Survey Results

Each quarter SWPP surveys the workforce planning community on critical workforce planning topics.  Over 130 call center professionals representing a wide variety of industries participated and provided insight into this quarter’s survey on the utilization of contact center agents to handle contacts in media in addition to incoming phone calls.

Survey Participants

Forty-eight percent of the 133 respondents in this survey work in centers with over 500 agents.  The rest are representative of a wide variety of sizes from under 50 up to 500 agents.  The financial, healthcare, insurance, and “other” industries drew the largest number of participants, but all other industries are also well represented.

Customer Contact Channels

Respondents were asked which channels their company uses in addition to incoming phone calls and they could select more than one answer.  Email was the most frequently selected media with outbound calling and web chat next.  Fewer handled social media such as Facebook and Twitter.  Only a few responded that they do not handle any types of contacts other than inbound calls.

Percent of Workload

The respondents were asked what percentage of their total contacts came through channels other than inbound calls.  Less than 10% was the most frequent answer but some reported more than 30% of their contacts are on these additional channels.

Increases in Utilization

Respondents were asked if the volume has increased in these alternative channels since their opening.  Just over half indicated that they have experience increases in usage but 26% indicated that they have not.  Almost one-quarter (23%) indicated that they do not know if there have been increases.

Agent Utilization

Respondents were asked whether the same agents handle the additional channels that answer the incoming calls.  Almost two-thirds (63%) indicated that they do utilize the same agents for all these channels.  This puts a significant burden on the agent to be able to effectively communicate verbally and in written responses and to juggle the various contact types efficiently.

Service Level Goals

Respondents asked if the expectations for service level (speed of answer) are the same for both voice and chat contacts.  Just over half (53%) indicated that the goals are different, but 30% indicated that the expectations are the same.

Channel Prioritization

Respondents were asked if one channel would be prioritized if the service level is failing.  Almost two-thirds (63%) indicated that they do prioritize as needed but 24% indicated that they do not.  Where there are contractual obligations or other incentives for performance in some channels, prioritization may be necessary.  However, if an organization is trying to promote the use of alternative channels, continuing to prioritize incoming calls can be counter-productive.

Strategy to Increase Utilization of Alternative Channels

When asked if the organization has a deliberate strategy to encourage the use of one channel over another, over half (54%) reported that they do have such a strategy but 34% indicated that they do not.  It is important in developing such a strategy that measuring the effectiveness of the results be done regularly.  For example, if encouraging the use of email results in a high percentage of customer queries requiring multiple interactions, the total time expended may exceed that needed for an initial phone call.  While it is essential for the organization to serve customers in whatever medium they choose, encouraging the use of specific channels should result in benefits to both the customers and the organization.

Favored Channel

It is interesting that when asked which channel is most favored, phone calls was selected by 58% of the respondents.  Web chat was a distant second choice at 27% with email selected by only 6%.  This may be due to customer preference or contact center efficiency in these channels.

Forecasting Methodology

When asked how forecasting is done for other channels, more than half (55%) reported that this is done manually.  Just over one-quarter of the respondents have automated WFM systems to do this process with another 6% using computer simulation.  The process of forecasting for outbound calls, emails, chats and social media contacts are quite different from inbound calls requiring different assumptions and mathematical models.  For example, outbound calls and chats are limited to the ordinary hours of operation of the center, but emails and social media contacts can be initiated 24 X 7 creating backlogs.

Scheduling Methodology

It is interesting that more respondents use an automated WFM system to schedule personnel for the alternative channels than do the forecasting in those systems (51% versus 28%).  This too is a more complicated process than scheduling for incoming calls alone.  For example, some agents may be able to handle chats and calls but not email, while others can only do calls or only email.  Those who handle chats may be able to handle two, three, or even four at a time (if the demand is there to supply them).  Emails may be handled in two or three parts with other channel contacts or even off-desk time in between.  While it is possible to create schedules for inbound calls with an assumption of some shrinkage to provide time to work on the other channels, this may result in mismatches between workload, agent skills and priorities.

Software Used

Respondents were asked to identify the software used for their alternative channel WFM processes.  The most frequently mentioned systems are Nice, Genesys, Oracle, Verint, Python, IEX, and Excel.  It is common to need specialized system to record the volume and handle times of these channels even if all the history is fed into the same WFM system for forecasting and scheduling.

Agents Handling Social Media

Respondents were asked if their contact center agents handled interactions on social media.  Over two-thirds (70%) indicated that they do not have their agents handling these interactions.  While some organizations handle this work in marketing or public relations, others may not be addressing these channels at all.

Closing Comments

Based on the responses to this survey, many WFM teams are faced with the challenges of forecasting and scheduling for personnel to handle multiple channels today.  As the utilization of alternatives to phone calls continues, efficient and effective handling of these contacts will be essential to managing the customer experience.  These channels add significant levels of complexity to the WFM processes which require more sophisticated capabilities than incoming calls have required.