Top companies know it's crucial to constantly reevaluate one's business model to stay on course. International Cruise & Excursions (ICE), a global provider of millions of cruise and resort vacations, knows firsthand what it takes to navigate choppy waters.
ICE -- with most of its revenue from commissions on bookings -- is first and foremost a sales organization. So a workforce optimization (WFO) solution may not seem a crucial business investment. Adelina Petrov, ICE's director of sales and operations analysis, says that when she joined in 2004, "the company had been focusing on achieving the sales results...[and] didn't think [of itself] as a call center company."
However, after months of research, Petrov estimated that handling contact center scheduling with only an Excel spreadsheet was costing ICE $1 million a year. Although initially balking at the price of a WFO solution, management was persuaded that the investment would be earned back in savings and service improvements. With the decision to implement WFO, ICE began to see itself not only as a sales organization, but as a contact center as well.
To ensure excellent return on investment, ICE researched top providers, and had four vendors submit proposals before settling on Aspect Software's eWorkforce Management. Petrov says, "The first decision-maker was that [Aspect] had a very flexible 'what-if' capability" -- the ability to build separate forecast scenarios based on different assumptions. Strong forecasting, an agent performance optimization tool, and real-time adherence technology also made Aspect the clear choice.
Implementation, customization, and agent training took less than three months, and was completed by June 2006. Petrov explains, "We said in plain English to our top management that we expect this investment to be repaid in seven months." As it turned out, the objective was achieved in only four. Brett Williams, Aspect's senior manager of product management, suggests that WFO solutions often lead to unexpected benefits. "Once people buy into the change, things take on a new life," Williams says.
With the aid of Aspect eWorkforce Management's Real-Time Adherence module, ICE discovered that schedule adherence was at a low 78 percent. By setting incremental goals, introducing a bonus structure for managers, and developing training programs, ICE increased adherence to 93 percent. Smarter scheduling has helped the contact center operate with 60 fewer full-time agents while maintaining call volume. These improvements resulted in savings of $2.5 million.
Although a level of agent resistance is common for many WFO implementations, Petrov insists ICE saw the opposite: Because its agents work on commission, ICE presented the schedule-tracking as a way of improving personal earnings -- each agent could handle more calls. "We had absolutely no negative reactions from agents because they improved revenue and are happy." Proof can be found in the significantly lower agent turnover rate, now 5 percent per month as opposed to 11 percent.
With Aspect, ICE has also been able to improve customer relations. For example, when the U.S. Army wanted personnel vacations handled using tight call containment, ICE employed Aspect to select top agents and maintain all Army contacts within this team. Petrov says, "The only way we were able to answer their requirements was with the WFO." Happier customers translated into a 22 percent increase in vacation sales in 2007.
To experience wins similar to ICE, it's crucial to keep an open mind toward possible business improvements. "If you hope to change your call center for the better, you must fully embrace the changes you make," Williams says. ICE continues to push forward in this vein, implementing Aspect's Analyze II module, a performance management solution, in September 2007. Petrov's advice to sales organizations considering a WFO tool is simple: "Get it."
Key Results: International Cruise & Excursions Sales increased 22 percent in 2007
Agent turnover per month dropped from 11 percent to 5 percent
Agent schedule adherence grew from 78 percent to 93 percent
60 fewer agents are required for the same call volume, saving $2.5 million the first year
[Please Note: To see the 2008 Service Awards Issue's full table of contents, please click here.]