Workforce Management Solutions Are Getting Smarter and Better

Workforce management (WFM) solutions remain one of the most important productivity tools in contact centers, and their benefits continue to increase as these applications are enhanced with artificial intelligence (AI). These solutions needed a major refresh to keep up with the changing times, channels, and needs of enterprises, their employees, and consumers, while meeting their primary objective of forecasting an omnichannel workload and scheduling appropriately skilled resources to address it within established service levels.

AI, including machine learning (ML) and intelligent automation, are being introduced into WFM applications to improve their usefulness and effectiveness. The enhancements impact many aspects of these solutions, including forecasting and scheduling algorithms, real-time decisioning, intraday management, self-service, and more. See Figure 1.

Figure 1: AI Contributions to WFM Solutions

Source: DMG Consulting, March 2023

AI-enabled WFM solutions will alter many established approaches that have needed improvements for decades, starting with how agents are treated. Companies that want to thrive in today's business world must create a positive, flexible, and rewarding work environment to hire and retain great employees. Older WFM solutions were designed to optimize work schedules but paid little attention to agent needs. The new WFM solutions invite employees to be active participants in the scheduling process. They allow agents to select and modify their own schedules (or work increments), including breaks, paid time off (PTO), voluntary time off (VTO), and overtime (OT), which greatly enhances employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention.

While these capabilities are new to the market, DMG estimates that an AI-enabled WFM solution that allows agents to actively participate in their scheduling and intraday management adjustment process will reduce contact center staff-related expenses by an incremental 3 percent to 5 percent. These benefits, which take into account a reduction in the cost of administering a WFM solution, are expected to increase over time as more AI and agent self-service features are added.

A second area of innovation concerns the mathematics these solutions use for forecasting and scheduling. Enhanced WFM solutions include new algorithms and AI-based forecasting and simulation models that automatically select the best predictive models for each scenario. These algorithms are proving effective in helping companies optimize both voice and digital (synchronous and asynchronous) channel handling, enabling contact centers to meet their service level commitments.

A third major area of improvement relates to intraday management tools. Real-time adaptive intraday management capabilities are slowly entering the market to help contact centers respond more quickly and cost-effectively to unanticipated changes in interaction volumes and agent shrinkage. The use of automation applies predefined rules to speed up decision making about schedules, PTO, breaks, lunches, OT, VTO, events, and more. This eliminates delays and costs associated with involving WFM administrators and supervisors in these decisions. And available self-service options, most of which are mobile-enabled, empower agents to actively manage their own schedules and initiate shift swaps more easily, as well as freeing WFM administrators to dedicate their time to more important activities.

Here are some of the more common ways in which AI and ML are being used to enhance contact center forecasting, scheduling, and real-time intraday management:

  • More accurately forecasting voice and digital volumes by time increment, skill, work type, and channel.
  • Automatically normalizing outliers in historical data to improve forecasts.
  • Generating schedules that match live and automated resources to projected volumes based on preferences, skills, and concurrency limits.
  • Allowing agents to independently change their working hours (schedules), lunches, and breaks.
  • Anticipating and covering unplanned changes to interaction volume and agent availability with real-time adaptive intraday management, including automated shrinkage calculations (by category).
  • Dynamically adjusting schedules throughout the day to optimize contact center performance and agent engagement.
  • Applying salary arbitrage to engage employees while staffing difficult-to-fill shifts.
  • Performing long-term planning for budgeting, hiring, and training purposes, including identifying the optimal mix of shifts (full-time, part-time, flex, etc.), location (on-site, fully remote, or hybrid), and skills, with the ability to conduct unlimited what-if analyses.
  • Automatically determining the need for VTO and OT, intelligently and proactively offering opportunities to the appropriate resources via their preferred contact channels, updating schedules, and notifying all necessary personnel.
  • Automating approval of complex schedule changes based on user-defined guidelines, including multi-party trades and updates impacting more than one interval within the same day.
  • Identifying agents whose behavioral patterns indicate the propensity to be attrition risks.

Artificial intelligence is transforming WFM from applications dedicated to optimizing the allocation and costs of agents to solutions that facilitate a work/life balance, enabling employees to actively participate in managing their schedules. The addition of new techniques, approaches, and algorithms are empowering contact centers with the technology to better handle digital channels, including those that start and stop, begin in one media and move to another, or use multiple channels simultaneously. The investments in WFM solutions are coming rapidly, providing contact center leaders with an opportunity to revamp their staff management approaches and reduce agent attrition.

Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting, is an expert on contact centers, analytics, and back-office technology. She has 30 years of experience helping organizations build contact centers and back-office operating environments and assisting vendors to deliver competitive solutions. She can be reached at