It's Time to Do WFM Right

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The contact center workforce management (WFM) market is awakening. The recession-driven need to accelerate improvements in contact center efficiency made 2009 a relatively good year for this well-established technology sector, which often goes hand-in-hand with speech analytics. When a call goes to an agent, speech analytics tells why the caller transferreed out of the IVR, and managers can use that to increase the performance of the IVR and implement  staffing changes.

Contact center leaders have had a love/hate relationship with WFM solutions for years. Managers buy into the need for WFM, which is why 84.4 percent of participants in a recent DMG benchmarking study indicated WFM was mission-critical. However, more than 25 percent of enterprises have chosen not to purchase a third-party/packaged contact center WFM solution because of cost, complexity, often suboptimal accuracy, and challenges involved in applying recommendations. 

WFM vendors have been hearing complaints from contact center customers for years, but have done little to address their concerns. This is not because they don’t care about what their customers and prospects have to say. Many  of the vendors are well-aware of the challenges customers face in trying to use and implement solutions. The problem is that prior to 2008, revenue generated from WFM solutions was so modest that it limited vendor research and development budgets, which are generally based on a percentage of annual revenue. 

This situation started to improve in 2008 when workforce optimization (WFO) vendors that purchased stand-alone workforce management solutions to integrate into their suites started to make both R&D and marketing investments. Also, a larger number of contact centers started to purchase WFM solutions. 

WFM solutions are moving in the right direction, but the market still has a few major obstacles to overcome. To reach their full potential, WFM solutions must address three major challenges:

  1. System inaccuracy costs users a lot of money;
  2. WFM solutions are too hard to use; and
  3. WFM solutions are not doing a good job meeting the needs of multichannel contact centers.

Despite these known challenges, there is proven value in using a WFM solution. Any single-site contact center with more than 100 agents would benefit from WFM, as would any complex multichannel/multisite environment with more than 50 agents. The importance and benefits of using WFM increase with agent head count and site complexity. Even if WFM forecasts are not optimal, it would be far more challenging for contact centers to forecast their transaction volumes and create and assign schedules without an automated solution. 

During the past few years, WFM vendors have introduced innovations, such as agent self-service modules, to improve supervisor efficiency and empower agents with more control over their own schedules. While self-service modules do not fix the underlying problems in WFM solutions, they have proved highly effective in reducing the management burden and increasing agent satisfaction and retention. This also contributes to an improved customer experience—since happy agents communicate their enthusiasm to customers—and reductions in operating costs. 

Real-time adherence modules provide another valuable capability: They identify and measure when agents are or are not where they’re supposed to be. Though there are right and wrong ways to handle agent adherence issues, these modules are necessary for identifying and minimizing shrinkage in agent availability. 

A third important module and function is intraday management. These modules allow managers to reforecast staffing requirements as needed during the day. Intraday management is a great concept, but many WFM applications need enhancements to this feature, as reflected in DMG’s benchmarking study. 

Enterprises want to enhance their WFM practices, but they need help from vendors to effect change. The market needs better forecasting tools and applications that are easier to implement and use. In addition, contact center managers need to rethink how they apply WFM and deploy it more consistently and fairly. 

Donna Fluss is founder and president of DMG Consulting, a provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting services. She can be reached at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com.

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