Establishing the tech infrastructure is a necessary first step toward becoming a workforce optimization-enabled enterprise, along with adjusting business processes to maximize your technology investment. These steps constitute the first wave of a true workforce optimization (WFO) implementation. But the second wave of WFO implementation goes beyond technology and processes, and involves using discovered information to your strategic advantage. It involves rethinking long-established contact center practices and roles.
The Changed Business Environment
The business environment has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Companies have moved from a product focus to a customer-service focus, driven in large part by the popularity of the Internet, which provides rich information about a company to an increasingly demanding and well-informed customer base. The Internet also fuels intense competition, sometimes from unexpected sources.
These challenges must be addressed in spite of the time-consuming, manual processes that are typical of many centers, the difficulty in extracting and analyzing data kept in multiple systems, and the scattershot communications among different functional groups within and beyond the center.
The situation is further complicated by the evolution of technology and the agent pool. VoIP has made the at-home agent an option, opening new possibilities and operational challenges that are largely uncharted waters. Having improved dramatically over the last decade, self-service technology has gained increasing acceptance among customers. And the agent pool now includes members of generations X and Y, who are tech-savvy, but skeptical about the idea of working for a single employer for extended periods of time. WFO provides a way out.
Workforce Optimization: A Necessity for Contact Center Success
WFO unites quality assurance, forecasting and scheduling, reporting, and training into a single, interoperable system that provides unprecedented visibility into an organization's entire customer service life cycle. It touches every part of your contact center, from planning and establishing goals to scheduling and deploying the appropriate staff, measuring and recording their performance, using that information to investigate and analyze results, and then changing business processes and adjusting employee skills to meet the goals.
The insight that WFO delivers ripples outward from the contact center into other areas of your organization. These ripples will rock the "business as usual" boat and will change the way your center operates. Let's look at a few key areas:Quality Assurance--Second-wave WFO implementations will focus less on what the agents are doing and more on what the customers are doing. In this environment, root cause analysis becomes critical for helping companies identify process and service glitches. Capturing the voice of the customer is also vitally important, and the data will be funneled to other departments for strategic decision-making. Forecasting and Scheduling--Long-range planning will be increasingly important to support the strategic goals of the organization. Catalyzed by VoIP, new service models will evolve around homeshored agents, satellite centers, remote locations, and virtual centers. Agents will become more involved with scheduling, but this level of flexibility will provide them with more schedule options and may help reduce turnover. Training--Customer calls become learning content that can be delivered to staff members during idle time in the center. This approach is particularly necessary for virtual operations, but it's equally effective for those located in the contact center. Performance Management--Continuous feedback provided by scorecards keeps agents aware of their performance. Agents can be evaluated fairly and these statistics can drive incentive programs, such as requests for time off or desired shifts--a far better method than seniority-based programs.
The State of the Industry
Contact centers are adopting the technology required to bring about these changes. Many centers begin their implementations by incorporating workforce management systems. LAst year, Dimension Data released the "2005 Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report," which compiled statistics from 363 participants in 38 countries. The report notes that 48 percent of the respondents have implemented workforce management, with another 14 percent planning to install workforce management systems in the coming year. This is a significant step closer to the first wave of WFO.
Nevertheless, there's still far to go. For example, the report notes that only 51 percent of the respondents use quality monitoring. If contact centers are not using baseline quality management tools to assess agent performance, they will quickly fall behind competitors that move to the second wave of WFO (i.e., using performance data to drive strategic decisions).
Clearly, no contact center implements WFO overnight, and many centers are implementing WFO in increments by necessity. While it's easy to be consumed by the mechanics of which software to buy, or which processes to fix, you must look to the future and plan ahead. Where is your business heading in the upcoming years? What information will you need to reach your goals? After identifying the path ahead, you can make intelligent decisions about the WFO functionality that will get you there.
Oscar Alban is principal global market consultant for Witness Systems. He speaks regularly at industry trade shows and conferences, and performs consulting engagements at customer sites worldwide. He focuses on the mission critical aspects of capturing customer intelligence and optimizing workforce performance. Please visit www.witness.com
Grant Sainsbury is practice director for customer interactive solutions in North America for Dimension Data. He is a regular presenter at industry events and his credentials include technical qualifications from Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, and HP. Please visit www.dimensiondata.com