According to the PELORUS 2011 Workforce Management Report, the solid business case for workforce management technology remains the most important market driver. PELORUS further suggests there are several non-economic benefits that drive contact center management to invest in workforce management (WFM) tech, including: improved customer care; greater agent satisfaction; compliance with labor laws and business rules; and, the ability to experiment with new ideas.
Effective workforce management is the foundation of call center success. Without workforce management technology that delivers accurate forecasting, a center is at risk of losing bottom line revenue. Accurate forecasting is at the core of WFM and its importance cannot be overstated.
Most vendors today offer a full suite of contact center solutions that include workforce management technology, call recording, performance management, eLearning, coaching, and automated surveys. While there are distinct advantages of workforce optimization to end users, a hidden problem may exist that can undermine the overall success of a center. The problem may not surface until the software has been installed and forecasts are being generated. Centers are at risk from workforce management technology that lacks the ability to generate accurate forecasts, lacks flexibility to meet the growing business needs, and cannot accommodate all variables that exist in scheduling.
This paper discusses three aspects of why workforce management technology is your most important investment:
- Nine essential features of workforce management technology
- Why workforce management systems fail
- How to choose the right workforce management technology
Nine Essential Features of Workforce Management
There are nine functions that all workforce management technology should provide. Most importantly, the software needs to integrate and operate at maximum capability. Unless a WFM system can perform these nine functions, you will consistently under- or over-staff, resulting in lost revenue. Use this checklist when evaluating the effectiveness of your workforce management technology or as a guide for purchasing decisions.
1. Is your workforce scheduling system scalable? Many WFM systems require call centers to perform a forklift upgrade once they grow to a certain size. This is not only an added expense but a major administrative headache. A scalable system that can accommodate growth without installing completely new software is a much better way to go.
2. Does your system collect enough data for accurate forecasting? It is imperative to maintain detailed data for several years in order to produce an accurate forecast. Many workforce scheduling systems store no more than 16 weeks of historical inbound call data to generate a forecast, and most fail to gather information on marketing campaigns, billing cycles or other variables that can affect call volume. Look for workforce management technology that will maintain several years worth of very detailed data for maximum forecast accuracy.
3. Can your system generate forecasts and schedules in minutes? The most efficient scheduling systems should be able to quickly produce forecasts and schedules. Some WFM systems may require 8-10 hours to forecast call volumes, determine staffing requirements, and produce call center schedules. Other workforce management technology can do the same job in minutes depending on how the software is architected and how the call center is set up. Avoid systems that require hours for forecasting call volumes and determining staffing requirements.
4. Do calculating requirements account for abandoned calls? Over-staffing occurs when abandoned calls are not taken into consideration. Staffing operational costs, which account for 70-80% of your budget, can be severely impacted by over-staffing. For absolute maximum efficiency, software in your workforce management technology should use an algorithm that incorporates abandoned calls. Systems that don’t understand abandons will always over-staff your call center.
5. Are adjustments made for unexpected daily variables? In order to keep staffing on target, it is necessary to have intraday optimization tools which automatically adjust for fluctuations in call volumes, absences, or unplanned meetings. Your workforce management technology should have the capability of recalculating daily staffing needs, modifying work assignments electronically, and automatically notifying agents through email or pop-up messages without having to print and redistribute new schedules. When unexpected agent absences, meetings and/or call volumes require current-day schedule adjustments, intraday optimization tools make the job a lot easier.
6. Are special events recognized in call volume forecasting? Having a correlated forecasting capability that recognizes and incorporates any special events, such as catalog drops or discount offers, can have a significant impact on profit and loss. How these special events affected call volume in the past is critical to accurate forecasting. Proper staffing is essential during these special events. In call centers where workloads fluctuate due to special events, the only way to ensure proper staffing is with workforce management technology that can electronically calculate anticipated call volume based on how a given event affected incoming calls in the past. In a sales environment where something like a direct mail campaign or TV advertorial triggers extra calls, this correlated forecasting capability can mean the difference between profit and loss.
7. Can tasks that must be performed repeatedly be automated? Repetitive tasks such as disseminating call volume forecasting, scheduling, and activity reports can account for 50-60% of supervisory time. These tasks can be performed with one-click execution through shortcut wizards. They can be scheduled to run automatically or linked in self-executing sequences. For example, this latter feature makes it possible to generate a forecast, export it to one group of recipients, e-mail it to another group, and print copies without stopping for user input.
8. Can your system produce a single optimized schedule without edits? Many WFM systems generate a basic schedule and then require analysts to spend costly time editing that schedule to accommodate breaks, lunches, meetings, training sessions and vacations. This consumes clerical time, risks input errors, and makes creating every schedule an inefficient multi-step process. It can also adversely affect your service levels by failing to consider these variables in the optimization process.
9. Does your system have an integrated vacation planner? This is a two-fold test. First, the vacation planning module should integrate with the WFM software to ensure that vacation slots will be accurately calculated and reflected in agents’ schedules without manual input. Second, it should be fully configurable to support your policies and staffing structure. Staffing rules particular to your company should be taken into consideration and accounted for in the scheduling. For example, you should be able to allocate vacation time by differentiators such as skill set or shift type across multiple centers. Can your workforce management technology accommodate a Wednesday to Tuesday work week? Does it allow you to allocate vacation slots by skill set, shift type, given contact center, or across multiple call centers?
Why Workforce Management Systems Fail
Workforce management algorithms are based on science and should be approached from a scientific perspective. Marketing hype cannot change the fact that if forecasting is inaccurate, everything else will be off balance. Many WFM systems purchased by call centers have resulted in dissatisfaction and ultimately, replacement.
What determines accurate forecasting?
Providing the required accuracy, by taking into account all the historic and future dynamics, requires a sophisticated forecasting tool. Only the most sophisticated systems can perform correlated forecasting, which is forecasting for specific events such as catalog drops or other marketing events that cause wide fluctuations in the volume of calls that must be processed.
Critical components for accurate forecasting
Accurate forecasting is the foundation of call center scheduling, and without it, over- and under-staffing will occur. Accurate forecasting in a skill-based routing environment is the most critical component of workforce management solutions. Without accurate forecasting, scheduling will fail to correctly plan for anticipated workloads. Precise scheduling is based on accurate workload requirements. Critical components of WFM software for accurate forecasting include:
- The amount of historical data available
- The nature of the data
- The forecasting period
- An infinite number of different service objectives on one or more work streams
- Algorithms that reflect real life customer behavior
- Special events are treated differently, i.e., mail drops, campaigns, and special promotions can be quantified
- Email and faxes have service objectives reflecting the way that work is handled
The Importance of Historical Trend Analysis and Pattern Recognition
Algorithms should include curve mapping and pattern recognition. In environments where workloads regularly ebb and flow due to marketing activities and other definable variables, Historical Trend Analysis is the only way to ensure proper staffing because it is the only methodology that can incorporate complex historical trends in its calculations. Without pattern matching to predict different customer behavior for different events, the risk of over- or understaffing increases dramatically. Historical Trend Analysis not only accurately predicts the continuation of trends, but the more advanced algorithms also incorporate pattern recognition to fine-tune forecasts for special events like promotional mailings or national holidays. Each time a particular event reoccurs, the forecasted call volume is automatically adjusted to reflect the increase or decline in incoming work caused by comparable occurrences in the past, such as a historical 40 percent drop in volume on the Fourth of July.
An important component of accurate forecasting is having an integrated approach to support multi-skilled issues. It is necessary to have forecasting algorithms that directly calculate requirements in a multi-skilled environment, while avoiding repetitive analytical simulations. A single forecasted set of requirements should be generated for all inter-woven skilled activities, regardless of the type of work being offered, such as email and chat. Recognizing secondary skills and accounting for call overflow to available secondarily skilled agents will help eliminate overstaffing. Forecasts that are based solely on primary skills will generally overstaff, since overflow cannot be considered as a factor.
Assigning Attributes to Specific Events
To further enhance accuracy, some forecasting tools also make it possible to describe each event in detail through the use of attributes. For example, one catalog drop might consist of 10,000 pieces sent to women between the ages of 20 and 35 in Southern California, while another might involve 5,000 pieces directed at women above the age of 35 in the Midwest. By logging these characteristics into the system, analysts ensure that the differing call patterns produced by each drop will be “remembered” and used in forecasting call volumes the next time similar mailings go out.
The most advanced systems can search for historic trends that parallel upcoming events both by specific match (e.g. the specific guest host on a TV shopping channel) and by a range of values (e.g. products between $50 and $100). This aids in correlating past and future events. There will be a substantial difference in response to a piece of jewelry that sells for $200 and one that sells for $2,000, and only a tool that allows this information to be recorded can factor in that difference when creating a forecast.
Avoid being a statistic of a failed WFM system and ensure that the algorithms in your system will produce accurate forecasts.
How to Choose a Workforce Management System
Making the right choice in vendors can determine the difference between failure and success of your center. No single vendor can offer a complete quality solution, regardless of their claims. Most companies are built on the reputation of doing one thing well. Quality suffers when vendors acquire other software that is not their area of expertise. Using one vendor for all your software purchases limits your options for competitive pricing, locks you in to one technology system, and many times restricts your ability to pay as you grow.
For optimum results, choose a workforce management technology vendor that offers:
- Solutions created and implemented by scientists and software engineers who understand WFM software and work to continuously improve its effectiveness
- Ability to buy features as you need them
- Customized solutions to fit your business needs
Consider your overall business strategy and do not allow a solution to put you at the mercy of one vendor. The best decision is to choose a vendor that specializes in WFM and understands the business needs of your company. Use these guidelines to ensure you are receiving the most benefit from your software purchase:
Many vendors promote integration as one of the biggest considerations in a purchasing decision. While integration is important, it should not be placed above your overall business needs. One erroneous assumption is that all vendors are able to integrate with other vendors’ applications. This is not true and you should ensure that all tools are available for integration before purchasing a WFM system. Some vendors claim that you will get better integration from one vendor. This is not necessarily true because if, for example, you purchase or accept a free workforce management system with the purchase of quality monitoring software, the developers of the quality monitoring software may not understand workforce management. This can result in a system that may not be fully functional, and/or does not meet your specific needs.
Ease of use
One feature that some vendors emphasize when promoting their WFM solution is ease of use. If you consider this to be an important factor, remember that ease of use does not always translate to quality and functionality. Purchasing a solution that your users will adopt and learn is important; however, if the system is not functional or does not meet your specific needs, ease of use becomes secondary.
Do not allow one vendor to hold you captive
Before purchasing workforce management technology, consider whether you can afford to buy features now that you may not need for years. Look for a system that allows you to grow and add features on an as-needed basis. While it may be tempting to accept vendor offers that promote “one solution fits all” or offers free software, quality and functionality should be your primary considerations. Choose a system that will deliver a return on investment now and support your company’s more challenging and sophisticated needs for the future.
Return on Investment
If the forecasting or scheduling is not sophisticated enough or if you’re doing too many processes manually, you are essentially leaving money on the table by failing to staff your center properly. Some vendors claim that return on investment (ROI) can be achieved in less than a year, or even within the first six months of purchase. ROI is subject to many variables, including how it is calculated.
Workforce management technology is a wise investment that provides a strong ROI while increasing efficiency in the call center. Your bottom line depends on the accuracy of the forecasting tool. If a WFM system is incapable of meeting the forecasting needs of a center, other software features become secondary. Investing in the right WFM system is a decision that will not only protect you from future problems, but enhance operations from the point of installation.
The Pipkins Advantage
Pipkins, Inc. is a leading supplier of workforce management software and services to the call center industry. For the past twenty-seven years, Pipkins has consistently created and delivered superior workforce management products for call centers of all sizes. Pipkins maintains its reputation as an industry leader with thirteen industry-first applications that are three to five years ahead of the industry curve.
Decreased call center costs are achieved through accurate staffing and improved agent performance. Improved agent performance results in increased customer service and customer retention. Higher agent retention reduces costs of recruiting and training. The bottom line is cost savings to companies.
Pipkins utilizes its own state-of-the-art algorithms since the old Erlang models are no longer applicable in today’s environment. Only Pipkins offers many of the features necessary to produce accurate forecasts, such as advanced Merlang® algorithms and the must have Mean Time to Abandoned calls (MTA) for centers. Pipkins’ premier product, Vantage Point, is simply the most accurate forecasting product on the market, enabling companies to solve complex operational issues in today’s multi-faceted enterprise workforce management environments. Featuring comprehensive forecasting, scheduling, and planning functionality for complete enterprise-wide workforce management, Pipkins gives organizations the ability to automate processes and reduce costs.