• March 26, 2024
  • By Donna Fluss, president, DMG Consulting

AI-Enabled WFM Promotes Efficiency and Flexibility

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Workforce management (WFM) solutions remain essential contact center productivity tools, but today they are as important for improving the customer experience (CX), and the newest generation of applications also help to boost employee engagement. WFM solutions have changed significantly in the past few years, transitioning from applications intended to optimize and control agent schedules into systems that empower employees with greater levels of flexibility delivered via self-service.

But this is just the start of many innovations being introduced into the WFM market. Artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and the need for new capabilities to address asynchronous and digital interactions are driving a welcome transformation of these solutions. WFM vendors are delivering enhanced algorithms, simulation techniques and methods, and best practices to assist contact centers in more accurately forecasting and scheduling for these fast-changing operations.

The enhancements are valuable because they improve contact center performance, lay the groundwork for a new generation of cloud- and AI-based WFM solutions, and focus on employee empowerment to improve employee engagement and reduce agent attrition.

DMG Consulting’s annual global survey of contact center and CX leaders reveals a high level of interest in WFM capabilities for 2024. These solutions were identified by 37.5 percent of survey participants, making them the second-highest-ranked contact center technology and application investment for the year. This aligns nicely with improving productivity and reducing operating costs, which were the second and third most important business goals for contact centers in 2024, as reflected by 51.7 percent and 50.0 percent of respondents, respectively.


Digitalization is driving a long-overdue update of many contact center components, including WFM systems and processes. What was once considered “good enough” when it came to forecasting volumes and scheduling agents in voice-centric contact centers is no longer acceptable.

Erlang, the primary algorithm used to forecast calls in contact centers, was never ideal for these environments because it was designed to address directory assistance calls that were very short in duration and had no latency between them. The vendors developed “modified” Erlang calculations to improve their effectiveness and reduce over-staffing, but larger contact centers often found it necessary to work around the vendor’s forecasting techniques to keep costs down.

But Erlang and other voice-centric algorithms do not work for asynchronous interactions, whether digital conversations or other types of office work, that start and stop over an extended period, pivot between channels during the same contact, or include concurrent interactions. To efficiently and accurately support digital and asynchronous interaction handling in addition to traditional calls, contact centers need enhanced and AI-enabled WFM solutions that are able to address the unique characteristics of all inquiry types.


AI is key to modifying and enabling WFM solutions to properly address the needs of advanced contact centers and other operating environments that handle voice and digital synchronous and asynchronous interactions. AI-based forecasting algorithms and simulations leverage a variety of AI technologies and proprietary models developed by WFM vendors to provide more accurate forecasts.

Deep learning technology is applied to find, analyze, and understand highly complex datasets to improve forecasting and scheduling. Machine learning (ML) helps evaluate algorithms to identify the most effective one to apply to each dataset. ML is also being used to find patterns in activities to enhance schedules, identify business rules to improve intraday management, provide dynamic real-time updates to facilitate the automated approval/denial of self-service requests, and more. Deep neural networks are used in employee self-service modules to generate simulations that automate processes for time-off requests, event scheduling, shift swaps, and more. Natural language processing (NLP)/natural language understanding (NLU) help WFM solutions understand and properly disposition employee self-service requests and can assess the language-based competencies of new-hire candidates. Generative AI can be used to identify and classify content to generate datasets for forecasting and scheduling and to self-create new algorithms and simulations. Predictive analytics is already being applied in several WFM modules to improve volume forecasts, project the likelihood of candidates to be successful in the contact center, anticipate employee attrition risks, and provide inputs for long-term planning and hiring.

Additionally, AI is transforming intraday management into a real-time adaptive forecasting and scheduling engine that can intelligently automate and respond to dynamic variances in demand and staffing requirements, shrinkage, schedule changes, and more. This emerging WFM module is a critical piece in enabling the scheduling flexibility and self-service capabilities necessary to attract and retain agents.


Agent empowerment is a growing area of focus for contact center leaders, and WFM vendors are helping them address this need by delivering expanded self-service capabilities via enhanced mobile apps. Additional flexibility includes more shift/swap options, new ways to bid for hours and time off, and easy approaches to managing paid time off (PTO), voluntary time off (VTO), and overtime (OT). The vendors are also releasing features that empower agents to select their own working hours, have their schedule assigned, or a combination of both. A growing number of agent self-service tools come with AI-enabled virtual assistants (VAs) to help employees with common WFM activities. These VAs support natural language requests for schedule changes or trades, use of PTO or sick time, and the acceptance of VTO and OT opportunities. WFM vendors are also looking for creative ways to motivate agents via gamification to self-schedule hard-to-fill shifts and hours. In some instances, they have started to use forms of virtual currency to incentivize agents to meet business needs, which is a welcome improvement from past practices that required employees to accept undesirable hours.


Interest in WFM software is growing in other people-intensive departments, particularly back-office operations, after decades of being considered a contact-center-only application. (DMG estimates there are close to twice as many employees working in back-office functions as contact centers.) These departments are seeking work distribution and management systems and workforce planning solutions to provide the transparency and oversight needed to improve productivity and quality. In addition to supporting non-contact-center operations, WFM solutions are also being enhanced to help companies account for personnel who are dynamically shared between front- and back-office functions. This helps expand the number of personnel who can be scheduled in the contact center to alleviate staff shortages resulting from shrinkage or other unexpected intraday variances. These needs are expected to drive major improvements in traditional intraday management capabilities.


The pace of innovation in the WFM market during the past five years has been rapid, and much more is on the way. Vendors are listening to their customers and delivering new and enhanced capabilities that organizations need to change the way they go to market, conduct business, and treat their employees. DMG expects increased investments to improve digital and asynchronous forecasting and scheduling, intraday management, long-term planning, support for global multinational work rules, seat management, hiring, and back-office work. As features are expanded and enriched, WFM suites are expected to continue to transition into open next-gen platforms that support large partner ecosystems and integrations with an increasing number of operating systems both inside and outside of contact centers. 

Donna Fluss, founder and president of DMG Consulting, provides a unique and unparalleled understanding of the people, processes, and technology that drive the strategic direction of the dynamic and rapidly transforming contact center and back-office markets. Fluss can be reached at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com.

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