• May 1, 2009
  • By Donna Fluss, president, DMG Consulting

Workforce Optimization Is the Optimal Goal

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For the rest of the May 2009 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.

The contact center quality assurance/recording sector is one of the technology industry’s unique fields. These solutions have been around in one form or another for more than 25 years, but they keep evolving and getting better, and are now thought of as workforce optimization (WFO). WFO suites and most of their eight modules—recording, quality assurance, workforce management, agent coaching, e-learning, surveying, performance management, and speech analytics—sell well in good economic times and continue to sell, albeit at a slower rate, during tough times. These suites sell so well because they help contact center managers achieve their four primary goals: improving productivity and reducing operating expenses; decreasing customer attrition; increasing revenue; and providing an outstanding customer experience.

The WFO market is the third-largest sector in the contact center technology market, behind only sales of core routing and queuing solutions (often referred to as the automatic call distributor) and interactive voice response systems. Revenue for the WFO sector was $1.3 billion in the first half of 2008; contact centers accounted for 38 percent of that total, or $507 million.

What Makes Workforce Optimization Unique
The most widely used module of these solutions—recording—is mostly a commodity. The second core module—quality assurance—has been around for more than 25 years, yet has not achieved commodity status because the vendors keep enhancing it with high-value innovations.

Then, there is workforce management (WFM)—the latest module to be added to the WFO suites, but the second-oldest application in the contact center market—which is needed by any contact center with 20 or more agents. The WFM market is considered relatively mature—some of these solutions have been around for more than 30 years—but the contact center WFM concept would benefit from a major overhaul to improve the accuracy of its algorithms and the usability of the applications. (Many of the newer WFM applications are designed to address usability concerns, but there is still great opportunity to enhance the underlying math that these applications use to forecast and schedule.)

E-learning is a great concept, one that could really benefit contact centers. Unfortunately, the original vendors were so far off the mark that many contact center managers lost interest. With service quality and agent knowledge so tightly bound, though, it’s a good idea for contact centers to invest in these solutions. E-learning helps develop agent-focused content and training programs while also facilitating planning and delivery of information. The early e-learning vendors overpriced their offerings, but in the last few years a few vendors have introduced products that have been better received, and these solutions have slowly and quietly seen increased adoption. The unique training challenges introduced by the at-home-agent movement are likely to speed up the penetration of e-learning offerings.

WFO suites also include a number of additional high-value modules—coaching, surveying (enterprise feedback management), contact center performance management (CCPM), and speech analytics—that have captured the attention of end users, particularly in North America. The adoption rates for these new modules vary, but all have already proven that they can deliver great value. Even better, enterprise feedback management and speech analytics are extending beyond the contact center to deliver great benefits to other parts of the enterprise, including operations, sales, marketing, and even the executive suite.

Market Competitors
The WFO technology sector is a global market with more than 45 competitors, and wide variation in the solutions, pricing, and vendor specialties. The competitive landscape continues to change, driven by industry consolidation, ongoing globalization, new entrants, and innovation. Despite the dominance of the two market leaders—NICE Systems and Verint Systems—many of the other vendors have strong and differentiated offerings designed to meet the needs of contact centers of all sizes. This market gives each prospective buyer significant opportunity to acquire, at an affordable price point, a solution that meets specific needs. Users also have many options for acquiring these solutions: They can buy, use hosting, or go with a managed-care offering.

Many of the WFO competitors have strong offerings that will satisfy the needs of enterprises large and small, though functional differences between the solutions remain. There is no question that NICE and Verint have suites that are deeper and more functionally rich than those of any of the other players, but not every end-user organization needs all of these capabilities. Aspect Software, for example, has many of the modules that the leaders have, but not all of the capabilities within those modules. Other competitors with high-value solutions include CallCopy, Envision Telephony, Interactive Intelligence, KnoahSoft, OnviSource, TDI, and VPI.

Return on Investment
The 11 vendors that participated in our recent analysis were asked to provide the average number of months required for payback for a 250-seat single-site quality assurance/recording solution and for a recording-only solution. The purported payback period varied in length from one month to 12 months, although the majority of vendors cited a time frame of between six months and nine months.

During a recession it is especially essential to build a solid financial justification—in the form of a return on investment and/or total cost of ownership analysis—to improve the chances of obtaining approval for any new investment or technology upgrade. The investments most likely to be approved during tough economic times are those with quantifiable benefits from productivity savings and revenue generation. It’s important to find out the corporation’s approval thresholds for the payback period, net present value, and internal rate of return, before submitting the analysis. Be sure that the business case shows that the investment will exceed these thresholds.

The Future is Analytics
The future of contact centers will be driven by analytics, and the WFO vendors are expected to lead the introduction of analytics into these operating environments. These vendors have already made significant inroads with speech and real-time analytics, surveying and enterprise feedback management, and CCPM. All three modules give contact center managers and corporate executives tactical data to improve performance. They also deliver strategic findings that can enhance customer loyalty, increase revenue, identify new product ideas, capture competitive information, and a great deal more. The challenge is in knowing how to apply the critical findings throughout the enterprise.

Contact centers have always had a great deal of data, so much so that managers are often overwhelmed with details and frustrated by the lack of actionable information. This dynamic is changing, and analytics solutions are at the forefront of this revolution in leading-edge operating environments. Analytics converts volumes of detailed data into actionable recommendations, identifying real-time and historical (reactive) issues where contact centers and other departments can take action to build and enhance customer relationships.

Within five to 10 years, contact centers will evolve from being predominantly problem-solving or order-taking departments to being responsible for customer analytics and driving customer interaction strategy. This major transformation will be greatly facilitated by the analytical solutions delivered by the WFO vendors.

The Opportunity
End users can rapidly realize quantifiable benefits from using WFO suites or individual modules. The great news is that there are many good choices, with a range of capabilities and a variety of price points, but, to improve the chances of realizing the expected benefits, it’s important to know what’s available.

In January of this year, DMG Consulting released its annual Quality Assurance/Liability Recording Product and Market Report, designed to help users select the right solution for their environments. The report analyzes all aspects of a company’s strategy; revenue; products; functionality; technology; implementations; packaging; pricing; ability to execute; market activity and share; training and workshops; customer satisfaction ratings; strengths; weaknesses; vision; and future plans.

Donna Fluss (donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com) is founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, the leading provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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