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Workforce Management Solutions Improve Decision Making in the Call Center

October 05, 2006

Productivity is an essential element for the success of any operation. In order to ensure success, managers are constantly challenged with making critical decisions for their workforce. 
For this, workforce management (WFM) solutions that address scheduling and forecasting provide administrators with the tools they need to support and promote productivity in the workplace.
To discuss some of the challenges in workforce management and how modern technologies are providing a solution and improving the decision making process, I asked Charles Ciarlo, founder and CEO of Left Bank Solutions, to answer a few questions on the topic.
Can you give me an example of a major challenge in managing any call center workforce that can adversely affect the decision-making process?

Shrinkage is a major challenge in modern call centers. It can be defined as the time for which people are paid, during which they are not available to handle calls. There can be many reasons for this, some of which are valid. Paid (News - Alert) breaks, paid time off and training time, for example, are a necessary part of the working environment and have to be taken into account when scheduling the required number of agents to meet call volumes. But, the truth is that most companies badly under-calculate the sheer volume of shrinkage that besets their call centers. This comes about due to a host of potentially hidden areas of shrinkage. Experienced managers keep their eye on several of these, but few are able to stay on top of all of them: lateness, talking to associates, personal calls and emergencies, leaving early and taking longer breaks. The bottom line on shrinkage is the amount of minutes per day that agents are being paid to be on the phone when they are not actually sitting there working, or available to receive calls. Without a workforce management solution, managers are blind and tend to under-schedule staff during peak periods, and over-schedule during off-peak hours. This cripples profitability and makes service delivery inconsistent.

How can WFM aid in the decision–making process?

The biggest value adds from WFM are forecasting and scheduling of personnel.

This is the most important and most expensive aspect of running a call center today. About 70 percent of the typical call center budget is absorbed in direct labor costs. Yet without the right number of agents, equipped with the right skills, no amount of call technology will suffice when it comes to providing adequate customer service. Workforce management is the answer to this headache.
For example, WFM can provide a forecast of staffing requirements to meet specific service goals. It can then perform an analysis of current staffing against that forecast to determine what needs to be done and in what time period in order to meet the staffing requirements.
How do ' better-informed decisions' relate to achieving business goals?

Workforce management means better decision making as you can create schedules and customized shifts to handle forecasted volumes. This lets companies respond effectively to contact center volume fluctuations. Further, they can manage the center throughout the day with intra-day updates and make real-time changes to forecasts and agent schedules.
Workforce management also helps an organization focus on creating the most efficient employee schedules. Based upon precise forecasts, WFM develops staffing schedules that optimize a wide range of factors – agent availability, expected call volume, service level goals and center budget. The technology adeptly handles the various permutations and combinations of agent requirements and volumes. This is extremely useful for busy call center managers enabling them to create schedules and customized shifts to efficiently handle forecasted volumes, or respond to real-time fluctuating volumes, and even manage seasonal volumes. The result is greater efficiency, improved service levels and lower margins.

Can you give me an example of how WFM can ease the management of call centers?

Let’s look at one specific aspect of call center operations – managing multiple sites, time zones and skill sets. The best WFM packages make it possible to set up an unlimited number of sites that can be managed centrally or locally. Each site has a code and description and is assigned a specific time zone. Call center managers can assign multiple or unlimited sites within a particular workgroup i.e. some sites may be inbound and some outbound, some centers may deal in certain products while other sites focus on other products. Such functions are particularly important with the advent of more distributed IP-based call centers and home-based agents.

Can small and medium-sized contact centers also benefit from a Workforce Management solution?

Absolutely! A year or two back, most analysts said that WFM wasn’t viable below 100 seats. More recently, they have been saying 60 seats. Yet I have customers ranging from as few as 5 seats up to 1500. The point is to buy a solution that can scale up or down according to your needs. One way to achieve that is via on-demand technology. Instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars up front, and then more per seat as you expand the size of your call center operations, the on-demand model enables you to pay as you go.

The software is available on-demand via web browser. Customers pay a nominal upfront cost and are billed monthly or quarterly based upon service usage and the number of agents and supervisors. Under this model, ramping up from 20 to 50, 100 or even several thousand seats is simple. Small to mid-sized companies that cannot afford to buy their own workforce management system outright, can add WFM without adding significantly to their IT budgets.

What does Left Bank specifically offer to help workforces in their  goal to improve the decision-making process?

Monet 4.5 monitors and records the real-time status of agents in the call center to ensure that agents are available for calls, and take their lunch and breaks as per the schedule for that day. At any point in the day, therefore, a call center manager can compare planned agent activity to existing activities. At one glance, the manager can see the exact status of each agent in real time. 

Monet 4.5 provides, for example, optimized shift times for hiring new reps. Thus management hires people to work the shifts the company needs rather than being overmanned during slack hours and undermanned during peak times.

Similarly, Monet 4.5 provides detailed information on the best way to schedule breaks and lunches. Based on call volumes and forecasts, it assists a manager by suggesting the ideal time slots for breaks. Managers can then tailor this to existing circumstances and preferences.

Alternatively, Monet 4.5 supplies the call center manager with accurate information on the best start times for agents. It can also help management implement more flexible scheduling to the benefit of the agents and company profitability.

The Monet Availability Calendar enables managers to see how existing exceptions affect their staff availability. They can select any set of dates from the year and see agent requirements and availability, along with the number of exception hours, broken down both by agent and exception type. This tool is particularly useful when deciding whether or not to grant a vacation request.

Shrinkage can be a big factor in failing to meet service levels. Monet takes shrinkage parameters into account in its forecasting and scheduling with the result of far greater precision in forecasting.

Monet also enables the efficient scheduling and monitoring of home agents based on location and time zone, and relative to the centralized time zone of any ACD server.
Monet is an affordable solution that places scalable world-class workforce management in the hands of both large companies with limited budgets as well as small and medium businesses that want to compete with the big call centers on an even playing field.
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Stefania Viscusi is an established writer and avid reader. To see more of her articles, please visit Stefania Viscusi’s columnist page.

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