• July 1, 2004
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Market Watch: Making Sense of Workforce Optimization

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The benefits of workforce optimization have been proven, but nonetheless these technologies are growing in popularity slowly. According to analysts, the reluctance to purchase these solutions is based primarily on the general confusion in the marketplace. "The word optimization is being thrown about to describe everything," says Paul Stockford, president and chief analyst at Saddletree Research. So much so that he worries the meaning of the word "will be lost." It doesn't help that market leaders, such as Blue Pumpkin and IEX, use the terms workforce optimization and workforce management interchangeably. Adding to the confusion are industry partnerships and acquisitions. Concerto, for example, acquired CenterForce Technologies this past April. "The message that needs to be articulated is the changing scope and definition of workforce [optimization] software. As the product matures and evolves, workforce [optimization] software can play a significant role in realizing overall contact center optimization via its focus on agent performance and business process performance," says Seema Lall, industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan. At its core, workforce optimization sufficiently prepares a staff to manage the ebb and flow of daily call volumes into a call center. These solutions, according to Stockford, include four main elements: workforce management, performance management, quality monitoring, and e-learning. Workforce management solutions help organizations match agent schedules with call volumes. Just because agents are at their desks, though, doesn't mean they're being productive. Performance management tools police employee performance by pulling together the appropriate metrics, such as calls handled and sale conversions, to improve agent productivity. Quality monitoring solutions record customer interactions to make sure quality assurance metrics are in line with corporate goals. If a performance gap is detected or a quality assurance score is substandard, e-learning tools help train agents in a variety of ways, which include classroom settings or on the fly at the agent's workstation. Frost & Sullivan estimates the nascent workforce optimization market at about $125 million to $175 million. These efforts are led largely by Blue Pumpkin, IEX, and Kanisa, with Kana as this year's "one to watch," according to the 2003 CRM magazine Service Leader Awards (March 2004). However, Stockford advises to watch for vendors like Witness Systems that have a vision to provide all four components. "Witness is probably further along the road to having a complete solution," he says. "Contact centers today are highly complex operations catering to multiskill, multichannel, multisite environments," Frost & Sullivan's Lall says. "Workforce optimization software is a must for these complex contact centers to automate and manage its most costly resource--[their] agents--cost-effectively and with accuracy." BOOSTING QUALITY LEVELS
West Corp. knows customer service. As one of the leading providers of call center outsourcing services, West provides its clients with the most advanced customer service information available. To do this West has the daunting task of keeping tabs on the 6,000 customer service reps in its Custom Operator Services Division. West implemented several Witness Systems customer interaction and recording solutions: eQuality Balance, eQuality Evaluation, and eQuality Response. The eQuality Balance product enables West to review complete customer interactions through synchronized playback of voice conversations, as well as the agents' corresponding desk-top activities. The software enables West to address quality at the individual level and develop each agent more effectively, according to Ann Murphy, director of quality, Custom Operator Services Division, at West. She adds that agents feel they are treated more fairly, because they see the complete interaction through the voice and data capture. West can record up to 100 percent of the calls using eQuality. Thanks to eQuality Evaluation, agent evaluations take 15 to 20 minutes, which is a savings of 10 to 15 minutes over the former method, per evaluation. Considering every agent needs to be evaluated at least once per week, the time saved is significant. In addition to improving team evaluation processes, West has also lowered agent attrition rates, as it is able to use eQuality to record actual calls and play them for new-hire candidates and trainees. This helps weed out new-hire candidates who aren't right for the job and facilitates training efforts for new hires.
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