Playvox’s Donna Lightfoot explains how there are so many articles that ask and address “What is WFM?” Many people can explain it, but it is usually in some Workforce Management (WFM) lingo which non-WFM people have a difficult time understanding.
While there may be some confusion about WFM, as someone who has lived in this world for years, WFM is not as complicated as you might think.
Not only is WFM easy to understand, you may already be using it and not realize that it does indeed have a name. Let’s make this a little less complicated in the overall picture of things and answer the question “What is WFM?”
Many of us learned about the concept of supply and demand in middle school or even high school. Supply and demand is a simple enough concept, and this concept is the basis of WFM.
While those of us in help desk support or contact centres only think of WFM in those specific places, you can apply the concept of WFM across many businesses.
What Is WFM?
At its core, WFM is about supply and demand. Whether you are talking about a contact centre, support desk, or retail chain, the concept comes down to “Do you have enough supply (staff) to handle the expected demand (customers)?”
If you have ever created a schedule, you have used the base concepts of WFM, ensuring enough staff (supply) to handle the demand (customers).
If you have followed a schedule for your job, you have experienced the base concepts of WFM as being part of the staff to handle the demand. If you visit a retail store during the holidays, you have definitely seen the concept of workforce management in real-time, particularly if that store is understaffed.
Or, if you are scheduled in a meeting and then scheduled into a conflicting meeting, you need to figure out how to make adjustments as you logically cannot be in two places at the same time.
In this example, you need to make a real-time adjustment and propose an alternative time for one of the conflicting meetings.
How Does Workforce Management Apply to Our Daily Lives?
As you think about supply and demand and forecasting both, reflect on Halloween and trick-or-treaters. I once had a manager who would predict (forecast) how many trick-or-treaters (volume) he would have each year for Halloween in thirty-minute increments.
He would then count each one as they approached (actual volume) and at the end of the night, he would review his forecast to determine how accurate his forecast was for that year (forecast versus actuals) and minus any candy he had consumed himself (shrinkage).
He would then compare it to previous years to determine the shifts that had occurred one year to the next by thirty-minute intervals.
Now, you may say, “Ok, this guy sounds pretty intense.” However, the process he went through helped him predict what amount of candy he might need for each year – undoubtedly saving him from personally consuming extras.
He would share his findings with our team and we always enjoyed hearing about his forecast vs. actual trick-or-treaters!
While you can use the comparison of WFM with something simple like candy, now let’s talk about applying the concept of WFM in a contact centre.
In a typical contact or support centre, you have skills (proficiency in a given language), queues (chat, email, voice, etc.) and workstreams (the work related to a given interaction). As you look to build out your forecast, you need to think through a bunch of assumptions. These include:
Queues That Almost Any Agent Can Handle
These queues may be “English, account balance inquiries” or something equally simple that do not require a specialized skill set or a particular language; It is important to note here that the role of a Workforce Manager would be much easier if all queues were indeed equal. However, that is not often the case.
Then You Have Queues That Are a Bit More Complex
These queues may require a specific skill and/or a particular language. These queues are often smaller and sent to a dedicated group of people with those specific skills.
It is important to note that sometimes you may put someone without the skills needed to handle these interactions in order to ensure that the chats or calls are at least answered by a live person. This is known as intraday adjustment.
However, if you have accurately forecasted based on historical data, current relevant data and agents scheduled to the forecast, the need for intraday adjustments should be minimal.
While there may be an anomaly that forces an adjustment, such as an expected weather event, you shouldn’t often need to make these on-the-fly adjustments.
Quick tip: Always normalize the data (make the day appear as close to normal as possible) when there is an unexpected event so it won’t skew the data for the next year. This is especially important if you know it won’t occur again in the next year.
As you build out your forecast for a given time period, you not only need to understand and have a view of your queues, but you also need to understand agent skill set, hour availability, to name a few.
Here are a few other things you need to take into account as you build out a forecast (and then a related schedule):
- Historical volumes
- Attrition rate (average percentage of employees leaving, either voluntarily or involuntarily)
- Scheduled leave (vacation time, FMLA / medical leave, etc.)
- Scheduled time for meetings, trainings, one-on-ones, coaching sessions
- Shrinkage (unexpected time off – such as people calling in sick)
While the list above may not look intimidating, it is the combination of needing to account and forecast for the volume that may come in and match that with the skills you may need.
The baseline and difficulty for Workforce Managers is that you have to predict human behavior -what customers may contact you and at what time, and then you have to pair that with predictions on agent behavior (will everyone work the shifts scheduled?), along with all the schedule nuances and availability.
Some Workforce Managers may have built out all of this complexity in a spreadsheet. And, if this works, that’s terrific! But now let’s talk about when a WFM Software solution might make sense.
Why You Might Need a WFM Software Solution
While spreadsheets and other manual processes may work for some time, they were never designed for the inherent complexities of a contact centre.
And, your contact centre may be operating under a misguided “rule” such as mandatory overtime and/or consistent under or over-staffing just because the process of forecasting and scheduling is super manual. In other words, you may not know what you don’t know.
For example, I once implemented a WFM solution into a department that previously had no WFM in place.
Prior to the implementation, the department had been working under mandatory overtime for the previous five years and were still struggling to meet the basic metrics and SLAs (Service Level Agreements) like replying within a certain period of time and/or decreased abandonment rates.
Within one year of implementing WFM processes and procedures, the speed of answer decreased by 77% – meaning the customer who was calling, texting or chatting waited less time to reach a live person.
At the same time, the service level (how quickly a contact or call was answered in a given timeframe) increased 42%. Finally, abandons (how many people give up and abandon a call or chat session) was reduced by 21%.
The need for overtime was eliminated completely within two years and saved the company over $100,000 in overtime costs in just one year. This is just one example of what an effective WFM solution and WFM processes and procedures can do for your business.
With the correct WFM solution for your business, following the WFM practices and procedures, you can predict your future needs, schedule staff to meet current/future needs and run your business more efficiently. This translates to more profit, happier customers and happier staff.