Workforce Optimization Rises Above the Recession

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Regardless of who’s conducting the research, the message seems clear: The workforce optimization (WFO) space continues to grow despite the effect of the recession on many companies’ technology investments. DMG Consulting forecasts 2008 revenue figures for WFO to exceed $2.5 billion. Gartner predicts the sector’s revenues will have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.3 percent through 2011, while Datamonitor places its CAGR at 10.3 percent through 2013. Gartner analysts Michael Maoz and Jim Davies wrote that, by 2011, 20 percent of Global 100 businesses will begin to dismantle their traditional contact centers and move to an increasingly distributed model in part because WFO will have made “the need for the agent to be physically located near a supervisor increasingly less important.”

And there are still greenfield opportunities, as well. Keith Dawson, senior contact center analyst at Frost & Sullivan, says 35 percent of respondents to a recent survey are not using workforce management (WFM)—a key technology in the WFO repertoire. (For more on the modules that WFO comprises, see Scouting Report, page 48.) He argues companies must have WFM in place, especially today. “From an end-user perspective, you’re penny-wise and pound-foolish not to be using workforce management,” Dawson says, calling WFO one of four major challenges contact centers face in a down economy. “The worse it gets, the more important it is to automate and use the most-effective headcount management system you can find so you’re not wasting precious resources.”

Paul Stockford, chief analyst at Saddletree Research, stresses that recruiting, hiring, and retention are sizzling hot in 2009, which is helping advance the sales of WFO technologies. “The basic concept hasn’t changed in the last six years,” he says. “I think it’s been refined to the point where WFO technology has become more accessible and not quite so intimidating from a financial and operational perspective.”

Companies are also finding the benefits of WFO extend beyond the walls of the contact center, a factor which strongly appeals to businesses, says John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research for the Service and Support Professionals Association. He points to three reasons: the increased complexity of technical support and staffing, taking away the ability to schedule with spreadsheets; remote workers; and the convergence of service among technical support, field service, and professional services. “There’s much more interest in the B2B world,” he says. “Even small-to-midsize businesses are shopping for WFO.”

Ryan Hollenbeck, senior vice president of marketing at Verint Systems, says his clientele has largely taken to WFM and quality monitoring already, and is now looking ahead at analytical tools including speech and data analytics and customer feedback surveys. “The anchor segments are workforce management and scheduling tools,” he says. “[They’re] absolutely mission-critical in the environment we’re in now. You can be more effective if you have [analytics] to home in on what matters most.”

According to Jim Shulkin, Envision Telephony’s director of marketing, unifying the pieces of WFO’s puzzle is another common goal these days. “That way, you have the ability to spot trends going on in customer interactions, stop, turn them around, or fix them all together,” he says. “It’s rare we get standalone interest now.”

Gian Brackin, the assistant vice president of systems and reports for New York Life Insurance, values the combination of customer-facing and internal benefits. Within a year of turning to Verint, New York Life was able to boost a woeful 63 percent adherence-to-schedule rate for its agents to 94 percent. At the same time, average handle time decreased 9 percent and staff attrition dropped from 38.8 percent in 2007 to 24.8 percent in 2008. “If you can show agents what the goals are—and publish them—they’ll meet them,” Brackin says. “Especially during this economic period, our training staff can focus on how to improve our existing workforce and allow them to develop…rather than hire additional resources. It’s more meaningful for agents now, especially when they can understand their impact on the business.” 

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