Contact Center Workforce Management Must Adapt for the Modern Workforce

Contact center managers have been doing workforce management (WFM) the same way since these solutions were introduced to the market more than 35 years ago.

Over the years, there have been changes to contact center routing techniques, and many new channels have been introduced, forcing vendors to adapt their solutions, but the essential function and approach to WFM has remained the same, generation after generation.

Through it all, managers and agents alike have accepted that WFM was a necessary evil that couldn't be challenged. But this shouldn't be the case. There's a lot wrong with most WFM solutions as well as the best practices that support their use, and these issues need to be fixed.

Current WFM solutions have had a great run, but it's time for these aging applications to be retired and replaced with a new generation of WFM that is geared for a real-time service industry. WFM needs to be "Uber-ized" by using just-in-time scheduling to meet real-time demand.

For some of the challenges, see the chart below.

Contact centers still need to forecast and schedule, as they've done for years, but next-generation WFM solutions will adapt easily to changes in volumes and resources and will use intraday automation to address these challenges. This new breed of WFM will also prioritize employee schedule preferences, which will reduce shrinkage, as employees won't have to call in sick or just not show up when they are given schedules that conflict with their personal lives.

Another important change that is altering the contact center staffing dynamic is the growing cooperation between front- and back-office operating departments. As companies begin to appreciate the importance of delivering an outstanding customer journey, they are breaking down walls between departments. Delivering great service is a responsibility of every employee, and it must happen at every step of the way to satisfy customers.

This objective can be helped along by sharing goals and responsibilities across departments. With current-generation technology, contact center capabilities can be delivered as a service anywhere within the organization, including to back-office staff.

Conversely, workflow software that distributes back-office tasks to employees can just as easily share work with contact center agents. By eliminating organizational boundaries, companies broaden the variety of work that front- and back-office employees can elect to do, introducing better career paths for workers.

Uber got it right in many ways, and there is a lot that contact centers and WFM vendors can learn from Uber's scheduling software. One important advantage is that employees get to choose when they work: They still need to commit to a certain number of hours per day, week, or month, but there is a great deal of flexibility built into the scheduling model. And instead of forcing employees to work unfavorable shifts like weekends or midnight to 7 a.m., they should be rewarded for doing so. Employees should be able to bid for the work and hours they want, and organizations can use variable pay and perks to motivate them. The benefits of these new approaches will far exceed the costs.

For contact centers, agent attrition, shrinkage, and hiring and training costs will decrease while productivity will increase, as there will be more skilled and experienced agents available to handle interactions. Agents will have schedule flexibility and will be fairly compensated and more engaged; they will have more choices of the types of work they do and more fulfilling career paths. More satisfied agents will deliver a better customer experience, which will translate into a stronger brand, increased revenue, and a better service experience. Everyone wins!

Assumption Regarding Contact Centers and WFM

The Problem with the Assumption

The solutions assume that agents will adapt their lives for the benefit of the organization.

This was always a bad assumption, but today's Millennial workforce demands a work/life balance.

Agents must accept and work the schedules they are given.

Many Millennials, and increasingly employees from other generations, will quit when presented with an unacceptable schedule.

Most WFM solutions treat all hours equally.

This is not the case; there are hours that are much more difficult to staff than others.

WFM solutions treat all employees equally.

Some employees are worth more because they have more skills than others and/or deliver a much better service experience.

Intraday changes must be made manually.

It's been this way for years, but there is a new generation of intraday management solutions that is automating this essential task.

High agent attrition rates are to be expected in contact centers.

Well-managed contact centers, where agents are treated and compensated as well as employees in other departments, can have low attrition rates.

High shrinkage is considered acceptable.

No, it isn't, and there should be a way to minimize shrinkage.

The math in WFM solutions is so complicated that it can't be change.d

There are new solutions in the market that do an excellent job of matching need to resources in real time; look at Uber.


For more of the details on DMG's vision for NewGen WFM, see the white paper on the future of WFM.

Donna Fluss is founder and president of DMG Consulting, a providerr of contact center and analytics research and consulting.