• April 1, 2008
  • By Donna Fluss, president, DMG Consulting

Productivity and Workforce Management

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Contact center workforce management (WFM) solutions are among the most important productivity tools in contact centers. These applications allow managers to forecast the volume of transactions that a contact center will be required to handle and to schedule the optimal number of agents to meet the anticipated need, factoring in agent breaks, training needs, vacations, and sickness absences. These solutions also streamline the hiring process, enabling managers to address both the number of agents required and the skill sets that are necessary to provide the best service to customers. When used properly, the payback from WFM is typically six months to a year. As the economy slows down further, contact centers will be asked to deliver additional productivity improvements. WFM solutions can be a major contributor to these cost-saving initiatives. WFM Decision Criteria: Is WFM for Your Contact Center? Debates continue regarding the size of contact centers that should use WFM. These discussions are expected to continue well into the future, as there are many factors that impact the need for these solutions. These factors include: number of agents, number of agent skill groups, number of sites, number of interaction channels, use of advanced routing capabilities, and use of at-home agents. When contact centers were simple -- single-site and handling only inbound calls -- most managers were able to do an adequate job of manually forecasting call volume and scheduling using a spreadsheet for up to 100 agents. After the department grew beyond 100 agents, it often became too complex and time-consuming to forecast and schedule with spreadsheets; it was often at this point that managers decided to invest in a packaged WFM solution. The dynamic changed as contact centers grew more complex. When contact centers began adding sites or channels, the need for WFM grew. The challenge of coordinating activities between two sites or juggling multiple channels, such as calls and emails, made it more difficult to use spreadsheets, and increased the need for WFM solutions. Now, as contact centers become more complex with the increasing use of remote (or at-home) agents, there will be an even greater need for WFM. A hands-on and practical approach is required in order to determine if a contact center would benefit from a WFM solution. If the solution will pay for itself in less than one year or provide a strategic differentiator (in cases where interaction volume is very low), your company should invest in WFM. Otherwise, stick to a spreadsheet. We recommend that the following contact center environments use WFM:
  • a single-site contact center with 100 agents that handles only phone calls;
  • a multisite contact center with 50 agents;
  • a multiskill contact center with 50 agents;
  • a multichannel contact center with 50 agents; and
  • a contact center that has a staff of 50 or more and uses remote agents.
We have seen environments with as few as 20 agents benefit from WFM. If the forecasting and scheduling complexity is high, WFM is recommended. WFM Benefits Contact Centers Large and Small WFM applications benefit the contact center, its agents, and its customers. As productivity tools, WFM applications minimize idle time and reduce agent waste, inefficiency, and absenteeism. At the same time, WFM can increase agent adherence and improve service quality by decreasing the rate of abandonment and the need for "call backs." The skill-based scheduling feature of WFM improves customer satisfaction, ensuring that agents with the right skill set are available to address inquiries in a timely fashion. Staff satisfaction is another benefit of WFM, as it removes much of the arbitrariness of manual scheduling, empowering agents to manage their own schedules and enjoy schedule preferences as a reward for outstanding performance. In very large contact centers, where the penetration rate of these solutions is currently the highest, WFM is essential for improving productivity. These applications are also becoming increasingly critical for mid-to-large-size, multisite, multiskill, and multichannel environments. The options for acquiring WFM are more varied than ever, with new vendors and products from which to choose. Enterprises can elect to purchase or host a WFM solution. And applications are available to target the specific needs and budgets of various types and sizes of contact centers. WFM Functional Building Modules All of the leading WFM solutions address both single- and multisite environments. The packaging of functionality varies substantially among the offerings; some vendors provide core and supplemental modules, while others sell a license that includes all of their capabilities. WFM solutions are generally comprised of the core, value-added, and optional modules seen in Figure 1 (see below). Increasingly, multichannel and multiskill functionality are being considered core components, as most sizeable contact centers have these requirements.
Figure 1: Workforce Management Solutions Current WFM Suites The WFM market is mature, having been around for over 20 years. However, these applications are not commodities, and product functionality is very different among the solutions. The modules included in WFM applications are similar in concept and name but differ widely in detail and execution. This makes it relatively easy to compare features across applications. Figure 2 (see below) presents an analysis of functional capabilities from seven leading and contending WFM solution providers: Aspect Software, Envision Telephony, Genesys Telecommunication Laboratories, GMT, Nice Systems' IEX, Left Bank Solutions' Monet Software, and Verint Systems.
Figure 2: WFM Solution Modules The chart indicates which WFM modules are standard, optional, under development, or not included in these suites. (If a module is standard, this means that when a license is purchased or rented/hosted, the functionality is included at no extra cost. If a module is optional, this means that an end user can elect to pay an additional fee for this capability.) The vendors use various strategies to differentiate their offerings and pricing. Some vendors still charge for each module; however, over the last couple of years, many of the vendors have started to bundle the majority of their WFM functionalities into the standard offering. Vendors have apparently found it beneficial to make most of the capabilities standard instead of making customers decide exactly what they need and selling it modularly. Final Thoughts The last few years have been turbulent for the contact center WFM market, due to acquisitions, shifting customer priorities, and market innovation. Customers have emerged as winners, benefiting from the enhanced solutions that are being delivered by stronger vendors that are more financially viable. Today, vendors are investing more in the future of WFM than they have at any point in the history of this technology segment. The result is a marketplace of applications that are functionally richer and easier to use, with more improvements on the way. Donna Fluss (donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com) is founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC (www.dmgconsult.com), the leading provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting.
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