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Productive Workforce Management
Tips on successfully managing a contact center, regardless of size and complexity.
For the rest of the March 2002 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Today many businesses operate call centers. Increasingly, these centers have to field a mix of communications -- phone email, and Web contacts, so what the are actually operating is a contact center. Because many companies also employ teams of agents working from numerous geographical sites, these businesses are also running a sophisticated system that addresses complex site and staffing management issues 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Given the complexity and sophistication of call and contact center work, it is surprising that many companies continue to manage staff manually. They forecast and track customer contact volumes and adjust agent scheduling manually. It takes days to load balance the work in these centers, so it is almost impossible to adjust to rapidly changing customer demand. Plus, agents in manually run centers don't have a say in when and how they work; they're locked in to rigid schedules that don't allow time for training, adequate breaks, or administrative tasks. Inevitably, a workforce that is overworked and underutilized, and frustrated with an inflexible system, is subject to high turnover, so companies managing their contact centers manually are regularly losing employees. It's not fair to give contact center managers 19th century tools to run an operation that is moving at the speed of light. Nor is it fiscally sound to hire agents but not empower them to do their jobs well. Agents are the "face" a company presents to customers day in and day out. Having the right agents available at the right time is vital to continued customer satisfaction. Moreover, because 60 to 70 percent of a center's budget is related to personnel costs, forecasting, scheduling, and tracking are more important than ever. They are vital to the smooth operation of any contact center and must be accomplished with new technology or the business will lose money while customers go elsewhere. Regardless of a contact center's size and complexity, to manage it, one must:
  • Forecast customer demand as business and customer requirements change.
  • Schedule staff according to agent skill and customer demand.
  • Track employee schedules and customer contacts.
  • Improve employee retention and job satisfaction.
  • Increase efficiency, service, and profit on a continual basis.
Let's take a look at how workforce management software can help contact centers meet these goals. Forecasting the easy way With workforce management software, managers can predict contact volumes, calculate staffing requirements, and make budget projections based on historical data on contact volumes and call-handling times. In fact, with a robust workforce management application, managers can forecast incoming contacts on a monthly, weekly, daily, and half- or quarter-hourly basis, so they can determine staff requirements for any time period, meet or modify established service-quality goals, and maximize net revenue. In addition, managers using good workforce management software will use patterns, rather than raw, de-normalized contact data, in forecasting, to smooth out the random variations and allow for accurate, long-range planning. What about staffing? Contact center scheduling is one of the most complicated juggling acts contact center managers perform. Specifically, they must create optimal schedules that meet the needs of the business while simultaneously meeting the needs and desires of the agents. Good workforce management software enables managers to create well-planned schedules that take into account the types of contacts and incoming volumes their centers handle, while at the same time considering the agents' skill types and skill levels. If scheduling is too tight or if the agents skills do not match those needed by the incoming contacts, efficiency and employee satisfaction drop, resulting is agent burnout and turnover. If scheduling is too loose, productivity and customer satisfaction plummet. As a matter of course, managers often need to draw up several models, but who has the time? Frequently, they may need to add to or adjust schedules, yet they seldom have time to replace some of the factors or start over. Using good workforce management software, managers can do this. They can create numerous trial schedules and save them, then select the one they'll actually use -- in a fraction of the time it would take to do this manually. Tracking vital data With well-designed workforce management software, managers oversee daily schedules and monitor the performance of their contact center. They track changes and exceptions to employee schedules as they happen. They also track future schedule exceptions. The effective supervisor does this while on the go out on the floor as he or she does what is most important -- taking care of the people talking to the customers. Good workforce management software lets managers compare the number of staff scheduled to the number they need to meet service-level goals. Managers can then compare forecasts to actual data, and make staffing adjustments to maintain service-level objectives quickly and efficiently, with as little manual intervention as possible -- all while on the move. Multi-site performance Optimizing contact center staffing resources may be a primary goal of workforce management, but the challenges today are daunting because of the many ways customers can make contact. Besides matching the many types of contacts with the agents skilled to handle them, many centers must do this across multiple sites using multiple contact channels. The more traditional goals of workforce management have thus been expanded to encompass staffing optimization in integrated multi-channel, multi-site, multi-skill environments- -and only full-featured workforce management software can synchronize all CRM resources in these complex contact centers. Increasing efficiency with the right technology Once contact center managers are effectively forecasting, scheduling, and tracking, they can focus on increasing efficiency -- both their own and that of the agents. This means having time to evaluate agent abilities, productivity, needs, and use of time. For example, managers can begin to accurately determine what type of agents they need to hire now and later on, which will make the difference between doing the best with what they have and planning for and ensuring outstanding performance. But managers and supervisors can only do this if they are freed from repetitive, "paper-pushing" tasks. Most contact center mangers work furiously just to stand still. Without the time and tools to analyze how they should change operations, they find it extremely difficult to improve contact center performance. Should they change the routing scheme, for example? Or improve their agents' skill sets through training? Workforce management software not only gives managers the time to ask these questions, but also provides the tools to answer them. In summary, it's a simple equation: the larger and more complex the contact center, the greater the need for labor- and expense-saving tools. Businesses operating large contact centers are already feeling the demand for the efficiency tools that workforce management software provides. This software manages current operations and provides paths for future growth and change as well. With tools to adjust the schedules of many agents at once, it optimizes agent breaks, schedules meetings, and accommodates training sessions and special projects. In addition, workforce management software can provide such administrative benefits as in-depth reporting, time account and vacation management, and schedule management automation, and automatic communication between supervisors, managers, and agents. There's no question that top-of-the-line workforce management software will leverage any existing contact center infrastructure. It works with current hardware and software, allowing managers to use as few or as many of its features as they wish today, adjusting easily when their center grows. Improved customer service comes with increased productivity. This spells big cost savings for any business now and down the road. Workforce management software is the key to turning a contact center into a profit center.
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