Managing forecasting, scheduling, and agent productivity in a call center is a lot like searching for the fountain of youth. We try different serums and potions, yet somehow wake up with new wrinkles.
While we don’t have a roadmap to the proverbial fountain, we can help steer you in the right direction for better call center workforce management (WFM). Read on for a complete guide on how to improve operational efficiency and deliver a better customer experience (CX) through WFM.
What is Workforce Management for Call Centers?
Call center workforce management is the art and science of having the right number of agents available at the right times to answer an accurately forecasted volume of incoming customer contacts at the service level standard set by a contact center while minimizing cost. If that’s a mouthful, think of it as ensuring the right agents are in the right place at the right time.
The key functions of contact center workforce management are:
- Long-term capacity planning
- Interaction volume forecasting
- Staff scheduling
- Intraday management
Historically call center managers maintained spreadsheets for agent forecasting and scheduling. This meant constant, real-time adjustments when demand for customer support surged and/or agents’ availability shifted.
As customer interactions and support have become more complex, and contact centers provide omnichannel support, call center leaders need a better way to maximize agent performance, gain operational efficiencies, and deliver an outstanding customer service experience. Modern, AI-powered WFM solutions, together with the right WFM strategies and processes, do the heavy lifting when spreadsheets and manual processes can no longer keep up.
Why is Workforce Management Important in the Call Center?
When WFM is effective, team members deliver outstanding customer experience and positive outcomes while maximizing productivity and performance. But getting to this nirvana is no picnic.
Key call center workforce management challenges include:
- Supporting hybrid and remote work environments
- Providing omnichannel customer support, including phone, text, and email
- The need for speed, where customers want a fast response and first call or contact resolution
- Continuously improving CX and meeting call center service level agreements (SLAs)
- Creating an outstanding employee experience (EX) to boost agent productivity, employee satisfaction, and retention
- Keeping operating costs down
Sounds daunting? WFM to the rescue.
As a practice, workforce management can improve multiple contact center KPIs, including the challenges listed above. These include staffing levels, employee experience, customer experience, agent workloads, team productivity, team morale, and the cost of labor.
Ultimately the goal of workforce management is to maintain the tricky tightrope act of accurately forecasting the right number of agents to meet the required workload–using the fewest number of labor hours without sacrificing CX or EX.
Workforce management software is one of the most important call center efficiency solutions available. Organizations can reduce staff-related costs by up to 20% with minimal impact on service levels and customer experience.
How To Create A Culture Of Candor In A Customer Support Center
A culture of candor is created from the top down. Leaders must set the tone for everyone else to follow. If you’re honest, open, and regularly admit to errors or blindspots, you’ll give your staff the confidence to do the same. Support them and encourage them to bring up issues that arise. Clearly communicate to employees that making a mistake or making an issue known will not have negative repercussions, and, in fact, only have positive results.
Leaders who exhibit candor are often seen as more effective than those who don’t. According to a study by Joseph Folkman, a behavioral statistician, leaders who exhibit very poor candor (bottom 10%) were in the 20th percentile of overall leadership effectiveness. Those whose candor was in the top 10% were rated in the 80th percentile for effectiveness.
Overcoming the Shortcomings of Spreadsheets in Workforce Management
Spreadsheets may have been the tool of choice for forecasting and scheduling when call centers were voice-only. Those days are over.
Today, agents must handle a variety of channels that operate far differently, requiring a more sophisticated and effective approach to WFM.
The greatest difficulty for customer support teams is that they must predict the volume of customer contacts and the time of contact, then align those variables with predictions of agent availability and behaviors.
Building this out in spreadsheets is extremely difficult to manually predict multiple communication channels of contact accurately, and it doesn’t allow for real-time adjustments, nor accurate long-term planning.
Spreadsheets and manual processes were not designed for the inherent complexities of specialized and dynamic operations. The use of spreadsheets can lead to operating with misguided business logic 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.
Key Functions of WFM in a Contact Center
Wherever you are on your journey to automated contact center workforce management, there are key interconnected functions that operate in a continuous improvement cycle in the quest for operational efficiency and better CX.
Staff Forecasting and Scheduling
Forecasting is a prediction of contact center workload and staffing requirements. While it’s important to analyze historical data for seasonality, peak days and times, and other patterns, you also need to take into consideration current and future business demands, customer trends, upcoming promotions, and other factors.
Leveraging data for accurate forecasts is the foundation of call center workforce management, because it allows you to anticipate future call volumes. This helps with the second part of the equation, which is scheduling for the appropriate number of agents for the expected workload.
Forecasting and scheduling staff through the use of spreadsheets and manual processes are increasingly more challenging, especially when agents are juggling not only phone support, but chat, emails, and more. Call center leaders struggle to make sure agents’ workloads and skill sets are optimized to meet customer demands while holding down costs.
Instead, Al-powered WFM solutions automatically generate forecasts and agent scheduling based on your contact center’s specific business rules, priorities, SLAs and goals. Instead of manual processes and adjustments, modern WFM solutions use real-time data and self-adjusting algorithms to continuously improve forecast accuracy, and handles synchronous and asynchronous workloads seamlessly in an omnichannel environment. Effective scheduling not only ensures adequate coverage, but leverages agents’ skills and experience to maximize customer satisfaction and helps to avoid agent burnout.
Does your spreadsheet do all that?
Real-Time Intraday Management
Intraday management is the process of monitoring the current day’s volumes and trends and making corresponding changes to workforce schedules. Being able to do this in an automated, real-time manner is a game changer.
Contact center leaders know that carefully laid out schedules quickly can go awry on any given day. Two agents call in sick, inbound call volume is higher today than forecasted, and the demand for chat support is lower. Automated call center WFM technology allows you to flex on a dime throughout the day to be properly staffed and make sure service level goals are met no matter what the disruptions. Spreadsheets offer no real-time visibility making it impossible to react to changing conditions.
Not only do call center leaders need to adjust to volumes, trends, and agent availability on a daily basis, but capacity planning is critical to a solid WFM strategy. Capacity planning through automated WFM leverages historical data to obtain visibility with absence, shrinkage, and attrition thresholds to obtain the best scenario for your business needs–easily forecasting and re-forecasting staffing needs as far out as 12 months.
On the contrary, manual spreadsheets make capacity planning cumbersome to adjust the plan when assumptions—and business—changes.
Reporting and Analytics
No improvement cycle is complete without the ability to analyze outcomes and performance and share reports with teams and business leaders.
Spreadsheets don’t function well as a reporting tool. Instead, WFM software allows you to easily produce reports with drill-down functionality that provide real-time insight into key call center measures for center-wide optimization: punctuality, adherence, occupancy, service levels, workstreams and tasks, forecast accuracy, and more.
In addition, WFM solutions can provide agent-level tracking to help with performance management and agent engagement.
How WFM Improves a Contact Center
Beyond faster, more accurate forecasting and scheduling, here are some benefits WFM brings to contact centers.
1. Deliver a Better Customer Experience
A recent Forbes Advisor survey revealed 48% of consumers are willing to pay more for quality customer service. And 46% of customers will buy more when given a personalized experience.
These statistics highlight the importance and business value of elevating customer experiences.
Effective workforce management is a key component in delivering service excellence. Getting capacity planning, forecasting, and scheduling right with the support of a workforce management solution goes a long way to deliver an outstanding omnichannel customer experience.
2. Reduce Time Spent on Scheduling
As call center leaders strive to create work-life balance not only for agents but for themselves, WFM solutions provide time savings on the scheduling process. Administrative time is reduced because AI-powered software factors in staffing and call volume forecasts, agent availability, and business needs. The result—it’s easier to build schedules and manage the daily fluctuations
3. Improve Schedule Adherence
It’s one thing to create the schedule with ease, but another important call center key performance indicator is schedule adherence. This is the amount of time an agent works that coincides with the time they are scheduled to work. The time considered in adherence includes on-queue time, off-queue work, and activities such as meetings and training.
Schedule adherence is easily overlooked because it can be difficult to calculate without a WFM system, which provides tremendous insight into adherence, among other key metrics, through dashboards.
Ensuring schedule adherence means more efficient contact center operations, and more manageable support queues, while minimizing labor costs.
4. Create a Better Agent Experience
WFM isn’t only about creating a better customer experience. It’s also extremely valuable to create a better agent experience and improve employee engagement.
Leverage workforce management tools not only to manage agent schedules, but also to highlight agent skills and performance, encouraging them to take accountability for their work and feel more fulfilled in their role and growth opportunities.
When contact center agents feel valued and are recognized for their efforts, they’re more likely to stay and grow with your company. Happy agents who stick around and become more seasoned can deliver the outstanding customer experience your contact center strives for.
Related reading: Playvox eBook: Top Tips for Engaging and Motivating Agents
5. Ensure Regulatory Compliance
Regulatory compliance is sometimes an afterthought for contact center managers. Thankfully workforce management software helps contact centers minimize compliance risks by automatically keeping track of agents’ time, PTO and other important labor metrics.
6. Improve Operational Efficiency
When outdated or impractical operating procedures inhibit the growth and performance of support center agents, money is wasted on operational costs and employee effectiveness declines.
This in turn leads to higher administrative costs, a lack of operational compliance, and poor customer service. Improving the operational efficiency of the customer service center is a major benefit of WFM. Improved response times, decreased average handle times, and lower agent turnover are also expected outcomes when deploying a WFM solution.
Is WFM the Fountain of Youth?
Running an efficient, cost-effective call center while delivering outstanding EX and CX is a daunting task. You need the right number of agents to support the right volumes each and every day.
Call center workforce management is both an art and a science. Unfortunately there’s no magic potion for perfection, but the path to automated WFM can reap many rewards. Ready to migrate from spreadsheets and manual processes to a modern, AI-powered WFM solution? Schedule a demo of Playvox’s Workforce Management.