Forecasting in the Modern Digital Contact Center

Can Your WFM Solution Accurately Forecast In A Modern Digital Contact Center?

Let’s face it, the call center of yesteryear is not wholly relevant when looking at customer service operations today. 

Even the terms “call center” and “contact center” are called into question, given the images they evoke of rows of agents in cubicles lined up to fill a room. For convenience, I’ll use the term “contact center,” but what does a modern contact center or customer support center look like?

More and more, businesses are leveling up their customer experience and employee experience game. They’re offering digital contact options to customers, supporting fully remote workforces, and engaging staff in new and different ways to ensure team members are supported and happy.

There has also been a push in acknowledging the effect that agent empowerment and engagement have on the service that organizations ultimately provide to their customers.

Can Your WFM Solution Accurately Forecast In A Modern Digital Contact Center? Digital Contact Center

What Is A Digital Contact Center?

When Playvox works with our customers and future advocates, we may occasionally come across a telephone-only operation. However, that has become the exception rather than the rule. It’s much more common that we see contact centers incorporating digital channels like live chat, email, ticketing, and social media. 

Many have shifted so that digital channels make up the bulk of their customer contacts. We have even seen some companies that don’t offer a voice channel as an option at all. Research by customer service and experience expert Shep Hyken shows that 41% of customers prefer digital first and the phone second — a number that increases every year.

In this new world, it’s critical to understand the impact of being able to forecast accurately when voice makes up a much smaller portion of overall traffic for a customer experience center. 

Related Article: The Human Side of Workforce Management

All Digital Channels Are Not Created Equal

When we think about digital channels, it’s important to note that digital channels are not all the same and must be handled differently. 

Customer interactions can typically be categorized as either synchronous or asynchronous.

  • A synchronous interaction is a “live” interaction between two parties both conversing at the same time with a clear start and end time. This includes phone calls, live chat, video chat, or real-time messaging. 
  • An asynchronous interaction is an interaction where two parties interact with each other without both needing to be concurrently active in the conversation. These interactions are open-ended, can start and stop at irregular intervals, and can be resumed at a later time. Examples include email, SMS, tickets, and social media messaging like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. 
Can Your WFM Solution Accurately Forecast In A Modern Digital Contact Center? Digital Contact Center

Many messaging platforms (as well as modern CRMs and customer support solutions) are able to support both synchronous and asynchronous messaging, and many omnichannel contact center solutions allow a single customer inquiry to move across multiple channels. That’s important to customers — globally, 71% of consumers surveyed by Zendesk said that they expect a company to share information so they don’t have to repeat themselves when moving across channels.

By supporting both synchronous and asynchronous interactions, companies are giving their customers the flexibility to make contact when, where, and how it suits them.

That’s great for customers, but a contact center or customer experience center needs to plan and schedule appropriately to service these different types of interactions, or it can quickly turn into a negative experience for everyone.

Related Article: How To Manage Customer Interactions In Any Channel

Why Is Forecasting Different With Digital Channels?

Introducing multi-channel operations and digital channels to your contact center is certainly the way to align with the future of customer experience. However, doing so creates some challenges when it comes to forecasting and planning, and each type of channel has its own unique requirements. 

It’s important to note that not all WFM solutions are built to accommodate these requirements. When selecting a workforce management (WFM) solution as part of your overall Workforce Engagement Management (WEM) strategy, it’s critical to select a platform that takes these differences into account.

Taken on their own, synchronous channels like voice fit nicely into more traditional forecasting models that incorporate volumes and arrival patterns, simple average handle times, and target service levels to calculate staffing requirements.

Live chat largely follows a similar model, but introduces an element of concurrency (e.g. how many chats an agent can work at one time) that must be accounted for above and beyond what voice channels require. 

If you’re running on spreadsheets or using a legacy WFM solution, it’s possible you’re handling these interactions without many issues. Asynchronous channels are a bit more complex, though.

Let’s take an email, web form, or ticket as an example. When a customer writes in, you’ll typically have a service-level target for the first reply to the customer (the First Answer) to ensure your team is getting back to customers in a timely manner.

Can Your WFM Solution Accurately Forecast In A Modern Digital Contact Center? Digital Contact Center

Of course, it’s possible that this initial reply resolves the customer inquiry (the First Solve or First Contact Resolution) – an ideal situation. But that’s often not the case. There can be a bit of back and forth with the customer before it’s resolved. And what about omnichannel environments, where customer interactions can move across channels? 

A customer’s phone call or live chat may automatically be converted to a ticket in your system for further investigation, internal collaboration with other departments, and ultimately, resolution. Similar to asynchronous interactions, in this scenario, there’s a First Answer component (the call/chat), and a First Solve component (when the resulting ticket is resolved).

Related Podcast: Live Human Conversations in the Digital Age: How do Call Centers Navigate This Mismatch

Average Handle Time

Most traditional WFM solutions and forecasting methodologies are built around using a single Average Handle Time (AHT) for interactions to forecast the amount of effort required to address incoming volume. That works for a phone call or live chat on their own, but when you’re dealing with digital, multi-channel interactions, which part of the interaction should AHT refer to? All of them? Just the phone call or chat? 

It also calls into question how you label the resulting ticket from a multi-channel interaction. You can start to see where simply having one AHT for multi-channel interactions is limiting at best. You’re missing out on the nuance of where and when effort is being expended.

Staffing accurately for omnichannel interactions requires a granular tracking and breakdown of activity that most WFM solutions were just not designed to capture. Legacy WFM solutions were built when voice and synchronous channels were the only channels in use. Digital interactions weren’t even on the horizon, and trying to retrofit this capability into a dated technology stack is a tall order.

Playvox WFM, on the other hand, was created in the digital age and was designed to fully support omnichannel and asynchronous interactions. 

Whether your contact center is supporting tickets/cases only, asynchronous messaging, live chat, voice calls, back office work, or whatever combination works for your business, Playvox was built to handle any channel. 

Related Article: Improve Contact Center Productivity with WFM Software

How To Forecast Accurately In A Digital Contact Center

As we’ve covered, when you’re building a forecasting model and staffing profile for multi-channel or asynchronous interactions, you should consider and incorporate at least two separate milestones: the first response (First Answer) and the resolution (First Solve).

To forecast staffing needs appropriately, it’s important to track the Average Handle Time to the first response as well as the Average Handle Time to the resolution. Doing so allows you to individually quantify the effort to reach each of these milestones.

In addition, you’ll want to incorporate the timing for each of these milestones based on your business hours. 

You may have a service level target of 4 hours to reply to a customer, and a service level target of 24 hours to resolve a customer concern. You may also have a service level target of 60 seconds to answer a call or chat, and a service level target of 8 hours to close off any associated tickets or cases. Whatever the case may be, applying the appropriate AHT or effort to the relevant milestone gets you a lot closer to an effective model.

Customer interactions often require assistance from other teams or departments to be resolved. If you’re not aware of and planning for this assistance, those other teams and departments may quickly find themselves overworked and understaffed. Clearly, there’s a lot of time and effort associated with tracking, calculating, and applying all of this to a forecast and staffing profile. 

Can Your WFM Solution Accurately Forecast In A Modern Digital Contact Center? Digital Contact Center

If your WFM solution natively collects all of these data points and can automatically turn them into accurate forecasting and staffing projections, it’ll make your life a lot easier. 

Related Article: How WFM Tools Create Success for Omnichannel Contact Centers

Can Your WFM Solution Accurately Forecast In A Modern Digital Contact Center? Digital Contact Center

Is Your Current WFM Solution Meeting The Needs Of Your Digital Contact Center?

With a spreadsheet, professionals in the workforce management space must spend a great deal of time pulling data together manually to build complex forecasts and schedules. Additionally, those with a WFM solution that wasn’t built for the digital age are likely not leveraging the full benefit of their progressive contact center approach.

As they scale, many companies like Afterpay, SeatGeek, and Zendesk are moving to advanced WFM solutions like Playvox WFM to automate and improve their operations. 

Implementing a WFM solution built to handle digital, asynchronous interactions means less manual work for your team, more accurate scheduling, and an improved customer experience. See it for yourself — request a demo and we’ll show you the impact Playvox can have on your contact center.

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