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Managing the Minutia
An effective workforce management strategy increases service levels with less effort.
For the rest of the March 2005 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Carlson Marketing Group operates contact centers for more than a dozen major loyalty programs, including the widely used airline frequent-flyer systems. Growing internal pressure to do more with less and mounting external pressure from clients putting business up for open bid and demanding higher service levels led Carlson to implement a unified workforce management strategy for its contact center operations. "There was no cross-utilization of agents or management; [everything] was done with dedicated resources for each team," says Adam Cincoski, senior workforce manager at Carlson Companies, Carlson Marketing Group's parent. Scheduling and skill-tracking was handled by individual group managers, and each agent in the group served a single client. This proved untenable for Carlson as it competed to keep its prized clients and to boost productivity without boosting head count. "We needed to go to a workforce management-centric approach," Cincoski says. Defining firm standards made it easier for the workforce to comply with the standards and service levels demanded by Carlson's clients, while shedding some of the inefficiencies of the past. "Every account had different seasons, and we had to use that seasonality in our favor, rather than be stuck understaffed or overstaffed," he says. Before unifying the agent groups and applying sophisticated workforce management, team sizes were generally fixed throughout the year, leading to low productivity in slow periods and a frantic environment at peak times. After upgrading to Avaya call handling hardware and implementing IEX TotalView for workforce management, Carlson centralized scheduling and staffing, and cross-trained its agents. Rather than belonging to an individual client account, agents now handle multiple call types, and scheduling and staffing levels--these can vary as much as 30 percent throughout the year--are determined by expected call volumes, not fixed at the time the client signs a service contract. "We were proactive for what we knew would be happening based on historical trends in that account," Cincoski says, "and we worked with each client to get their endorsement on each business plan each season.
"This was my first foray into workforce management, and it certainly changed my understanding of how we approach satisfying our accounts and structuring our skills. We created an understanding for every agent of what was expected of them, and by eliminating variation in agent performance we better understood what we were looking for from each agent." As a result, Carlson has enjoyed considerable improvements in its operational efficiency. The company was able to retain the business of a client that bid its service contract out, demanding that answer-time be cut in half. Amid ever-rising service level requirements, the contact center as a whole has been in compliance 33 of the past 36 months, including all of the previous 12 months. Overall average speed-of-answer has dropped from more than one minute to fewer than 30 seconds, and call abandonment rates have dropped to just one percent. Cincoski puts the value of savings from an overall 15 percent productivity improvement and the value of retained business in the millions, and the methods pioneered in its Minneapolis loyalty contact center have been successfully expanded to travel operations in Boise and St. Louis. "The shift has helped us change how we approach new business and our existing clients," Cincoski says. "I think everyone in contact center [management] should spend some time in workforce management. I think the statistical approach to contact center [management] breeds consistency." The Payoff By adopting workforce management, Carlson Companies
  • can use agents more efficiently, on multiple client accounts;
  • has improved client retention;
  • has realized millions of dollars in ROI.
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