Call Center Workforce Management

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Contact center scheduling solutions come in a dizzying array of capabilities and prices. Often referred to as workforce management (WFM) software, these applications are designed to improve efficiency and delivery of labor in a call or contact center environment and related labor driven tasks. This is desirable because it reduces overhead and direct expenses as well as improving adherence to project timelines.

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Call Center Workforce Management

  1. 1. Contact Center Scheduling Tool Capabilities and Applications by Karl Feld, Research Manager Contact center scheduling solutions come in a dizzying array of capabilities and prices. Often referred to as workforce management (WFM) software, these applications are designed to improve efficiency and delivery of labor in a call or contact center environment and related labor driven tasks. This is desirable because it reduces overhead and direct expenses as well as improving adherence to project timelines. WFM contributes the greatest improvements to operations which have any or all of the following characteristics; • Contact center interviewers in more than one central location or “at home”. This includes offshore operations spread across widely disparate time zones. • Widely varied but interdependent mix of work types (eg. inbound calls, outbound calls, faxing, e-mail response, etc.) • Sheer volume of studies being managed across staff The decision to adopt a WFM solution is complicated by the dizzying array of capabilities and price ranges offered in the marketplace today. Primarily designed for customer care and telemarketing operations, the descriptive language and capabilities of WFM solutions can also seem foreign to survey research call center operations managers. The first step in making a decision about WFM for an organization is to concretely define what current and future operations look like. Looking into the crystal ball at future growth or shrinkage projections is important, as WFM solutions for one size or work mix operation will not necessarily optimally serve what the some company may look like a year from today. Experience has demonstrated that a clear picture of the organization’s current and future planning for the following factors needs to be determined before the purchase and selection process can proceed productively. 1. Is the operation (and will the operation be) less or more than 100 contact center seats? This tends to be the price and management point at which transition to different sets of WFM capabilities become beneficial. 2. Does the operation have one site or multiple sites? 8000 Towers Crescent Dr. Suite 1350 Vienna, Virginia 22182 USA Ph.703.255.0884 Fx.703.255.6465 www.D3systems.com
  2. 2. 3. Does the operation have, or will it acquire, an Automatic Call Distributor (ACD)1? If yes, should the WFM integrate into the ACD to enable richer productivity and schedule adherence capabilities? 4. Does the operation have mixed or blended inbound/outbound operations, or is it either/or? 5. Is the operation a call center (telephone calling only), or is it a contact center incorporating blended communication modes across projects (telephone, internet, e-mail, etc.) 6. Does the operation use interviewers tiered into different skill and work groups, or are all agents on a project considered equivalent? WFM application features can be roughly broken down into four categories; scheduling, measurement, forecasting and integration. Each category of features builds on the previous. The addition of each category also adds to the price. Scheduling: Scheduling is literally the capability to assign staff to projects in a manner which meets pre-determined workload needs while respecting training and availability. Most scheduling software can accommodate management of absence, vacation, holiday , intra-shift break and non-phone time activities to provide real-time transparency to whether staffing levels meet production needs. In the more advanced, web-based applications, employees can be enabled to make requests for future time off or shift assignments and change their current status by logging into the system and changing various settings. This is particularly important in an at- home call center environment where schedule adherence is by definition a self-managed and decentralized process. In some applications, the scheduling functionality will also automatically prioritize requests by interviewer skill level, project training and employee status or priority and award changes in work status appropriately. This is particularly powerful, as it creates a tangible way to reward interviewer behaviors of value at an individual level without the associated administrative burden when doing so by hand. Scheduling functionality creates tremendous cost and timing efficiencies in operations which are geographically disparate across numerous time zones or by skill group; language for example. In 1 Automatic Call Distributor (ACD): a telephone facility that handles incoming calls and manages them based on a database of handling instructions. ACD is a service that enables incoming calls directed to the same dialed number, the pilot number, to be routed to one of multiple interviewers in the ACD group. 8000 Towers Crescent Dr. Suite 1350 Vienna, Virginia 22182 USA Ph.703.255.0884 Fx.703.255.6465 www.D3systems.com
  3. 3. these cases labor delivery is automatically recorded within skill group and used to plan the next location’s work requirements in real-time with limited manpower requirements. This can eliminate the need for 24 hour workforce management staff, in some cases who speak multiple languages. Similarly, it has tremendous benefits in blended operations with large numbers of projects and skills groups. Some WFM solutions allow for the use of the application for non-call tasks as well as call activities. The author has used a WFM application to manage an environment which coordinated face-to-face interviewing, fax and e-mail recruiting, skip tracing and mail survey labor with inbound/outbound call center labor and data entry activities across 20+ projects and multiple geographic locations simultaneously. At these levels of complexity, not having a WFM solution roughly triples administrative burden and introduces numerous inefficiencies into the project coordination and schedule adherence processes. Measurement: Building on any given system’s scheduling capabilities, some WFM solutions have the capability to measure and report productivity at the interviewer and at the aggregated project level in real-time. This is accomplished by marrying outbound unit production numbers with elapsed time on project, time usually being drawn from the ACD. By introducing the reporting of time, measurement capabilities also usually enable observation real-time schedule adherence at the interviewer level. This allows for adjustment of staffing levels against project needs within a shift at a moment’s notice, as opposed to once an hour or even less often intervals used in many of today’s research call centers. This in turn allows for better management of deliverable timelines. Interestingly enough, WFM’s which are integrated into ACD’s and which are web-based have started to add other floor management tools. Some of the more advanced applications have integrated Instant Messaging interfaces to allow management and floor staff to communicate virtually, again especially important to the at home environment. Many also have libraries of emoticons and messages which management staff and drag and drop into communications to increase speed and efficiency, as well as the ability to record the IM processes as employment records. Forecasting: Once a system has captured individual agent and project average productivity scores and schedule adherence, and can link and sequence various skill group tasks, it has the foundation for effective forecasting. The most advanced WFM solutions contain the predictive analytics to forecast project timelines and staffing needs based on interviewer metrics aggregated 8000 Towers Crescent Dr. Suite 1350 Vienna, Virginia 22182 USA Ph.703.255.0884 Fx.703.255.6465 www.D3systems.com
  4. 4. within project against the available of particular interviewers working within assigned skill groups based on their individual productivity and scheduled availability. The same analytics will then continuously re-project timelines and staffing needs and resort production staff as necessary to accomplish project goals of productivity and time. In most cases, the systems will also accommodate for capacity limitations. By implication, control of efficiencies at this level also allows for project budget and costing forecasting, capacity usage forecasting, predictive forecasting for other tasks driven by call center performance (eg. skip tracing, mail outs, data prep, etc.) and use of historical performance data for future project planning. Most advanced WFM systems provide these features as well. Integration: In the fewest and most expensive solutions, the power of the forecasting data and its associated inputs is integrated into company payroll and billing process, human resources databases for performance measurement and improvement and sample management and availability, which drives labor requirements in survey research. Few solutions provided these options as standard, though many will accommodate with custom programming to enable these capabilities. Prices range widely in WFM solutions, mostly driven by the mix of capabilities required. This author’s experience in the marketplace suggests solutions usually start at a floor of $5,000. Price structures are generally tied to the number of stations to be serviced, ranging from @$196 per for self-contained software solutions to $1000 per station for high end product with all the capabilities described above. Of course, there are associated consulting and installation fees as well as annual licensing or maintenance fees. Discounts on per station expenses are usually offered for large numbers of stations. For those to whom software acquisition is a new experience, the following general guidelines are suggested. 1. As with any software purchased, the vendor’s customer support and annual maintenance contract are as important as the functionality itself. Be sure you are satisfied with the guarantees of service. 2. The degree of existing market penetration and age of company may reflect the longevity of the product and its associated report. Explore this carefully. 3. Not all applications match all ACDs. Figure out what matches yours, if your company has one and you hope to enable these capabilities. 8000 Towers Crescent Dr. Suite 1350 Vienna, Virginia 22182 USA Ph.703.255.0884 Fx.703.255.6465 www.D3systems.com
  5. 5. 4. Remember that a scheduling software usually requires a scheduling planners to go with it. Some applications seem like they need PhDs to figure out. Others do not. For other resources to use in gaining deeper understanding of WFM solutions, turn to the Society of Workforce Planning Professionals at www.swpp.org. (Yes, those PhDs actually have an association.) Their “Links” page highlights most of the major vendors in the workforce management space. Also useful is the cataloging of products in different price ranges available at www.callcentermagazine.com. Their “Buyer’s” link at the top of the home page leads to links including discussions of WFM solutions. 8000 Towers Crescent Dr. Suite 1350 Vienna, Virginia 22182 USA Ph.703.255.0884 Fx.703.255.6465 www.D3systems.com

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