Challenges in attracting and retaining talent and the need to effectively balance quality of service with efficiencies have created a need for more sophisticated Workforce Management teams. While Workforce Management optimization is essential for providing great customer service, it is always a balancing act. The Workforce Management team is tasked with driving scheduling efficiencies while carefully considering the needs of their associates. When approached in the right way, the front-line teams have sufficient time for coaching and development which drives First Contact Resolution, customer loyalty, and sales along with employee retention. Flexibility in staffing is crucial to ensure the right number of associates are available to handle customer contacts every half hour of the day, but it is also important to offer associates a consistent schedule. It’s essential to meet associate needs but not be too tight on the number of people scheduled. If scheduling is too tight and call volume comes in 5% higher than expected, there won’t be time for coaching, offline time, or meetings. If employees’ needs aren’t met, they will leave, and it can take up to 9 months from the time an employee leaves a contact center until a new hire is competently filling their role. The cost of attrition is substantial on many levels and is frequently not included in the overall financial health of an operation.
Workforce Managers have evolved into business consultants and operational leaders, providing expertise on demand forecasting, flexibility and resource management. Workforce Management is usually a shared services function either underneath or side-by-side with operations. Workforce Managers provide the data, the analytics, and the resource management services that ensure staffing levels are appropriate to handle the incoming volumes while also meeting the needs of the associates and the business. Most call centers have a dedicated Workforce Management team made up of 3 – 4 functional groups:
- Planning managers/planning analysts look at the data and answer questions such as: How much demand is there? How many contacts are anticipated based on trends, seasonality, and one-time events? What are the quantitative drivers of my contact volumes? How are the trends changing and what is the resulting impact on the future forecast? What is the handling time by contact channel and type? What is the channel optimization? How many contacts should be sent to the outsourcer? They forecast contact volumes by channels, handle times, and offline time which drives the resource requirements. They also interface with finance to align with the budget implications, HR to identify and plan for how many people to hire and when, and L&D to coordinate the training process.
- Scheduling teams are focused on the daily and half-hourly staffing requirements to ensure they have the right number of associates scheduled on any given day and hour to handle incoming contact volumes. They plan for absenteeism, meeting and training requirements, offline time, and coaching sessions. This function requires strong analytical expertise and some creativity to develop schedules and coverage that meet the needs of the customers, business, and associates. They also conduct regular rebid processes when required to rebalance the schedules. In summary, they ensure the right people are in the right place at the right time.
- The real-time management /command center team keeps an eye on the operation each and every day to make real-time adjustments as needed, to achieve the service level objectives and support the operation. They compare assigned schedule coverage and anticipated contact volumes to actuals and monitor the health of the routing and technical solutions. They make routing or resource management decisions to address unexpected surges in contact volume and determine when to offer overtime, coaching time, or voluntary time off to align with the actual trends as they happen. They determine the best way to move resources around to hit optimal service levels throughout the day and maximize associates’ development, coaching, and training time.
- The reporting and analytics team provides the operations and Workforce Management teams with the data they need to effectively manage the business. The data is comprehensive and structured in a way that it can be used for forecasting, trending, performance analysis, outlier analysis, and business insights, such as contact types, channel preferences, and business process issues. Reporting is critical to the success of the Workforce Management process across all functions.
Workforce Managers schedule not only for contact volume demand but also for shrinkage (in and out of office). Out-of-office shrinkage includes associates who are on vacation, leave of absence, or call in sick. In-office shrinkage includes customer follow up time, coaching, training, meetings, project work, and gaps in productivity. It is critical that the Workforce Management team proactively schedules and manages supervisors’ coaching time with their associates as that time is essential to ensure they are providing excellent quality to their customers and have time invested in their own development. This drives a great customer experience and high associate job satisfaction and retention.
Given the value that they provide, Workforce Management principles are also being applied to back office functions such as claims processing. The forecasting process is a little bit different for work activity than it is for contact volume, but the philosophy is the same. When the Workforce Management team has access to data from both the contact center and the back office, First Contact, and Issue Resolution can be increased. It also enables the team to see the drivers across the business, such as how many calls are driven by backlogs in the claims process or denied claims with large dollar amounts.
Inside sales functions are growing in many organizations. Customers no longer expect face-to-face sales calls, so more sales activity is being done over the phone. Workforce Management enables inside sales teams to make sure they are calling on the right customers. Workforce Managers make sure the team has enough time to make outbound calls and is also available for inbound calls as they don’t want to miss any sales opportunities and want to avoid playing voicemail tag. They make sure the team is always accessible and reliable. Balance is important in an inside sales function and Workforce Management drives that.
The services and support offered by the Workforce Management team in forecasting, scheduling, and real-time management ensure that operations run smoothly and that the right number of associates are available to handle customer contacts while also fostering an environment of customer-centricity, collaboration, and development. To learn more about the evolving role of Workforce Management and what it could mean to your company, contact us or read about it here.