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Changing the Face of Workforce Optimization
Predictive and real-time analytics offer tremendous potential for contact centers.
For the rest of the March 2013 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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The workforce optimization (WFO) market continues to come on strong, attracting an increasing amount of contact center investment dollars from enterprises. This, in turn, is driving large R&D investments relative to other mature IT markets. The WFO sector is unique because its core capabilities, recording and quality assurance, are mature, yet the vendors continue to reinvent these solutions every few years. This has prevented commoditization from eroding the sector's performance. Analytics and the cloud are also helping alter the landscape of the WFO market.

Recording Should Be a Commodity, But Isn't

Recording remains the foundational component of WFO processes and suites. Calls and other interactions (emails, SMS, chat sessions, social media interactions, etc.) are captured (recorded) for liability recording purposes, to meet federal, state, regulatory, and the enterprise's own requirements. Customer text-based interactions are also increasingly being captured so that they can be analyzed to derive and apply customer insights.

Phone calls still represent more than 80 percent of contact center interactions in most organizations around the world, although the volume of noncall interactions is increasing. Companies are still investing heavily in recording solutions to ensure that they can capture every call that enters their contact center. Despite this, calls are still dropped or missed. No matter how good the recording solution, if the integration to the automatic call distributor (ACD) or private branch exchange (PBX) is not set up and maintained perfectly, calls can and will be missed. As these problems are generally caused by human error when setting up or modifying the company's ACD or PBX, it is hard to avoid these issues with traditional recording methods. For this reason, there is growing interest in "recording at the edge,' where recording of Internet Protocol–based interactions happens at the ingress point (edge) of the data network as sessions are initiated at the organization. This enhances the call capture process, which improves call retrieval rates. DMG expects to see edge-based recording increase substantially over the next five years.

Analytics to the Rescue

Companies have performed QA the same way for the past 30 years. Traditional quality assurance is a highly labor-intensive activity with surprisingly limited benefit. By definition, QA measures how well agents adhere to internal policies and procedures, and little else. Although many companies consider QA mission-critical, it has always been a costly activity. Supervisors or QA specialists must listen to hundreds of calls to find the 5 percent to 10 percent (hopefully no more) that require attention because they are either really good, and agents should be recognized, or because they are really bad, and agents need to be coached and encouraged. This is finally changing, due to speech analytics.

Speech analytics technology, which is used to structure phone conversations and convert discussions to metadata for analysis, has started to be applied to quality assurance; this process is called analytics-enabled quality assurance. Ideally, 100 percent of calls are fed into the speech analytics solution, which has been set up to search for a variety of quality- and liability-related issues. For example, the solution can listen to make sure that agents verify callers, do not say a variety of inappropriate words, do not threaten callers, do not get angry, deliver the right disclaimers after certain types of sales transactions, and a whole lot more. It is complex to set up effective search rules, but with the right investment, speech analytics can identify many of the good and bad calls that require supervisor intervention. These solutions cannot catch everything a human being would identify, but because they can cost-effectively review 100 percent of calls, there is a much better chance of rapidly identifying serious agent, performance, product, service, and process issues. DMG sees analytics-enabled QA as the future of this process.

Public Safety Is Slowly Getting into the Act

Recording has always been essential to the public safety industry. First responders, for example, must be able to piece together inputs from calls, radio signals, emails, SMS, social media, and anything else the public throws at them. The public safety industry has been slow to adopt analytics, due to budget limitations. The public safety market is lagging approximately eight to 10 years behind leading enterprise users, but organizations are starting to make investments in newer WFO-oriented analytics. DMG expects a growing number of WFO vendors to target emergency services with solutions built and priced to their needs.

Analytics Is the Future

Enterprises invest in WFO solutions to help them cost-effectively deliver a differentiated service experience. QA solutions did not sell well when vendors pitched them as systems to improve quality; they sold better after the vendors changed their messaging to reflect that QA solutions were powerful productivity tools that could reduce agent average handle time by as much as 40 percent. Today, many senior executives are espousing the importance of providing outstanding service to their customers; however, they are still unwilling to invest in contact center initiatives that do not improve both the customer experience and productivity. Contact center leaders need new tools to help them achieve aggressive corporate and departmental goals. Fortunately, analytics really is the answer and, when used appropriately, can greatly improve service dynamics for organizations of all sizes.

Predictive and real-time analytics are emerging areas that offer tremendous potential for contact centers. Speech analytics is already helping to improve contact center performance and, very slowly, ways are being found to benefit other enterprise departments, even though best practices are still lagging. Text analytics is a killer application for social customer care, and will play an increasingly important role in the next three to five years. Desktop analytics provides visibility and transparency into what employees do at their desktops, and offers desktop automation and workflow functionality at a fraction of the cost of traditional big-system initiatives. These solutions can also enhance speech analytics findings and provide real-time agent guidance, also known as next-best-action recommendations. Performance management remains the most misunderstood and underappreciated application in the contact center technology market, even though it is essential for putting the findings from all of these other applications to work by converting insights into actions.

WFO Moves to the Cloud

Many WFO vendors have paid lip service to the importance of moving to the cloud, while standing in the way of progress in this area for years. But this is going to change in 2013. WFO is moving into the cloud—the only question is who will take it there. A major part of the delay is that most, if not all, WFO solutions were not properly architected to support cloud-based implementations. Many large and small WFO vendors have been quietly rearchitecting and enhancing their solutions to make them cloud-ready.

What's Next?

Recording should be a commodity, and its price needs to drop. If alternative vendors start to deliver strong recording solutions at dramatically reduced prices, commoditization will happen, in spite of the resistance of the traditional market leaders. With analytics-enabled solutions, the quality assurance function finally has a chance of being performed properly and cost-effectively. Analytics-enabled QA is the first step in the greater transition to true VoC analytics. Senior executives are paying much closer attention to the performance and contributions of both front- and back-office operating groups; aggressive and enlightened contact center and back-office leaders will be able to obtain funding for projects that would not have been considered in the recent past, as long as they build a good business case. This is paving the way for a new generation of analytics that can provide deep and valuable customer insights while also identifying ways to improve productivity and the customer experience.

Now is a great time to consider the many advantages of the new generation of analytics-enabled WFO suites. Better yet, the introduction of viable cloud-based WFO solutions means that companies of all sizes can try new solutions without making major up-front financial commitments.


Donna Fluss (donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com) is founder and president of DMG Consulting, a provider of contact center and analytics research, marketing analysis, and consulting.

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