Charles Watson gives us his insight on using a workforce management (WFM) system for great benefit in the contact centre.
Recently, we’ve seen a trend of organisations starting to shake up their organisational structure. As competition heats up for attracting and retaining top talent, businesses need to continue to evolve how they operate. This will of course also affect your WFM strategy…
When you also factor in the increasing percentage of millennials in the workforce, the work dynamics really shift. No doubt you’ve heard of contact centres that have moved to 100% work from home, or other alternative work arrangements. With the exception of the outsourcing industry, where command and control are critical, we’ve moved beyond brick-and-mortar contact centres with a traditional hierarchy being the norm.
I want to share with you some WFM strategies to survive and thrive in this new environment. But before I do, it’s important to explore why businesses are making these changes.
As you have undoubtedly heard, companies like Uber have really taken off in the past few years. With technology so easy and accessible, anyone with a great idea has easy access to turn it into a new product or service. It also means that consumers have far more options than in the past, and no company can assume their customers will remain loyal in the face of this competition.
The same thing applies to employees. People have more options for places to work that don’t require them to physically live in the city where the business is located. Employees have more choices than they’ve ever had.
So the competition for customers and the competition for the best employees is changing. Companies are adapting.
As a result, the traditional techniques workforce management teams use have to change as well. Let’s talk about a few of these changes and strategies that have proven effective.
Flat Organisational Structure
In a traditional organisational structure, you have call centre agents reporting to a team leader, who reports to an operations manager, then to the operations director. These centralised configurations make it easy to ensure compliance and facilitate to control the operations.
Given the size of a contact centre, and the potential impact to the brand of good or poor interactions, this has been a key way to ensure customers get consistent quality service.
It’s a “one size fits all” approach. But for many companies, it’s no longer good enough. Customers are looking for customised servicing for their specific needs. One way to enable this is making the move to a more flat organisation.
A flat organisation is where accountability is more employee-to-employee vs. top-down. Frontline agents still report to a leader for administrative purposes; however, feedback, reviews, and merit reviews are more peer to peer.
So you might need to go more towards self-managed teams, where teams hold themselves accountable for the outcomes. Goals are 100% team-based. If one team member isn’t pulling their weight, systems are set up for their coworkers to provide them with the feedback and take action.
This approach can work well in many environments, but is very challenging in a contact centre, where there are so many external accountabilities for service level, and the impacts of some performance metrics, e.g. schedule adherence and average handling time (AHT), have an immediate impact on the queues.
Work at Home
The classic example of work at home in the United States is JetBlue. JetBlue is a New York-based airline with work-a–home contact centre representatives located across the country.
American Express Global Business Travel also has a high percentage of their staff working at home in the US and across the world.
The attraction to work at home is twofold.
First, it provides employees with a high level of flexibility. They can often work non-traditional schedules and save the time and money it costs to commute into the office each day.
Second, it provides the company with resources who can log in and take calls during extended hours. In cases of a site going down (due to weather or power outage, for example), the employees can still work.
It’s great for business continuity. There are pitfalls with this, of course.
Employees have to exhibit more self-discipline. Operations leadership has to have a way to monitor the quality and productivity of the employees. Team leaders and workforce management lose direct visibility and have to rely on their real-time reporting and monitoring.
For the employees taking the calls, they can’t just turn to their neighbour if they have a question.
There has to be some systematic way for them to get answers quickly.
Supporting These Through WFM
What both of these new ways of working have in common is they really force the operations to be process-oriented, documented, and to follow strict systems.
It actually fits very nicely into what WFM wants, and you have leverage to dictate some requirements in order to ensure this new set-up can work. Here are some examples of what has to be clear between workforce management and leadership:
All schedules need to be filled. This is a no-brainer for WFM. In any centre, there are a number of exceptions that happen when schedules are created and assigned.
When the workforce isn’t on site, or isn’t reporting to a team leader, it means the system of schedules needs to be maintained to ensure your employees are there for the customers, consistently.
Now, there is some flexibility here in terms of trading shifts, overtime and voluntary time off. Automate all of this through your WFM system if you can and let it run based on business rules.
Real-time Management (RTM)
Real-time management needs to be autopilot. There are no team leaders in the flat organisation to get people back on the phones, and when agents work at home, you can’t just walk up and ask them to log back in when they are out of schedule adherence.
Create a simple “one pager” to show the actions everyone takes when service level hits certain thresholds. Have pre-agreement on who can be skilled to what, so the real-time team can just act and not ask.
Ideally, you should automate 100% of the skilling options through your call routing system. This is quicker and far more efficient than reacting to the queue.
Ensure you have a solid feedback and continuous improvement process. This can be done in a number of ways. My favourite way is to create a team leader or agent council.
Have regular meetings with this group to have two-way dialogue. Workforce management can share what’s working well, what’s not working well, and what to expect in the future. The council can do that vice versa.
These conversations are invaluable.
They ensure a close partnership, and that there are no understanding gaps as you go to execute. Consider having the teams meet every week or every other week at least. This should be very regular and timely.
Your business may not yet engage in these new ways of operating, but it’s likely they will experiment with one or both of these in the future.
Get involved in the conversations early and advocate for workforce management and for setting up processes that support this transition.
Contact centres will continue to evolve, but the role of workforce management will continue to be ensuring the customer, shareholder, and employee metrics are all being translated into the actual performance in the contact centre.
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