Try a quick web search, and you’ll find pages of content answering the question, “What is WFM?”
But while many of the articles (and graphics and videos) provide some answers, they’re usually packed with industry jargon unfamiliar to most people. So, rather than help, all that information often leads to further confusion and misconceptions about workforce management in general, and specifically the agent scheduling process for contact centers.
The good news, though, is that, as someone who has worked in this field for years, I can tell you confidently that workforce management doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, you may already be using—and experiencing the benefits of—workforce management to:
- Control operational costs
- Optimize operational efficiency
- Boost employee productivity
- Optimize individual agent effectiveness
- Improve time management for your team
- Reduce gaps in coverage
- Increase customer satisfaction
You just may not have given it a name.
Fully understanding how it works will help clarify workforce management processes and crystallize the benefits of workforce management software and other workforce management solutions. So, let’s break it all down and clarify.
What Is WFM?
Workforce management, or WFM, is actually quite simple. It’s all about supply meeting demand.
You probably learned about the concept of supply and demand as far back as high school economics class. Supply and demand is a straightforward concept, and it’s at the heart of workforce management and employee productivity.
Whether you are working in a CX center, support desk, or retail store, the process comes down to a fundamental human resource management question: “Do you have enough supply (individual employees) to handle expected demand (customer contact volume)?”
Effective workforce management systems address—and can potentially improve—the following key performance indicators:
- Staffing levels
- Employee experience
- Customer experience
- Agent workload
- Team productivity
- Labor costs
Workforce Management Is About Effective Scheduling
While those of us who work in customer support centers may think about our approach to workforce management and enterprise resource planning in the context of what we do to manage our daily operations and the productivity levels on our customer experience teams, you can easily apply the concept across any business working toward the goal of a highly productive workforce—arguably any business’ most valuable asset.
If you create staff schedules based on future workload forecasts, the availability of experienced workers, and past and current contact volume, you’re familiar with the application of workforce management—even without using workforce management software or other formal workforce management tools. With this approach to scheduling, you’re managing a key aspect of supply and demand by ensuring your customer support center is operating with sufficient experienced staff (supply) to handle demand (customer need) in order to avoid poor customer experience.
Even if your job isn’t to manage the availability of workers in a contact center, if you have followed a schedule in your own job to meet some kind of demand, you have experienced the foundational concept of workforce management. If you have visited a retail store at peak hours during the holidays, you have seen the concept of workforce management in your daily life, in real-time, especially if that store was operating without enough experienced staff. If you have been scheduled to attend two meetings at the same time, then you’re familiar with making a real-time adjustment to scheduling to meet demand.
All of that is workforce management.
Related Article: 7 Proven Ways to Manage Contact Center Agent Staffing Shortages
How Does Workforce Management Apply To Our Daily Lives?
Here’s an example of managing supply and demand in daily life: I once had a manager who predicts how many trick-or-treaters he will have each year for Halloween (volume forecasting), based on thirty-minute increments.
He counts the children as they approach (actual volume). And at the end of the night, he reviews his forecast to determine accuracy (forecast versus actuals) and subtracts any candy he consumed himself (shrinkage). At the end of the night, he compares all the valuable insights from the evening to previous years to determine year-over-year changes. The entire process is done with real-time data.
Now, you may say, “This guy sounds pretty intense.” And, yes, maybe so. But the entire process he uses is helpful to him in practical application. It predicts the amount of candy he needs for future years–saving money and saving himself from personally consuming surplus supply.
And, when he shared his findings with our team, we always enjoyed hearing his forecast vs. actual Halloween results. It was a good reminder of the importance and nuances of what we do every day.
Workforce Management In Your Contact Center
Now, let’s apply the key aspect of the candy example to the concept of workforce management in a customer service center as it relates directly to employee schedules.
In a typical contact center, you have agents with particular skills (proficiency in a given language, for example), queues (chat, email, voice, etc.) and workstreams (the work required for a given customer interaction). As you build out accurate forecasts based on contact volume, you need to think through, and make many assumptions, for two types of customer interactions: queues that almost any agent can handle and more complex ones.
The less-complex, first-level queues may include straightforward account balance inquiries that do not require a specialized skill set or highly experienced workers. The more complex ones, however, often require a specific skill—a second language by a group of specialized individual team members, for example.
Managing Intraday Adjustments
Another important component of employee scheduling is adjusting for unforecasted changes that require on-the-fly scheduling pivots, called intraday adjustment. This could include severe weather or widespread illness affecting your staffing levels, or a massive service outage affecting all customers and drastically increasing volume.
According to DMG Consulting, for a customer service center to adjust its staffing levels rapidly enough to keep up with unexpected changes, it’s essential to have a WFM solution with an intraday management module that adapts to the unpredictability of daily business in real time. Based on your contact center’s history, are you adequately equipped to handle intraday adjustments?
Here’s a simple tip regarding intraday adjustments: Always normalize the data (i.e., make the day appear as close to typical as possible) when there is an unexpected event related to customer demand or staffing. This won’t skew the data for the next year, which is especially important if you know the event is unlikely to occur again in the next year.
What Affects Workforce Planning In A Contact Center?
As you determine your forecast for a given time period, you not only need to view and understand your two primary types of queues, but you also must consider these other important components of workforce planning:
- Agent skill set
- Agent hourly availability
- Communication channels
- Historical volumes
- Future contact volumes
- Attrition rate (average percentage of employees leaving, either voluntarily or involuntarily)
- Scheduled leave (vacation time, FMLA / medical leave, extended leaves, etc.)
- Patterns of overtime
- Late arrivals
- Scheduled time for meetings, trainings, one-on-ones, coaching sessions
- Shrinkage (unexpected time off, including people calling in sick)
This is certainly an intimidating list. That’s because it combines the need to account for and forecast contact volume and match it with the skills needed to deliver optimal customer experience.
Are Spreadsheets Effective for Workforce Management?
The greatest difficulty for customer service center department heads is that they must predict human behavior (i.e., the volume of customer contacts and the time of contact) then align it with predictions of agent behavior (i.e., will everyone work the shifts scheduled?), and combine both with all the nuances of scheduling and availability.
Some workforce managers may build out all of this complexity in spreadsheets. But it is extremely difficult to manually predict multiple channels of contact accurately in spreadsheets, and it doesn’t allow for real-time adjustments. So the question is: When does a WFM Software solution make sense for a customer support center?
Related Article: What is Workforce Engagement Management? (And Why It Matters)
Beyond Spreadsheets: Why Does A Contact Center Need a Workforce Management Solution?
While spreadsheets and other manual processes may work for some customer service centers, they were not designed for the inherent complexities of its specialized operations. The use of spreadsheets can lead to operating with misguided “rules” such as mandatory overtime and/or consistent under- or over-staffing. That’s because it makes the process of forecasting and scheduling manual and imprecise. With spreadsheets, you simply don’t know, and can’t correct, what you can’t see.
Related Article: 5 WFM Scheduling Tips to Make the Most of Your Agents
For example, I once implemented a workforce management solution into a department that previously had none in place. Prior to the implementation, the department had been working under mandatory overtime for five years. It was struggling to meet its basic metrics and service-level agreements, such as responding to customers within a certain period of time and decreased abandonment rates.
Within one year of implementing formal workforce management processes and procedures, the time to answer decreased by 77%, meaning the customer who was calling, texting, or chatting waited less time to reach a live person. At the same time, the service level (how quickly a contact or call was answered in a given timeframe) improved by 42%. Finally, abandons (how many people give up and abandon a call or chat session) decreased by 21%.
The need for overtime was eliminated completely within two years of implementation and saved the company over $100,000 in overtime costs in just one year. This is a single example of what an effective workforce management solution, plus good processes and procedures can do for a business.
The right workforce management solution can make the difference between surviving and thriving. Download our eBook to learn how to build a business case.
Playvox Can Help
With the correct workforce management solution for your customer support center, and following the most effective practices and procedures, you can:
- Predict your future needs
- Schedule staff to meet current and future needs
- Run your business more efficiently
Schedule a demo today to discover how Playvox Workforce Management can answer, “What is WFM?” and help your customer service and support team thrive.