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New Workforce Management Transfers Power to Agents

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In DMG’s 30-plus years of working with and covering all things contact center, we are hard-pressed to find a technology that has undergone as significant a paradigm shift as the workforce management (WFM) sector. The fundamental purpose and function of WFM remains the same, but the means to the end is vastly different. There’s been a transfer of power, as WFM has evolved from a dictatorship to a democracy. The new generation of WFM solutions gives agents unprecedented visibility into and control over their schedules so they can create a work-life balance.

But for contact centers, the surrender of power over agent schedules is far from a defeat. They are realizing multiple benefits, including reduced operating costs, optimized scheduling, improved performance, decreased staff attrition, and an engaged and committed workforce that is willing to do what it takes to assume ownership of issues and keep customers happy.

FLEX STAFFING SPELLS THE END OF THE FIXED SHIFT

Fixed shifts are becoming an anachronism. Contact centers are nontraditional operating environments; they need to optimally staff on a 24/7/365 basis, including weekends and holidays. At the same time, contact center staff members want what workers in other departments have always had: the flexibility to maintain a work-life balance. Practically, it does not make sense to attempt to staff this type of operating environment today using a traditional fixed-shift approach. As contact center attrition rates attest, it’s a recipe for failure.

Leading WFM solutions have re-imagined the fixed-shift staffing paradigm, and the alternative is flex staffing. Flex staffing/scheduling is the antithesis of fixed shifts. With flex staffing, agents are empowered to create their own schedules by entering in their availability and preferred times to work. Work periods can be defined in terms of start/end times, days worked/off, preferred activities (e.g., calls in the morning, email or chat in the afternoon), and break/meal period rules. This may mean a morning shift one day, a night shift on another day, and a split shift on the day after that. Alternatively, agents can build their schedule by selecting the days and hours they want to work from a master list of available work hours, based on the number of people needed per hour. With either approach, agents have control over when they want to work.

OLD SCHOOL VS. NEW WAVE

Contact centers need the ability to rapidly respond to real-time conditions. Inevitably, “variances to plan” occur and result in staffing deficits that jeopardize service-level goals and, more importantly, positive customer outcomes. To be successful, companies need WFM solutions that are self-adjusting and adapt in real time to volatile demand and resources, enabling enterprises to bridge the gap between forecasts and reality. Adaptive real-time scheduling software provides this functionality in WFM solutions by automating the intraday management challenge. Adaptive real-time scheduling identifies when the service level is inadequate, re-forecasts for the remainder of the day, determines the skills and resources required to address the new projections, and then executes the necessary changes to schedules to “acquire” the needed employees, or to notify agents that they can leave early.

Life happens, and agents also experience “variances to plan.” They need to be able to adjust their schedules in real time in response to unanticipated events. Agent self-service portals, enhanced mobile self-service capabilities, or mobile apps provide a vehicle for agents to trade shifts, swap hours, request vacation, request time off, or, better yet, offset the missed hours from one day by exchanging them with hours on another day when the contact center needs them. Agents with a personal emergency no longer need to be penalized with an absence, tardiness incident, or lost vacation day just because they need to come in an hour or two later than scheduled.

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