What to look for when buying – A Workforce Optimisation Solution
Workforce Optimisation (WFO) vendors offer today’s modern contact centres a more intelligent, easy way to do their business, whilst optimising staff costs through the combination of several integrated packages. Previously centres would have optimised through the implementation of the traditional workforce management system plus one of two other ‘random’ packages – often from disparate suppliers. Now they can ensure total integration through the purchase of ‘all-in-one’ suites of contact centre software.
With up to eight different modules in any WFO suite it can be very confusing to the uninitiated as to what they actually need. These modules typically include Workforce Management, Call Recording, Coaching, e-Learning, Surveying, Quality Assurance, Performance Management and Speech Analytics. Therefore very careful review and understanding is essential during the selection process to ensure that business needs are met.
Ability to meet the needs of internal customers
This may not strictly be a feature, but in many ways is much more important that any bell or whistle supplied by the new software. To ensure maximum benefit is seen post-implementation, the project team should spend considerable time understanding how every internal department could use the WFO system, and also sit and discuss their requirements in minute detail.
Busy professionals will embrace technology if it is easy to use, does what they need and most importantly saves them time. This means easy-to-use interfaces with timely and meaningful reports.
Integration with other systems
Although WFO systems can replace many existing technologies within a centre, there is always a strong likelihood that some legacy systems will remain. Elements of the WFO will require data in certain formats – e.g. the Real Time Adherence module of a workforce management system. Similarly, legacy systems need data in a fixed format that they can import. Ensure that the integrations during the selection process are understood and tested so that no surprises exist afterwards.
Accurate, clear and customisable reporting
A big issue in many contact centres is the vast amount of reports being generated every day at every level of management, with the majority of reports replicating elements of what others are doing. WFO systems offer the ability to have ‘one true source’ for all reports – but it must be easy to read and easy to customise into the format required by the customer.
Success is as much about the communication as the technology so providing customers with what they are used to and have grown to expect from day one will make the implementation run more smoothly for all parties.
When people talk about workforce optimisation they often talk about the integration of workforce management and performance management systems to provide data for performance-based scheduling.
Performance optimisation goes further, combining and synchronising systems and resources to provide a multi-dimensional view of operations – helping contact centre managers to consider everything and to act immediately. These include:
- Workforce Management: to ensure organisations have the right agents available with the right skills at the right time (by providing in-depth strategic planning and workforce management tools to improve the performance of inbound, blended and outbound staffing resources)
- Recording & Quality Management: to record and evaluate agent performance, capture real-time customer feedback, and give organisations insight to both business issues and agent performance
- Performance Management: to measure and communicate results to continuously improve business processes and ensure performance is aligned with overall goals
- Campaign Management: to increase productive contacts in outbound and blended centres by helping establish Best Time To Call and outbound campaign strategy management.
Armed with the rich output from these systems and resources, contact centre managers are better able to optimise outbound as well as inbound campaigns, train and coach agents differently in various business areas (while also upskilling), and build tailored dashboards that can measure the impact of changes in different business areas, and for individual agents, in real time.
Self-empowerment can make a big difference when it comes to making fast, informed decisions. By providing agents with dashboards of their own performance in real time, for example, they can better understand their own performance and identify where improvements can be made without going through a formal and time-consuming review process.
Data dashboards can also give managers and team leaders an all-round view of operations that helps them better understand quality, customer satisfaction, coaching requirements and more at a glance. This data can not only assist in developing performance-based scheduling but also discover nuggets of vital information hidden within customer calls that can be used to improve future performance and productivity.
Planning for success
Many performance optimisation projects fail as a result of organisations spending too little time on fully understanding their business requirements up front. Before selecting a performance optimisation solution it is therefore imperative that an organisation involves all its departments from resource planning to HR, marketing and IT to understand everyone’s requirements.
For one Aspect customer, an investment in performance optimisation meant a 20% reduction in over- and under-staffing through more effective intra-day management and reporting. Another customer saw a saving of one hour per agent per day through better compliance to published schedules, the equivalent of employing an additional 50 staff.
Integration, integration, integration
Integrating your workforce management system is absolutely essential to get the best use of it.
Equipping managers with visibility of historical data and reporting tools will enable them to accurately forecast workload, budgets and schedule projects, resource and expertise accordingly. The dynamic environment of a contact centre means that this feed should be available in real time, and, for example, flag whether resource is online as scheduled, particularly where distributed or remote agents are concerned. This enables supervisors and team leaders to practise “Management by Exception”, and focus on developing and motivating their teams, knowing that whenever a problem occurs they can react quickly.
The desire for a multi-channel contact centre and all its benefits is often coupled with the daunting realisation that your existing communications platform will need an overhaul! Workforce management can only be effective, and accurate, if it is able to draw data intuitively from all working channels.
There are many questions that should be asked when considering which workforce management system to implement, but interoperability – with other vendor technologies and applications and business processes from beyond the contact centre – will be essential in giving you as much flexibility as possible.
For example, will it feed into your quality management or call recording system? Will it allow you to draw data from these sources and manage them centrally? Does it provide a rounded view of agent accreditation levels or targets?
One of the main challenges facing today’s large modern contact centres is keeping track of the combination of distributed sites, varying levels of staff skills and increasing customer expectations.
With all these variables to consider, the role of the contact centre manager in forecasting and scheduling staff is becoming more complex than ever.
Forecasting & Scheduling
Accurate forecasting is the critical first step in workforce management. It is important that your WFM solution integrates seamlessly with your dialler or ACD and uploads historical data directly from the database. Each agent within a contact centre will have unique skills that can be more effectively managed with WFM; an example could be language skills or specific experience in dealing with certain types of customers/queries. WFM helps you produce forecasted schedules with defined shift rules, work patterns, breaks, off-phone times, employee skills and preferences and targeted service-level goals. It enables contact centres to plan ahead, to consider what-if scenarios and to estimate costs of centre changes.
Web Access to WFM
This feature enables agents and supervisors to seamlessly connect to the application through the Web. Collaboration between agents and supervisors makes real-time planning, tracking and exception handling easier and allows agents to log in and view schedules and request changes. It not only automates shift bidding, but also introduces a higher degree of fairness in awarding shifts. The automated rules engine is also able to factor in seniority or ‘bonus points’ and assign shifts accordingly.
This allows the contact centre manager to continuously monitor the agents’ real-time status to quickly see whether they are adhering to their schedules. It allows managers/supervisors to compare planned to actual activities.
Reporting & Performance Management
This is essential to capture and analyse critical data in all areas of the contact centre to make informed decisions when making operational changes. With WFM, centre performance can be easily tracked and reported to see how the centre is handing call volume, achieving service level goals and managing costs and revenue. This allows the contact centre manager/supervisor to select, combine, and alter historical data to predict future contact volume, handle times, connect rates, and right-party connect rates for day-to-day or weekly projections. WFM allows the centre to immediately respond to unexpected call volumes by adjusting forecasts and agent schedules.
There are still many people who initially think that workforce optimisation (WFO) is just another name for workforce management (WFM) – it is not and it is important that we recognise that management and optimisation are very different words!
WFM is simply an industry term for forecasting and scheduling. It simplifies and improves the accuracy of interaction demand forecasts, and with a good forecast in hand, allows organisations to create optimised schedules. With WFM it is the schedules that are optimised, not the workforce – and that makes a big difference.
Workforce optimisation, as defined by industry analysts, is the convergence of a range of previously disparate contact centre solutions. While WFM is part of workforce optimisation, WFO also embraces many other applications including call recording and quality monitoring, e-learning, performance management through scorecards, customer feedback management, integration across front-office, back-office and branch operations, and speech and data analytics.
What contact centre functions can WFO address?
By enabling functions such as WFM, quality monitoring, speech analytics and performance management to work together, workforce optimisation provides a closed-loop system for continuous performance improvement. Key contact centre functionality that WFO solutions can deliver includes:
- Capturing customer interactions – either in their entirety, selectively, on demand, or randomly
- Analysing data from those interactions to understand business trends and the root cause of any problems
- Using actual data to establish realistic forecasts and performance goals
- Making sure that you’ve scheduled and deployed the right number of staff with the appropriate skills
- Collecting customer feedback to understand what is driving customer satisfaction and loyalty
- Measuring performance to identify execution issues
- Delivering targeted training to drive performance improvement
- Refining forecasts and performance goals around real-time KPIs and the data you’ve collected
It’s when the data from a WFM application is effectively combined with outputs from quality monitoring, performance management and e-learning that real optimisation can start to happen. Organisations cannot just schedule and deploy the right number of staff, but those staff will start to have the right skills in place, and they’ll also be trained to handle the type of calls they’re likely to receive that day.
While many businesses start out by using a standard Excel spreadsheet to schedule their contact centre agent rosters, managing these documents invariably turns out to be a time-consuming and complex process that only scales so far. Organisations typically turn to a more WFO-oriented approach when they can see that their resource management team is getting stretched, and when there’s a clear business need to move planning from a reactive to a more proactive model.
WFM solutions are not only a big financial investment in terms of software licences, services and support; they are also a big investment in operational resource, time, and change management.
It is essential, therefore, that an organisation approaches a new WFM installation in a thorough way.
The task of the project team will be to assess what any potential WFM solution will need to bring to the organisation in terms of benefits and (typically) improvements to:
- The customer experience
- Existing business processes
- Agent performance
- Agent community
- Business intelligence
Once these priorities and operational needs are established, the market needs to be researched to see which solutions best meet the requirement.
These assessments need to be made as objectively as possible. For example, it would be easy to choose a particular vendor as it is easier to integrate their solution into the existing infrastructure, but this may forsake easier usability or the ability to extract data more efficiently. A series of checks and balances need to be used by senior project team members so that as many of the operational needs as possible are met.
Be careful around terminology
Workforce optimisation has a muddled understanding within the industry; as a software description it is a collection of bundled packages that support real-time forecasting and scheduling, with additions such as quality coaching, monitoring and assessment suites. From the agent’s perspective it is meant to describe increased agent presence at the right time with the right skills, etc.
A common failing is the platform’s stability. Make sure the version of your chosen platform is well deployed and has reference sites available to you. At contract stage a number of upgrades will have been agreed to take you well into the later life cycle of your chosen solution. These are always designed to be functionality enhancements but, with the best will in the world, often turn out to include significant fixes for original programming errors.
Patches may also be released in between upgrades to fix issues, but they can cause brand new issues and may need rolling back. From my own experiences, I can assure you that they can be really frustrating, so be pragmatic, expect, but do not tolerate or accept these issues when they arise, make sure contractually that either the service provider or vendor has the expertise on hand to offer speedy assistance as and when this happens.
Utopia, in terms of contact centres is relatively easy to achieve. What most strive for is to ensure that at all times of the day there are adequate numbers of staff to meet customer demand in terms of call volumes. At the same time contact centres need to ensure that they are not overstaffed and therefore paying for agents who do not need to be working.
Without an efficient system in place to match schedules with anticipated call demand, firms are left resorting to creating schedules using Excel spreadsheets and a lot of guesswork. Due to the unpredictable nature of the contact centre, guesswork is simply not a viable option and a more reliable system is required. This is where workforce optimisation comes in.
Checking the Forecast
The first thing you should look for is the ability to accurately forecast customer demand. The solution should be able to look at your existing records and statistics in order to create forecasts of the volume of calls you can expect at any given time, based on previous experience.
A good workforce optimisation solution will pull this information from your company’s basic call handling system. For those companies with a single platform communication system in place, this should mean that your forecasts will be based on statistics from the full range of media that your contact centre handles including telephone calls, emails and SMS.
Based on this information, the next feature that any workforce optimisation system should have is the ability to create effective schedules that allow the contact centre to meet the forecasted customer demand.
Using the forecast as a basis, schedules need to ensure that there are enough people to roster on every day, but also to ensure that shift patterns represent peaks and troughs in the volume of calls expected as identified by the forecasts.
The system should also be able to build in requirements for ad hoc and unexpected events to ensure that any unforeseen circumstances can be blended into the final schedule. This means that should an agent call in sick, you will still have the resources to meet customer demand.
The final factor to look at is the ability to ensure that schedules and forecasts are being met. This can be achieved using real-time adherence software. With the information in place to ensure that you have enough staff scheduled to meet your predicted demand, the only remaining factor to consider is whether the schedule is adhered to in real time.
The software should therefore have the ability to check whether staff are logged in and available to take calls in accordance with the schedule and shift pattern that the software has produced. If your system finds itself out of adherence, say if an agent returns late from lunch, an alert should be issued automatically to supervisors informing them of this.
If you select a solution that offers these three factors in unison then you will have all of the building blocks required for a successful workforce optimisation solution and be one step closer to call centre Utopia.
- Use of Workforce management systems
- What to look for when buying workforce management technology
- Getting the best out of workforce management software
- Workforce Management Satisfaction
- Top Tips for Workforce Management Technology
- John Casey of the Professional Planning Forum
- Tiffany Mannion of Aspect Software
- Rufus Grig of Callmedia
- Sian Ciabattoni of Noble Systems
- Robert Wint of Verint Systems
- Andrew Turner of ProtoCall One
- Dave Paulding of Interactive Intelligence