Call Center Solutions: An Overview of Workforce Management (WFM)

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Growth of the workforce management market

The workforce management market has grown steadily despite a depressed global economy for the past two years with strong growth expected into the future. Driving this growth is the need for companies to optimize the customer experience, ensure retention, and extend service capabilities into the social media realm.

The strong growth experienced over the past two years in the workforce management (WFM) market, along with the projected annual growth of 9 percent, indicates the value and ROI inherent in WFM solutions. As the US and global economies continue their ups and downs, investors, analysts, and business operators continue to find ways to increase profitability and shareholder returns. In addition, companies have begun to recognize the inherent value of managing the workforce outside the call center with similar tools. With payroll as the biggest line item expense in a call center operation as well as in back office operations, it is the first place many look to reduce overheads, leading them to investigate WFM technologies.

With the availability of cloud-based WFM solutions, the benefits that these technologies deliver has extended from large call centers to small, medium, and start-up operations. In addition, WFM offerings can now improve productivity in branch and retail operations. New solutions allow businesses to optimize the mobile workforce, which includes operations like utilities, field services, and field technical support.

A major growth segment today, and an area of particular interest to many business leaders, is the customer social media experience. Most WFM solutions now offer ways to integrate these social interactions (live chat, e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter) into the call center management environment. WFM can track trends, forecast activity, and produce agent schedules to help handle these critical client interactions.

From workforce management to workforce optimization

Traditional WFM solutions seek to help call centers drive agent productivity as well as customer and team member satisfaction through improved planning, scheduling, and service level performance. Standard modules allow the center to administer critical parameters, create detailed forecasts and schedules down to 15-minute increments, evaluate performance versus expectations over the long term as well as intraday, manage agent schedule adherence, coordinate vacation and overtime planning, and provide reporting capabilities. Additional modules to the WFM system include advanced tasks like forecasting for multiple channels and skill sets, providing detailed performance analytics, and enabling strategic planning.

Despite the core technologies being fairly mature, market statistics have indicated for years that, although more than 95 percent of centers with at least 250 agents have a formal WFM solution, 50 percent do not leverage performance reporting capabilities, 56 percent do not measure forecast accuracy, and 25 percent do not prepare call volume forecasts at all. Thus, about 50 percent of all call centers use the WFM system as a replacement for creating manual schedules. The number of centers that have a formal WFM and their use of those systems declines precipitously among centers with less than 250 agents.

As WFM technology gained a significant foothold in the call center industry, enabling management to forecast call volumes, project staffing levels, and generate agent schedules, center managers began to realize that these solutions only addressed a small slice of their operation. As a result, centers were forced to seek alternative point solutions to assist with other agent performance management issues. Recently, however, traditional WFM providers have recognized an opportunity to consolidate the entire segment. Thus, the market was introduced to the concept of optimization—workforce optimization (WFO). Initially, WFO consisted of solutions that only affected agent performance: traditional WFM, call monitoring, e-learning, and performance analytics. Today, however, an integrated WFO suite can deliver far more than improved agent performance

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