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Workforce management software in contact centers: Pros and cons

Workforce management software can help contact centers run more efficiently, but it's not a panacea for cost savings.

Contact centers are typically viewed as revenue drains and cost centers. So the goal of contact center technology...

is to improve the customer experience and reduce expenses. Labor remains the biggest area contact centers strive to cut costs as it typically accounts for 60% to 70% of day-to-day expenses. With agents and managers standing as critical players between an organization and its customers, companies are eyeing more efficient practices to help them scale and allocate resources effectively.

Workforce management software can help by matching supply with demand, ensuring that staffing is scaled according to the contact center's busiest and slowest times. Building upon historical data with key future business assumptions, such as new product launches, a workforce management system forecasts the future workload for a contact center.

The total demand depends on a combination of many factors, including customer transactions, organic business growth and new product launches. Once a contact center establishes demand, workforce management software is based on key assumptions, such as average handle time, training needs and personal time off policy, to identify how many agents a contact center needs to handle the workload at any given time. Optimal results are difficult to achieve in a multichannel environment -- where agents attend to customer needs on the phone, over email, on social platforms and so forth -- but, in the end, workforce management it is still about matching supply and demand.

Here are some key benefits and drawbacks to avoid when using workforce management software:

Key benefits

It can help meet service-level goals. Customers want a quick response to queries and issues. As mentioned previously, contact center responsiveness is often measured by service level, or the percentage of calls answered over time. Workforce management software applies rigorous statistical analysis to key pieces of historical data and can predict staffing requirements for a contact center to attain the target service level.

It can improve staffing efficiency. You don't have to make sweeping staffing changes to make the contact center more efficient. Even small changes can reduce operating expenses. Workforce management software maximizes the amount of time agents interact with customers and minimizes idle time by aligning agent schedules with customer demand.

It can promote staff effectiveness. Contact center agents are on the front lines; they deal most directly with customers. So they must be well-trained and have excellent customer service skills to be effective. Workforce management software identifies times when agents are available for coaching sessions or training so that they can improve skills without negatively affecting service levels.

It can formalize the planning process. Workforce management planning is a disciplined process that includes several steps, including budgeting, forecasting, staffing and scheduling. A subset of these steps is making assumptions about the future of the business. These assumptions account for many different areas of the business, such as identifying new products or services, major IT initiatives, changes to HR policies or anything that might affect customer demands or processing efficiency. Even the shift-bidding process can benefit from workforce management by having a process where agents can select schedules based on quality of performance or seniority.

Key drawbacks

Workforce management software can become a scapegoat for not hitting service-level goals.

It can be a false explanation for missed service levels. Workforce management software can become a scapegoat for not hitting service-level goals. If volumes missed the projected mark or average handle time was higher than anticipated, projections may be written off as too dependent on historical data or faulty assumptions generated by the system.

But experienced contact center leadership knows that attaining service-level goals is 80% science and 20% art and luck. A workforce management system provides merely the roadmap on how to attain a service-level target. It is still critical for real-time, day-to-day monitoring of important indicators to understand how to make the appropriate adjustments.

It can create unrealistic cost savings expectations. When new technology is implemented, there is an expectation of a corresponding cost reduction. If service levels are not met prior to the implementation of a workforce management system, don't expect to see the savings roll in once the technology goes live.

There is a critical relationship to keep in mind: The higher the service level, the higher the cost. Answering 80% of calls in 20 seconds, for example, will cost more than answering the same number of calls in 30 seconds. Beware of vendors trying to sell the financial benefits of workforce management software too aggressively.

It does not make up for a staffing shortfall. Workforce management is a model matching supply and demand. If the model says that there is a need for 100 full-time agents and there are only 90 currently on staff, a contact center won’t achieve its service levels because there is not enough staff to satisfy the model's requirements. It is not a tool that guarantees a service level target will be achieved.

It should not be used to move customers to various channels. Customers use the communication channel in which they feel most comfortable. They should not be forced to use an alternate channel because they cannot get effective service in the preferred one. Workforce management software should not be used to understaff one channel with the hope of moving customers to others. If organizations want to drive customers to specific channels, the channel must become popular with customers based off its own merits and usefulness.

Next Steps

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This was last published in June 2015

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