Our panel of experts share their top tips for back-office workforce management.
1. Business processes come first
You employ back-office staff to implement your processes, not the other way around. Decide what you need the team to do, then choose the right people to do it and the right technology platform to support them.
Back-office processes always require collaboration, so simple lines of communication are vital. That means more than just a phone – messaging, conference calls and email. It means presence management so bottlenecks are not created by absent staff.
The unified communications system can also be a useful tool for driving processes through the team, ensuring that work is handed off in a timely manner. Coupled with good presence, it frees the staff to work when it best suits their productivity..
Dave Paulding, Interactive Intelligence (www.inin.com)
2. WFM can be used across the whole business
Workforce management lends itself to anywhere there is a queue or repetition of work. For example, it can be used in the retail and finance sectors, where shoppers will be queuing at the tills or waiting to be seen by a bank cashier. By understanding the ebb and flow of customers, organisations can better plan their workforce to serve their customers, with the added benefit that it frees up employees to get on with other tasks whilst demand is low.
Typically, between 4-6 weeks of historical data needs to be accumulated and input into the workforce management software to begin to see patterns and be able to manage the workforce in this way. However, collecting the data and identifying the patterns is the easy part, the hard part is getting an organisation’s culture to change to being customer centric; moving away from the historical unpredicted scheduling to predicted on-demand customers.
Valur Svansson, Operations Improvement Consultant, Datapoint
3. Model traffic for better planning
Forward-thinking organisations look at workload holistically and conduct enterprise, rather than department-level, modelling in order to better understand and forecast their workload and schedule employees.
For instance, a heavy influx in claims at an insurance company may result in an increase in contact centre call volume several days after those claims are processed. An enterprise can use this information to forecast increased call volumes into its contact centre and adequately ramp up staffing to meet their service level objectives.
By better understanding the ebb and flow of work within a back office, organisations can more effectively predict when their contact centre will see an increase in calls as a result of a claim or order being processed, and staff accordingly.
4. Involve all key stakeholders
The unfortunate truth is that, for years, a systematic approach to staffing back-office operations has typically lagged behind those of other departments, especially the contact centre. In fact, because manual processes and disparate systems abound in a back-office environment, senior management was under the impression very little could be done to improve the operational efficiency of a back office. But this is far from true.
5. Set up a consolidated view of the work in both the back office and the contact centre
While the type and pace of work within a back office differs considerably from that in a contact centre, there are many opportunities to improve employee productivity and balance service levels if an organisation is able to set up a consolidated view of the work occurring in both departments.
In the back office, staff may be focused on managing order, billing, claims or collections activities, and these activities may extend across several hours or days. Meanwhile, the work in a contact centre is much more time-sensitive, and agents are focused on delivering an excellent customer experience within the first call.
Despite these differences, both departments benefit from a workforce optimisation tool that optimises staffing while ensuring the right resources are available to meet projected volumes. All of this ensures the enterprise is able to deliver an exceptional customer experience.
Simon Angove, CEO of GMT Corporation
6. Forecast for all channels
Be sure to forecast volume and staffing requirement for all media/channels, not just calls. Most WFM tools have integrations with ACDs but an open interface will enable data to be captured from email systems and workflow systems. Importing volume data is not the end of the story.
7. Make the right staffing calculation
To plan properly for back-office activities, you need an appropriate staffing requirement calculation. Erlang ‘C’, found in most WFM systems, was designed for abandoning contacts such as calls. It is absolutely not suitable for back-office/backlog operations. A WFM tool should have flexible options for calculating staffing needs for both abandoning and non-abandoning contacts – ideally without the need for complex programming and long run times.
8. Monitor service level for workloads which can take days rather than minutes
Traditional WFM tools are good at calculating service level (SL) and even average speed of answer (ASA) for abandoning contacts like calls and chats. But back-office contacts can have service levels measured in hours or days.
9. Track activities and schedule adherence for back-office workers
In the call centre, we take it for granted that the ACD will deliver agent status data which the WFM system can use to report agent schedule adherence and conformance. It is just as important to track schedule adherence in the back office – but without an ACD or other device which captures agent status, this is impossible. Some WFM tools include an option in their agent portal which enables login/logout and even activity codes to be recorded in exactly the same way that activities are tracked by an ACD.
Chris Dealy– Sales Director, injixo (https://www.injixo.com/uk)
10. Use WFM to win business
For those organisations operating within a business-to-business helpdesk or outsourcing environment, workforce management can provide a very tangible competitive differentiator. The ability to provide clients with improved management reporting capabilities and transparency on how you are handling their business is invaluable.
For example, the ability to quantify call volumes and outcomes against agreed service levels not only provides peace of mind, it can lead to more dynamic pricing models and flexible SLAs being offered to clients at tender stage.
One of our customers has stated that the implementation of workforce management has put them in a much better position to win business, because they can provide a number of pricing scenarios according to different SLAs, calculated on the basis of what resource levels will accommodate and deliver the service need of the client. Their workforce management system ensures that they can consistently meet clients’ service levels by calculating the necessary resource that is required at any one point in time.
Tracy McAvoy – Marketing Manager, Business Systems UK (bslgroup.com)
If you have any tips to add to this, then please leave a comment below or discuss back-office WFM in our forum.
A back office support team should have great communication like you mentioned. The better they are at communicating, the more effective collaboration will be. When hiring back office support, asking them how they prefer to communicate would be a good idea.