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New Workforce Management Transfers Power to Agents

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The gap between old-school WFM and new-wave WFM continues to widen, and the key differences are flexibility and automation. Traditional intraday management solutions are informative; real-time adaptive scheduling is actionable and automated, kicking off overtime or early departure requests to adjust to real-time requirements. Traditional WFM is shift-based; flex staffing is fluid, automatically adjusting staffing requirements as agents choose or change their schedules. Fully automated and real-time self-service provides agents with flexible and granular schedule and time-off accommodations. Flex scheduling, agent self-service, and adaptive real-time scheduling capabilities are the new standard of WFM and key competitive differentiators for the WFM vendors that offer these capabilities. They also happen to be key drivers of agent satisfaction, empowerment, and retention.

THE NEW MATH

Algorithms are the underlying mathematical formulas, the proprietary “secret sauce” that WFM solutions use to calculate omnichannel forecasting, staffing, and multi-skill scheduling requirements for contact center environments. They are the underpinnings of WFM solutions because if the algorithm is faulty, the forecasts and schedules will be inaccurate. There is no one-size-fits-all algorithm that can forecast for every kind of interaction. Further, as WFM continues its expansion into back offices, branches, and other operating areas, vendors seriously pursuing this large untapped market opportunity need forecasting and scheduling algorithms that take into account the types of work performed in these environments and the time required to handle each customer transaction.

As early as 2010, DMG strongly advocated for vendors to review their WFM applications and, most importantly, their underlying algorithms, to set in place plans for major rewrites of their solutions. After many years, the WFM vendors are investing in their algorithms, delivering new and enhanced methods to more accurately forecast and schedule omnichannel, multi-skill, and blended environments. These new algorithms, or improved simulation models—many of which leverage artificial intelligence (AI) technologies—are optimized for each discrete channel and account for blended environments, multi-skill efficiencies, and the unique characteristics of both synchronous and asynchronous contact types. DMG expects the focus on developing enhanced algorithms and improved simulation models to continue and become an important differentiator.

AI: ETA OR TBD?

The world is moving rapidly to adopt AI, which is playing an increasingly influential role in the future of contact center technology. The WFM sector is no exception, but WFM vendors are at varying levels of maturity when it comes to AI-enabled applications and processes. For some, it’s simply a matter of when these technologies will be implemented; for others that are lagging, it remains a big if.

In the WFM realm, AI-enabled capabilities are emerging to determine which model, from among as many as 45 different algorithms, works best with a given set of historical data. Machine learning is being leveraged to improve pattern detection and identification of outliers or deviations for validating models and forecasts and, in an iterative learning process, to improve scheduling accuracy and fairness. AI and machine learning are also being leveraged in skill/skill-proficiency assignments to support outcome-driven predictive routing strategies. Predictive analytics can assist internally with hiring decisions as well as identify and understand the drivers of agent churn and recommend intervention. Predictive analytics can also be used to anticipate if work will be completed on time based on data collected about individual work items.

FINAL THOUGHTS

WFM, which has always been a vital component of contact center technology, has become a necessity due to social, economic, and business trends. Today’s workforce demands scheduling flexibility, work-life balance, and the autonomy to self-serve and self-manage. Today’s customers require omnichannel support and personalized service. Today’s contact centers need to address operational requirements, satisfy employee needs, and meet customer expectations, all while managing costs. AI and automation are driving critical changes in WFM solutions to address these opportunities and more. But while the technology has changed, in many cases the people have not. Fear of losing control and letting the technology do what it is designed to do is the biggest inhibitor to the adoption of new-wave WFM’s automated and AI-enabled processes. Given what we’ve seen from the leading WFM solutions, it’s time to take the leap of faith. 

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting. For more than two decades she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary author and speaker, Fluss drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the service industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.

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