You’ve Been Asked to Plan for Resources Outside the Contact Center. Don’t Panic! 

By Nicole Nevulis, Verint

In the past two years, the way in which all of us work has drastically changed. Organizations have seen dramatic shifts in customer demand, the move to work from anywhere, and more recently high turnover due to “the great resignation.”  All this is exacerbating The Engagement Capacity GapTM – the gap between the service consumers expect from an institution, and the institution’s ability to deliver it with the resources they have.

As a result, workforce planners in many industries are being asked to expand the scope of people for whom they plan and schedule to include roles and functions outside the contact center.  By tapping capacity in other parts of the business, like back-office operations or branches in financial services, companies can leverage these resources to help close the gap without having to incur excessive overtime or hire temporary help.  Sounds easy, right?  People are people.  How hard can it be?

It can be very hard if you don’t have the right tools and knowledge of the unique constraints and needs of each functional group.  Luckily, there are purpose-built workforce management (WFM) solutions that address the needs of the contact center, back-office operations, and branch.  

What You Should Know Before You Start

While contact center, branch, and back office all ultimately have the same goal – to serve the customer – there are differences in the work, processes, and expectations for staff in these areas.  These differences can greatly impact your planning and the creation of schedules. Here are some key differences to consider:

Work types.  The contact center has a growing number of different work types – calls, chats, emails, etc.  Similarly, back offices and branches have different work types (loan applications, claims, cash transfers, etc.). 

Language/terminology. In the contact center, employees are referred to as agents.  But in the back office they may be associates, and in the branch, they could be tellers or bankers. Coming up with a common terminology (e.g., everyone is an employee or everyone is an associate) will help gain acceptance and enhance how WFM capabilities and practices integrate into the organization.

Service goals and handle times. In the contact center, the goal is to resolve calls on the first engagement (first call resolution), but the different call types have different expected handle or resolution times.  The challenge in the branch is customers often have multiple tasks they’d like to perform during their visit.  And for more complex transactions, like a mortgage, multiple visits to the branch may be required.  In the back office, the complex nature of the work results in extended SLAs (days or weeks) as well as backlog or carryover work. 

Schedules.  Today’s contact center workforce is accustomed to very flexible scheduling, but that’s often not the case with back office and branch employees.  Back offices typically have static 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shifts.  Branches may have a bit more irregularity depending on role (full-time, part-time, peak-time, or floater), but their shifts tend to be the same week to week. Key for scheduling these areas will not be the start and stop times, but the activities they are scheduled to work on during specific time slots.  

When you expand WFM into a new functional area, you will likely find that they are not at the same level of maturity or that they use a different modeling approach and business practices than the contact center.  For example, a small bank may allow each branch manager to schedule their staff as they see fit.  The only planning may be a yearly FTE number that the branch manager must work within.  Back-offices are typically made up of several teams or functions, often with each manager having their own way of managing staff time and schedules.  You may have to educate these managers on the value of centralized planning and its ability to help them share resources to more cost effectively meet their service goals. 

Expanding WFM into the Back Office

Back-office managers are under tremendous pressure to process more work with fewer resources.  To date, they’ve leveraged case management, business process management (BPM) workflow, and robotic process automation (RPA) solutions to try and streamline processes and remove the redundant, rules-based tasks to free employees up for more complex tasks. But it’s not enough.  

As an experienced workforce planner, you are poised to help your back-office peers achieve their service and efficiency goals through better planning, increased resource utilization, and improved employee efficiency. Not only will helping them help the organization close The Engagement Capacity Gap in the back office, but it will also subsequently help close the gap in your contact center, as 17% of call volume is typically the result of issues in the back office. So, what are some of the unique aspects of WFM in the back office that you need to plan for? 

Production time compliance. Strict intraday schedule adherence is typically not the focus for the back office because service goals are longer, not immediate. In the back office, leaders focus on an employee’s compliance to the overall hours of production work. Let’s simplify that. If an employee is scheduled to work 8 hours in production, then an employee’s desktop activity should reflect 7 to 8 hours of time spent in production in order to fall within an acceptable range of production-time compliance. 

Scalability. WFM technology for back-office operations must be scalable and accommodate a large volume of work, managed in separate source systems, and defined at a very granular level. An enterprise WFM solution needs purpose-built algorithms to support the diverse work types, volumes, handle times, and service goals in the back office.  All these variables mean you will need to run a higher number of scenarios to generate a strategic plan or optimized schedule. An advanced WFM system that extends from the contact center can, on the same platform, fulfill these requirements and simplify forecasting and scheduling in the back office. 

Prioritization. Work needs to be prioritized based on the end service goal vs. first in, first out. Service goals differ across queues; some are same day, next day or many days out. It’s not unusual to see service level goals of 90 days, which creates backlog.  Contact center “deferred media” doesn’t account for the age of the backlog. A specific operations media is required. 

Data sources. In the back office, there is no single source of volume data, and it takes a lot of time to manually bring it all together.  WFM in the back office requires capturing data from multiple operations systems, email, systematic reports, and Excel. The data isn’t always in a WFM-friendly format, so an enterprise WFM system needs to be able to perform data transformation to effectively use source data for staffing and scheduling in the back office.   

Productivity.  The contact center WFM team typically monitors the intraday productivity of employees through the lens of the ACD, number of calls, and average handle time. AUX codes are typically used in the contact center to pick up when someone is not taking calls. Supervisors will review historical trends and overall averages with employees. The WFM team involvement is critical to keeping agents working according to the plan. In the back office, all of this responsibility falls to the front-line managers. If the contact center WFM team or a new WFM team is created for the back office, they will need to work differently with the front-line managers, who will want to retain their role of managing productivity. 

In addition, the back office requires a way of defining, viewing, and presenting productivity data that differs from that of the call center. Back office managers need a WFM solution that can present the data from their view of the world, and automatically combine all of the disparate data to create a productivity calculation. You will need to account for that calculation being different than the contact center’s. 

Work Allocation. In the contact center, the ACD will route the right call to the right person at the right time. Most back offices have a mix of different systems to deliver the work, and it can be a tough juggling act to consolidate them all. Work gets lost. People cherry-pick want they want to do. So even with the best demand forecast, work falls behind, and the plan is rendered useless. Back office WFM systems address this challenge with the capability to automatically aggregate work, organize and prioritize it, and then assign it to the right-skilled employee. 

We recommend you spend time with the back office team you are expanding WFM into. Learn the specifics of these elements with your counterparts. Not only will you speak their language, but you will also build credibility – and trust me, that pays more dividends in driving a smoother expansion.  

Expanding into the Branch

Bank branches serve a dual goal of assisting customers with service transactions within bank-defined wait-time targets and cultivating customer relationships to generate new business and sales opportunities.  Many branches today offer advisory services, which involve lengthier discussions and more highly-skilled employees.  Banks are challenged to properly staff their branches to achieve these dual goals, as well as by the wide range of potential differences between each branch in the network.  Branches can have different attributes such as drive-up windows, ATMs, safe deposit boxes, single queue (universal bankers), or multi-queue (teller and platform/sales). Each of these attributes impacts branch staffing.

Similar to back office operations, we recommend that you sit down with your branch counterparts to understand their unique needs, including the following challenges.

Minimum staffing levels. In addition to staffing for customer demand, which can vary widely based on time of day or day of week/month, banks also have minimum staffing requirements for security and operational controls, such as vault opening/closing, cash deliveries, etc. As a result, branch staff vacations need to be carefully coordinated, and absences need to be dealt with quickly to remain compliant.

Float pool staffing/scheduling. For many years, banks have leveraged float pools to cover absences and vacations as well as peak demand hours.  A single staffing dashboard for a geographic area helps quickly identify where and when these resources are needed.  Floaters often have very particular limitations on their availability, such as a mom with grade school children who can only work weekdays, during the lunch hour shift, and not on the first Wednesday of the month because that’s early release day.  Employee scheduling needs to accommodate all the variations and limitations of floaters.

Market-based staffing/scheduling.  The next generation of the float pool, these resources can be scheduled to work at multiple branches within a specific market, supporting the hub and spoke operating model.  They may change roles based on the branch they are assigned to and the need, e.g.., universal banker, teller, sales, business development, etc.  Capacity plans and employee schedules need to factor-in locations as well as skills and roles, and assign staff to role/activity types based on demand.

Roaming specialty resources.  Many branches don’t have enough volume to justify a full-time specialist, such as a mortgage officer or wealth management advisor.  These resources can be scheduled to meet with customers at a number of locations.  WFM solutions need to be able to factor in location and travel times to effectively schedule these resources.  Integration with on-line appointment booking solutions can greatly add to the efficiency of this process.

On the upside, banks with an enterprise WFM solution are able to leverage available capacity in branches (e.g., during downtimes when customer traffic doesn’t demand two FTEs, but security does) to support other channels such as chat, email, or phone, or support back-office functions.

Bringing It All Together

The holy grail for a workforce planning manager is to have visibility into capacity across teams and functions.  Having a connected enterprise WFM solution enables you to:

  • Manage work, people, and processes across multiple channels and customer-serving departments.
  • Balances the needs of your customers, employees, and your organization.
  • Scale from contact center to back office to branch, from local to global, from 45 to 45,000 seats, and from one to many data sources and ACDs.
  • Better understand the roles and skills needed to meet future workloads.
  • Share resources and balance workloads across teams to quickly adapt to fluctuations in demand to meet peak volumes without incurring overtime or onboarding temporary help.

Here are two examples of cross-functional resource sharing.

At the onset of the COVID pandemic, many bank branches were closed and staff sent home.  One regional back was able to quickly outfit their at-home branch staff with the equipment they needed to support their exploding digital channels. This kept these valuable resources safe and engaged, while helping the contact center and digital channels handle the massive uptick in volumes. As branches opened up, the bank was able to continue scheduling branch staff to support the digital channels during slow traffic times – increasing utilization and reducing costs.

Many industries have seasonal peaks, like health insurance enrollment in the fall and student loan applications in the spring.  The education finance department of a large bank was struggling to process loans and respond to student inquiries.  The bank did a skills inventory and was able to identify individuals outside the department with the knowledge and skills to support student loan processing.  Using their enterprise WFM solution, they were able to align resources to work arrivals to optimally manage work volumes and extend skills-based routing from the contact centers to the back office. Not only did the bank eliminate the need for seasonal help, but they were also able to reduce shrinkage by 10%, generating $1 million in annual savings.

One Caveat

The examples above point out a key capability to enable cross-functional resource sharing, and that’s employee skills.  It’s not enough to be able to schedule individuals to work in different areas.  Your organization needs to ensure they have the right tools, training, and knowledge to perform those tasks well.  Workforce engagement (WFE) tools like knowledge management, process guidance, and performance-management scorecards with automated coaching are critical to helping employees who don’t ordinarily execute a task or process do so confidently and accurately.  Enabling cross-functional training increases employee skills and opens up new career paths, contributing to employee engagement and retention. Conversely, not providing these employees with this support will increase their stress – a major contributor to the great resignation.

Enterprise WFE on a single platform makes it easy to not only connect the forecasts, demands, and availability of resources across functional areas but also makes meeting the needs of the employee easier with automated workflows so you can leverage a host of other employee engagement tools all in one place. A single WFE platform also reduces administrative costs as well as total cost of ownership.

The enterprise WFE cloud platform can help you maximize employee utilization and effectiveness, allowing you to take on additional work with the same resources – closing The Engagement Capacity Gap.

It’s a win-win for the organization, the employee, and for you, the workforce planner.

Nicole Nevulis is a Senior Director of Go-to-Market Strategy at Verint®. She helps executives understand how to leverage Workforce Engagement technology across the enterprise to improve operational costs and customer experience. For more information, visit www.verint.com.