• July 27, 2023
  • By Donna Fluss, president, DMG Consulting

Workforce Management for the 21st Century: Helping Deliver a Great CX

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Workforce management (WFM) solutions are essential in good times and even more indispensable when the economy is challenged and budgets are tight. These applications have always been one of the leading productivity tools in contact centers. However, in the past few years, they have begun a remarkable transformation into mission-critical components for delivering a great customer and employee experience, making them even more compelling.

Workforce management solutions were initially designed to forecast the volume of incoming phone calls to help a call center determine the number of staff needed to answer those calls within an established service level. Now, WFM solutions can engage agents by inviting them to select the days and times they want to work, giving them schedule flexibility, which is a top requirement for today’s workforce. These solutions have made a 180-degree turn over the years, but then so has the science and art of WFM.

AI Continues to Drive Innovation

Artificial intelligence continues to make a huge contribution to WFM solutions. These technologies vastly improve the accuracy, flexibility, and usability of most WFM modules, including forecasting, scheduling, intraday management, long-term planning, self-service, and handling of vacation and change requests—paid time off (PTO), overtime, voluntary time off (VTO), schedule swaps, etc. New AI-based algorithms, predictive models, and simulation techniques enhance forecasting and scheduling capabilities. In some applications, the WFM administrator can select the desired algorithm(s) for each run, and in others, the system will kick off all of them and allow the solution to identify the best fit for the dataset. AI technologies are being used to smooth WFM’s primary input data, reducing the need for administrators to manually clean it up and eliminate one-time unexpected events or exceptions that could improperly skew future forecasts. AI can also enhance the results of real-time decisioning tools needed to improve the performance of intraday management activities, automate shrinkage calculations, and initiate in-the-moment schedule changes.

AI technologies are being used to create smart applications for agent self-service to find the right balance between employee and contact center needs. AI-enabled WFM solutions are changing staffing paradigms in contact centers by inviting agents to request their own schedules or work hours. This doesn’t guarantee that they will be granted, but it empowers employees to be active participants in the scheduling process. The AI technologies in this process identify the best schedules for the department and the employees while always considering the need to deliver a great customer experience. They can constantly monitor contact center environments and identify real-time changes required to optimize the service experience delivered by these applications.

The inclusion of AI and automation throughout WFM suites greatly enriches these solutions. Vendors are listening to their enterprise customers and making changes to reduce the need for WFM administrators or supervisors to be involved in manual tasks, which can be handled more quickly, accurately, and fairly via automation.

Modern Solutions for Modern Channels

One of the top WFM enhancement requests is improved forecasting and scheduling for digital, asynchronous, long, and multistep interactions. Forecasting each step of an interaction separately and combining the needs during scheduling is not a good approach, as it results in a significant amount of overstaffing. Enterprises are asking vendors to rethink traditional forecasting and scheduling processes to properly position them to address the digital age. Workforce management solutions need to be able to accurately account for asynchronous interactions, such as emails or back-office functions, that can start and stop over a period of minutes, hours, days, or even weeks. These applications must also appropriately schedule the handling of customer inquiries or interactions that start in one channel and move to another, or occur in two (or more channels) at the same time.

What’s clear is that the old ways of doing business are gone, and while phone calls continue to be used (and will be for the foreseeable future), WFM solutions must be revamped to address previously unforeseen complexity in a contact center, back-office, or other operating environment. The needs of 21st-century contact centers are different from prior generations, and WFM vendors are modernizing their applications to give enterprises the necessary functionality to deliver a great CX.

From Excel to Exceptional

New competitors entering the WFM sector, as well as some of the incumbents, are bringing a fresh approach to address forecasting and scheduling challenges. These solutions are cloud-native and built from the ground up to support omnichannel environments. Some of the new digital offerings are primarily intended to handle asynchronous interactions that take place in any enterprise department. Emerging WFM solutions are geared toward companies that want to mature their WFM practices and transition from spreadsheets to applications. The new entrants are not as feature-rich as the established offerings, but they have two things in common: They are designed to be easy to use with intuitive user interfaces (UIs), and they are intended to facilitate integration to enterprise operating systems. These offerings are challenging existing WFM vendors and motivating them to speed up their own R&D. All of this is good news for end users who want to improve their WFM experience.

Changing Workforce Drives Enablement

Companies want WFM solutions that help them automate activities and optimize how people work while supporting the needs of gig economy workers with highly flexible work hours and shifts, on-the-fly schedule adjustments, and hybrid staffing models. Employees today expect to have visibility into their schedules and performance via real-time dashboards that are easily accessible in mobile devices. When it comes to the administrative side of WFM, management needs to easily discern where their agents are working and how work location impacts their performance. The majority of contact centers allow work-at-home and hybrid schedules, as this allows them to reduce real estate costs. But to ensure that they have enough seats, companies want workspace allocation capabilities that enable agents to reserve a seat when they are in the office. Most of this is about agent empowerment and engagement. Companies should always be concerned about improving productivity, but the difference today is that they are concentrating on giving their employees tools to make their work live easier instead of using WFM to box them in.

The Next Chapter for WFM

The WFM market is experiencing a generational leap driven by the cloud, AI, and automation, which is altering the competitive landscape by delivering powerful employee engagement and oversight tools. The innovation coming to market is both practical and robust, and it is just the beginning of changes and improvements that are planned in the next few years. DMG expects to see major enhancements in long-term planning modules that can position managers to more accurately anticipate their future staffing needs and costs. Investments are being made in intraday management modules that position them to more accurately predict and respond to changing market dynamics. Vendors are further enhancing their self-service capabilities to make employees more active participants in the staffing process and improve management oversight of employees. Back-office and branch departments are seriously considering deploying WFM solutions now that they include APIs that enable integration with operating systems and have unique functionality for those environments.

The outlook for WFM has never been better, but there is still an opportunity to do more. Enterprises need to modify their staffing policies and practices to realize optimal benefits from innovative WFM solutions. System administrators have to put their trust in AI, and it is incumbent upon vendors to prove its accuracy. Self-service capabilities should be rolled out to agents who are well-trained to make them work.

These challenges notwithstanding, WFM solutions have been in use in contact centers for decades because they deliver quantifiable benefits, and the new generation of solutions is taking it to the next level, balancing the needs of customers, employees, and the enterprise.

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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