• July 30, 2002
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Workforce Optimization

At a time when Web self-help tools are the craze, Blue Pumpkin Software Inc. is focusing on improving human interaction. The company today announced two additions to its workforce optimization suite of products -- Activity Manager and Advisor. The suite, unlike Web self-help tools, is designed to optimize employee management and performance processes that drive customer loyalty and corporate profitability. "Web self-help tools are really important to help facilitate customers helping themselves for simple things. But people aren't typically very patient. For complex issues they're going to want to talk to someone," says Tiffany Riley, vice president of marketing for Blue Pumpkin. Workforce management, which began to build traction in the mid-1990s is designed to manage agents and employees in the contact center by balancing their skills and their time. Workforce optimization, which grew out of workforce management, provides managers with information on what their agents and customers need, says Lisa Hager-Duncan, a customer service and support strategies analyst at Gartner Inc. Some of the typical problems that organizations continually face are time management issues. Employees and managers are so thoroughly submerged in their work that it's a struggle to get their heads above water. As a result, they increase their staff and book gobs of overtime they were not planning for, Riley says. That's why Blue Pumpkin added Activity Manager to the product suite. The software provides time and activity assessment by measuring what employees are doing, how people get paid according to that, and if they are spending their time well. One Blue Pumpkin customer, Musician's Friend Inc., a music gear provider, had a difficult time calculating how employees were spending their time. The music gear company was experiencing adherences issues, where employees were not doing what their schedules dictated. To keep better tabs on how its employees spend their days, Musician's Friend beta tested Activity Manager. Now employees double click on their schedule to tell the system when they're working and when they step away from their desk. They log off for lunch and breaks and log in when they come back. "This reduces payroll losses. So the company is not losing money to people who aren't working. It also makes sure people are adhering to their schedules," Riley says. As a result, Musician's Friend realized a total return on investment of more than $400,000 in roughly nine months, Riley adds. "It's all about making sure you have the right people." Just because an employee is at his desk does not mean he's working either. So, Blue Pumpkin executives maintain it is imperative to accurately measure employee performance levels as well. Blue Pumpkin's workforce optimization application, called Advisor, does this by pulling together the appropriate metrics to view and manage performance. "In the past there were just so many applications coming into the call center it was hard to focus on what companies should go with first. Workforce optimization is coming more into the forefront," Hager-Duncan says. "There's an increased awareness of workforce optimization, especially where people are the frontline contact to customers. It's important to maximize how well agents handle the call so customers don't call multiple times to resolve the issue." "Most of our customers see a return on investment in six to nine months in the 300 to 400 percent range," Riley states.
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