee Engagement Survey results, and provided non-tangible improvement in credibility and trust from operations leaders and a shift in perspective from what WFM provides both at the team leader level and frontline agents.

All the initiatives are being sustained through a unique Quality Assurance & Governance model introduced by Anton. A CoE-agnostic team residing within the overall WFM team performs quality assurance checks and balances to ensure process adoption. This team also performs Post-Implementation Reviews for Processes and Technology, holding accountability to the project objectives with the project owners. None of these initiatives would have been possible without Anton Nithianandarajah. He was been the guiding force in driving the modernization of the Workforce Management teams.

Congratulations to all of our finalists! The winner of the 2021 Workforce Management Professional of the Year award will be announced at the opening session of the Virtual Summit for Workforce Management on Monday, April 5 at 11:00 ET.