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The Strategic Role of Workforce Management

 
By Brad Cleveland

 
(The following excerpt, written by Brad, is part of a recent ICMI Contact Center Workforce Management Practices Report.)

In an ever-changing economy, customer service has become a key battleground for loyalty, revenue and market share. The expectations customers have of organizations are evolving rapidly – both because they are more aware of the choices they have, and because improvements in services in any industry or sector furthers expectations across the board. Providing access to the services customers need and want through the channels they choose is more important than ever.

Effective workforce management (WFM) involves the totality of forecasting, staffing, scheduling, and making adjustments in real-time when unexpected changes occur. The objective is to get the right number of people in the right places at the right times, doing the right things. No more, no fewer – overstaff your center and profitability will deteriorate as costs increase; schedule too few agents and customers will abandon, handling times will increase and poor word of mouth will put your brand at risk.

That’s easier said than done in a contact center, where the workload – based on minute-by-minute customer demands – is a moving target. The very forces that are making workforce management more difficult – more complex products and services, new types of contacts (e.g., from social media), heightened customer expectations, and the need for more diverse agent skills – are creating an environment in which getting it right is more important than ever (see Factors).

Factors Impacting Workforce Management

  • Changes in the broader economy
  • Revenue growth or decline
  • Marketing activities
  • Changes in customer demographics
  • The growth of social media
  • Competitor activities
  • Technology changes (internal and external)
  • Web site revisions (content or structure)
  • New laws and regulations
  • Customer expectations and demands
  • Agent turnover
  • New product rollouts
  • Customer management initiatives
  • Changes in organizational structure
  • Quality improvement initiatives
  • Publicity – positive and negative
  • New suppliers and business partners
  • Human resources policies
  • Cost-cutting or growth initiatives
  • Changes in data security practices
  • Consumer confidence

 

Fortunately, workforce management is an art and a science that can be learned and continuously improved – you get better at it with practice! An important prerequisite is in understanding that effective WFM goes far beyond the mechanics of putting staffing plans and schedules together. Organizations getting the best results view this aspect of management as a cross-functional responsibility that requires the full support of and collaboration with the broader organization.

Key Findings from ICMI’s 2010 Research

Good News:

  • Most (four out of five) measure forecast accuracy
  • Most (75%) see their scheduling practices as effective
  • Many (two out of three) have a person or team dedicated to WFM

Bad News:

  • Only 60% of respondents say agents are happy with scheduling processes
  • Far too few are forecasting/scheduling for emerging non-phone channels
  • Fewer than two in three centers provide formal WFM training to their WFM staff.

Top Challenges Cited:

  • Consistent adherence to schedule
  • Lack of time/resources to explore new forecasting/scheduling scenarios
  • Lack of sufficient support/funding for resources necessary to meet service level objectives

 

For more information on ICMI’s 2010 Contact Center Workforce Management Practices Report, see: http://www.icmi.com/Resources/Research/WFM-Report.aspx

The challenges of meeting customer demands and, more specifically, managing the contact center’s workload will continue to increase. But the discipline of workforce management is also advancing. Forward-thinking leaders are making this aspect of management a top priority – and are learning everything they can about what others are doing and the advancements taking place across the profession.

To that end, it’s our hope that this research helps equip you and your organization for the challenges and opportunities ahead.

This article was originally published by ICMI, www.icmi.com

Copyright 2015, Brad Cleveland.