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Applying Workforce Management to Non-Call Center Environments

July 11, 2006

By Charles Ciarlo, TMCnet Workforce Management Columnist
Much has been written about the benefits of workforce management (WFM) in the call center space – rapid ROI, greater efficiency, improved service levels and lowered costs, to name a few. But what about workforce management outside of the contact center?  Factually, this is a growing area of application for the industry with banks, credit unions, help desks, transportation and distribution firms, and insurance companies getting into the WFM game.
Think about it. Any industry that has people conducting highly time-sensitive tasks can benefit from this technology. In particular, sectors where that are engaged in heavy interaction with the public have an obvious need to manage the workforce. 
Take the case of the financial services field. Banks have multiple tellers that deal with a constant stream of public. They accept deposits, make transfers and provide withdrawals. Each person has specific work hours, scheduled breaks, training periods, and non-teller duties to attend to. People call in sick, others are late, and emergencies crop up. Thus the manager has his or her hands full of a thousand details attempting to keep everything organized.
But does the manager know which days are busier than others? Which parts of the day are peak and which are slow? How many tellers are needed throughout the day to cater to traffic flows? Which tellers handle the most transactions per period, and which are so slow that further training is required? Does a forecast even exist and are schedules aligned fully to it? Can it be adjusted during the day automatically as changes occur? Almost certainly not – so some days you wait a lot longer than others.
That’s why a credit union (CU) in California decided to implement WFM. The CU initially implemented WFM to eliminate manual forecasting and scheduling from its call center operations. It realized, though, that it suffered from similar problems in its branches. It has seven branches that process a combined total of over 200,000 transactions each month. That works out at approximately 31,000 transactions per branch per month. Branch managers struggled with short-staffing issues. With forecasting done based on past experience and the manager’s perception of trends, it was impossible to avoid scheduling errors. This CU, therefore, extended the functionality of its WFM software into branch staffing operations. Vendor engineers recoded the WFM software to tailor it specifically to branch scheduling. By adding workforce optimization technology, branch managers took the guesswork out of staffing. Every half hour, transactions are uploaded and are available for analysis. If one branch is overstaffed on a particular day, for example, employees are reassigned to another branch that is running short.
By using WFM, credit unions can significantly increase the efficiency level of their branches. And the same results can be gained in other fields. Obviously, the financial services sector is ripe for this technology. Banks, like credit unions, utilize tellers. But they have numerous other business units that also deal with transaction intensive or customer-centric tasks. Insurance companies, too, have personnel to enter claims, sales staff to interview customers and other labor-intensive workflows. Each could benefit greatly from WFM.
Moving away from the financial field, how about transportation and fulfillment?  These firms are in the business picking, packing and shipping goods. Packages pass through the hands of warehouse personnel at a rapid-fire pace. Drivers often have to deliver multiple orders per truck. WFM would be invaluable in this zone. It makes it possible to forecast picking and transportation workloads accurately, schedule personnel accordingly, and adjust those schedules as events transpire over the course of the day. 
Retail is also ripe for workforce management innovation. Again, point of sales (POS) staff (or checkout clerks in supermarkets) have to be scheduled based on an intelligent forecast, and the schedule has to be fluid enough to cope with absenteeism, emergencies, illnesses and vacation timetables. This plays right into the proven strengths of WFM.
One area I’d personally love to see WFM in use is airport check-in. How can it be that four hundred people have to be filtered through three or four checkers over the course of two long hours? Nobody likes to be subjected to such lines but they have become the accepted norm. The airlines, of course, would probably say that using forecasts to assign schedules in order to improve speed of check-in would spike payroll costs. But I beg to differ. If call centers operated using the airline philosophy and allowed callers to wait, wait, wait before they could speak to a CSR, they would soon go out of business. Just as most airlines appear to be doing today.
Yet if just one airline implemented workforce management, it could gain serious competitive advantage. It would be a relatively simple matter for WFM software to crunch the check-in numbers and forecast the optimum number of agents for a given time period. If that figure would send costs soaring too high, managers can run a series of what-if scenarios on the WFM application to play service levels against costs. It’s my contention that it wouldn’t take much of an improvement in check-in speed to make a big impact on customer satisfaction. And that is bound to attract far more new business than it would cost the company in payroll.
Over the next few years, therefore, look for more and more businesses to follow the call center lead by deploying WFM. With customers becoming more service savvy every year, they simply won’t tolerate the kind of delays that too many industries consider to be business as usual.
About the Author:
Charles Ciarlo is founder and CEO of Left Bank Solutions, a Workforce Optimization Software vendor based in Los Angeles. He began his contact center career in 1978 and has since led three successful call center companies, including the award-winning 800 Direct, Inc. Clients served include ATT, Sprint (News - Alert), Playboy Enterprises, Hallmark, Barnes & Noble, Hasbro, BOSE Corporation, Lucas Arts, Galoob Toys, and many others.  In 2001,  Ciarlo named his own company Left Bank Solutions after the Left Bank of the Seine River in Paris, a haven for artists. Similarly, he named his signature product after the famous impressionist painter Monet. Ciarlo’s aim is to put the art back into workforce management, and to offer affordable world class workforce optimization solutions to contact centers of all sizes.

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