Workforce Optimization Solutions Help Companies Through the Pandemic and Beyond
DUE TO THE COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 will go down in the history books as an especially arduous year for economies and companies worldwide. But most have persevered, and some will be stronger due to the changes driven by the public health crisis. Contact centers in particular have been dramatically impacted by the pandemic, as have most, if not all, departments in public and private institutions and organizations. The pandemic, together with the ongoing digital transformation, is yielding many positive changes in contact centers. It has accelerated many transformations that needed to happen in enterprises and their front-office servicing departments by as much as two to four years, with the following impactful changes:
- the migration of employees from the office to the home;
- the adoption of video as a primary communication channel;
- the adoption of digital channels and a digital-first servicing mind-set;
- the mass acceptance of self-service solutions to the point where they are the preferred channel; and
- the transition of contact center technology from on-premises to the cloud.
In 2020, contact centers around the world demonstrated their agility and flexibility as they successfully moved thousands of agents to their homes to keep them safe and healthy. Companies and government agencies that had already migrated to contact-center-as-a-service (CCaaS) solutions made the transition more easily than those using premises-based automatic call distributors (ACDs) and dialers, but both groups were ultimately successful. The question now is what is going to happen to contact centers once it is safe for employees to return to the office. Are executives going to move their people back, require them to continue to work from home, or a mix of the two approaches?
THE NEXT PHASE FOR WFO: ADAPTING TO THE NEEDS OF DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
As contact centers underwent this transition, the workforce optimization (WFO)/workforce engagement management (WEM) sector was adapting as well, as a significant amount of R&D and innovation happened over the past 12 months. WFO vendors have invested in most aspects of their solutions, including adding artificial intelligence and machine learning components, building deeper integrations to acquired capabilities, enhancing and simplifying administration environments, updating and improving user interfaces for agents and supervisors, building out use cases for real-time speech analytics, and introducing or redoing workforce management (WFM) solutions, just to mention a few.
All of this investment and innovation points to the WFO market adapting to the needs of digitally transformed organizations. Managers in most small or midsize contact centers, and many large ones, have migrated or are in the process of moving to CCaaS solutions. These operations and technology leaders expect their CCaaS vendor to function as their general contractor and make available most of the applications that they need to manage their contact centers, including WFO capabilities.
There is also growing interest in opening up WFO opportunities in branches and back-office operating environments. The addressable market for these enterprise functions is substantially larger than for contact centers; the challenge is to come up with offerings that are a good fit for these functions. Back-office managers want the benefits of WFO suites but also need them to come with features that address the needs of their vertical.
WFO vendors have performed acceptably during the pandemic, as is reflected by the increase in total company revenue of 1.7 percent, from $1.8 billion in the first half of 2019 to $1.9 billion in the same period of 2020. The increase, although small, is better than a decrease, which many IT sectors experienced, and reflects the continued need and appetite for WFO solutions in both good and tough economic times. The contact center component of the WFO market performed very well during these trying times. Total contact center WFO revenue grew from $963.7 million to $1 billion, an increase of 7.6 percent, during the same time period. This is outstanding, given the maturity of this sector and the economic slowdown brought about by the pandemic. The reason for this growth is that many WFO solutions provide visibility into employee and company performance, something that is not readily available from other applications.
POST-COVID-19 CONTACT CENTERS
As we haven’t quite reached the end of the pandemic, no one yet knows what the future will bring for enterprises and their contact centers. DMG encourages companies to use this time to build plans and start making essential changes to prepare for a better future. The five major changes listed at the outset are all activities that need to happen and should become phases in most organizations’ digital transformations. If these changes have not been accomplished or are not part of your enterprise’s digital transformation plans, you must add them, as all are necessary for every organization. DMG expects to see innovative contact centers take the following actions, once the pandemic is past:
- Interview a large number of your employees—agents, supervisors, managers, quality management (QM) specialists, WFM administrators, operations, etc.—and document what worked and what was not as effective as it should have been during the time they worked from home.
- Develop an updated contact center staffing plan. It should include decisions about the percentage of employees who will be allowed or required to work from home, by category (agents, supervisors, managers, QM specialists, WFM administrators, operations). It should also address the use of part-timers and how hiring, training, and onboarding will be handled in the future.
- Review and update all training programs to make them effective for both at-home and on-site employees; DMG recommends that companies consider new approaches for training at-home employees.
- Build a disaster recovery/business continuity plan that takes into consideration the need for employees to work from home for an extended period of time.
- Create a formal work-from-home program (or enhance an existing one) that addresses all of the issues and opportunities identified when contact center employees worked remotely.
- Review all operational aspects of the contact center and identify activities that can be fully or partially automated with appropriate applications. This should include automating the QM process with an analytics-enabled QM system.
- Review all policies and procedures and update them. Once the systems and applications are updated and/ or replaced, review and enhance the policies and procedures associated with each of the systems to enable the department to realize all benefits.
- Evaluate existing self-service solutions to determine if they are as effective as they should be and if they are meeting the needs of your customers. If not, add this to the technology road map.
- Review all forecasting and scheduling applications and policies to determine if they were as effective as they should have been during the pandemic and digital transformation. If not, add the need for a new WFM application to the technology road map.
- Conduct an assessment of all contact center technology and systems and identify those that need to be updated or replaced, as well as new applications that will enhance the performance of the department.
- Create a technology/system road map that lays out the system and application changes for the next five years. This plan should include migrating systems to the cloud, as long as this is allowed by IT.
This is a partial list of activities that should occur, and the order will vary based on the needs of each organization. DMG recommends moving quickly to identify the magnitude and cost of each of these highly interrelated activities. All 11 of these items should be part of every enterprise and contact center’s digital transformation. The pandemic has identified some of the operational opportunities for contact centers, such as the previously limited use of work-from-home employees, but there is nothing on this list of priorities that is solely a result of the pandemic. The underlying driver of these enhancements is digital transformation and delivering an outstanding customer experience.
As these digital transformations continue apace, DMG expects the WFO market to continue to execute adequately in 2021. Contact center and enterprise managers need these solutions to understand what is happening in their department and throughout the company, as well as with their customers. The cycle of success in the WFO market will go on, even as smaller vendors continue to be acquired.
Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting, is highly regarded as one of the foremost experts on contact centers and the back office, and specializes in digital transformation, artificial intelligence and automation. With 30 years of experience helping organizations build highly effective operating environments and assisting vendors to deliver competitive solutions, Fluss created DMG Consulting to deliver unparalleled and unbiased research, analysis, and consulting services. Fluss is a renowned speaker, author, and source for industry and business publications. She can be reached at Donna.Fluss@dmgconsult.com.