Workforce Optimization's Missing Link
If you ask me, the contact center industry usually has its heart in the right place. Take, for example, the CRM frenzy of the late 1990s and early 2000s. What could be more noble than striving to provide every customer with an efficient, memorable contact center experience? What more lofty an industry goal exists than ensuring long-term customer satisfaction and loyalty?
So...what happened to these grand pursuits?
A few years and several hundred million dollars after the onset of CRM mania, someone discovered that heaping layer upon layer of increasingly complex and expensive technology doesn't necessarily lead to better customer service and long-term customer loyalty. Who knew?
As the CRM industry reeled from the failure to reach tens of billions of dollars in revenue (forecast by several of my fellow industry analysts), along came the idea that customer service was actually the job of the agent, not the job of technology. Sure, technology supports the agent, but it certainly doesn't replace the agent. If the agent is so important to this customer service thing, why not invest in ensuring maximum performance and productivity from the agent?
The first action the industry undertook was to ensure that the right number of agents was available at the right time to efficiently service incoming customer calls. As a result, the workforce management software industry began to emerge in the waning days of CRM mania.
As CRM settled into a more reasonable role in the quest for customer care excellence, other technologies aimed at optimizing agent performance began to emerge.
Although quality monitoring has been around for decades, its popularity within the industry really started to take off in the past few years, gathering momentum along with the movement to equip agents with tools to help them do their jobs better. E-learning, as covered in this column in February 2005, is also taking a higher profile, along with performance management or performance optimization. These technologies together are commonly referred to as the foundation of an agent workforce optimization suite, and are responsible in large part for the industry's current fascination with agent empowerment.
I submit, however, that there is another piece to the agent optimization puzzle that has yet to be fully explored. I am probably one of the biggest workforce optimization cheerleaders in the industry today, and I'm a firm believer in having the right number of people in the right seats at the right time. But I propose that strengthening the entire strategy with the addition of efficient agent selection is a necessary ingredient.
The industry today wrestles now with the return of agent turnover rates that average 30 percent to 40 percent, and range as high as 200 percent. It makes sense to me to ensure that the individuals with the greatest potential for a successful contact center career are the ones who are the beneficiaries of training dollars. I believe the next logical goal for the industry to strive for is the right number of the right people in the right seats at the right time. Agent selection tools are the missing link in an effective workforce optimization strategy.
Paul Stockford is chief analyst of Saddletree Research, which specializes in contact centers and customer service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org