Contact Center Workforce Management Makes the Customer Experience

Pretend for a moment that you are waiting for a pair of new shoes to be delivered. The doorbell rings, and you run to the front door. When the box is open, however, you find that you received the wrong shoes entirely—these orange Crocs are no replacement for the nice dress shoes you ordered. You pick up the phone and call the customer service line. Fortunately, the contact center agent answers on the first ring, and the agent resolves the whole issue in a matter of minutes. The purchase is rectified, you received a shipping label to return the Crocs, and your new dress shoes are in the mail.

When everything at the contact center works as intended, customers don't witness friction. It takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work, though, for a smooth customer experience. A difficult new promotion, a power outage, or a dysfunctional CRM system can slow the contact center down, diminishing service and turning successful interactions into nightmarish waiting periods if there aren't a sufficient number of contact center agents to handle the load.

This is the very problem workforce management is meant to solve. A workforce management solution assists managers as they forecast, plan, and adjust staffing to meet customer service goals. While workforce management might seem like an internal tool at first glance, contact centers rely heavily on the process to provide a positive customer experience.

To develop service goals, contact center managers must first use existing data to forecast staffing needs. The forecast relies on historical call volume (as measured by call-routing software) and sophisticated software algorithms. Workforce management is the sum of all personnel and policy decisions in the contact center. Putting together a schedule is predicated on agent availability, vacation time, pay rate, and dozens of other factors.

It is possible to run a basic forecast in a simple spreadsheet, but with more than 30 years of experience in the contact center business, I've learned that certain elements of the job are more efficient through technology. Compiling dozens of potential schedules for comparison or enabling senior employees to bid on preferred shifts is simply not possible without a powerful software solution at your disposal. The manpower to create all of these options would take a team of analysts the better part of a week, but workforce management software can churn out updated forecasts every few minutes as factors shift.

Not even the best-prepared contact center can prevent surprise changes to the schedule. An impending snowstorm that requires parents to pick up their kids from school or a particularly bad outbreak of the flu can leave managers grasping, but a workforce management tool with intraday management can save the day.

Creating a positive customer experience means maintaining a high standard of service every minute of every day. A customer forced to wait for half an hour on the phone is unlikely to care how well the contact center was humming along earlier in the morning. Intraday management allows managers to adjust immediately to the schedule and to receive feedback from employees in real time, covering the gaps and ensuring the contact center meets its service goals all day. The best workforce management solutions enable managers to offer overtime pay or additional time off as an incentive for employees to come into work (or dial in from home). 2020 has shown us all that the ability to adapt to changing circumstances is no longer a nice-to-have.

Workforce management tools seek to make the contact center's ebbs and flows more predictable, smoothing the rough edges so customers have a positive experience. But regardless of the number of agents on the floor or how quickly they can handle requests, the whole tower starts to crumble if agents aren't where the schedule expects them to be.

Agent adherence refers to the percentage of time given employees are doing what is expected. If they are meant to take a 30-minute break in the afternoon and they don't return to their stations for an hour, they have been out of adherence for a half hour. Maintaining adherence has become even more important over the last several months as many managers are working remotely and cannot drop by their employees' desks in person.

Contact centers can struggle to hit even 90 percent adherence under normal circumstances, and in a contact center with 100 seats that means the company is spending money equivalent to 10 agents who are not responding to customer requests. A workforce management solution pays for itself by dramatically improving agent adherence.

Though customers can't witness workforce management from the outside, they see the rewards of labor in exemplary customer service. When customers call the contact center to return their wrongfully shipped orange Crocs, or for any other reason, they expect to talk with a representative quickly and not to sit on the line for hours.

It all starts with a forecast, predicated on data from the contact center. Then, if agents miss work because of an illness or other emergency, managers can rebalance the schedule with intraday management to smooth bumps in the road. Employees who are working can be better managed with agent adherence tools. By incorporating workforce management in the contact center, teams are equipped with the tools needed to meet lofty service goals and keep customers happy.

Todd Cotharin is principal and chief operations officer at WFMSG and CommunityWFM. Prior to founding those companies, he managed multiple contact centers for Citibank and served Cybernetics Systems as director of customer service.