The flow of work coming into a contact center can fluctuate greatly depending on a wide variety of factors including the time of year; the success of a company’s recent sales efforts; the strength of the economy; the closing of a competitor’s doors; or perhaps a product recall. Just think of all the retailers that do the bulk of their business at holiday time – the number of contacts the IRS has to handle at tax season – or the recent “recall” which sent some of the major pet food manufacturers into a tail spin!
At the same time, contact centers are expensive to operate, so there’s nothing worse than having a room filled with agents who are on the clock with no contacts coming in. As such, the implementation of reliable workforce management solutions has become paramount for organizations looking to maximize contact center efficiency.
Today’s workforce management software does much more than schedule the agents’ shifts. Today, these systems can actually help companies predict the trends which will result in a sudden increase or decrease in traffic – and thus can help companies plan for the unexpected. In this sense, today’s workforce management software is used more like a forecasting tool, rather than a basic spread-sheet scheduling system.
Furthermore, these solutions can be used to help modify agent behavior, particularly in terms of adherence to the schedule. For example, using the Web, companies can now send alerts to agents telling them that there has been a change in the schedule and that they need to show up on a different day or at a different time. These solutions also let contact center managers quickly and easily track sick days, vacation time, new hires and recent firings, and other events that affect attendance, using just one simple, easy-to-use piece of software.
Interestingly, these systems also give the agents themselves more power over the scheduling. For example, using these tools, they remotely pick-up shifts, cancel shifts, or “swap out” shifts with other agents without having to go into work and fill out a form and get a manager’s approval. In this sense, these solutions ensure that the call center always has the right number of agents on staff for certain shifts, by compensating for unexpected absenteeism and allowing for maximum flexibility in scheduling.
Giving an agent control over his or her schedule allows them to take greater “ownership” of the call center and its operations. As a result, the agent feels more valued, and thus is more likely to keep his or her job for the long term. Many of today’s workforce management solutions offer a feature whereby agents can actually “bid” for shifts as they become available. This is a powerful motivating tool for agents who are hungry to make money: They have the freedom to take on as many shifts as they wish. By the same token, time-crunched agents who have hectic personal schedules might want to work fewer shifts rather than more, and thus they will find this feature useful too.
If you’re running a small contact center don’t be misled into believing that a workforce management solution means a big investment! Just like so many other apps available today, these solutions can be either hosted or on-premise. That means if you are a small call or contact center, you can just “trial” a workforce management solution to see how well it works - without having to commit to licensing or additional equipment. With the vast majority call and contact centers out there falling under 100 seats – and most not yet using a workforce management solution – this represents an area which is ripe for adoption.
As mentioned, today’s workforce management solutions do much more than just schedule the agents. Most are software “bundles” that include forecasting and adherence tools, as well as monitoring and recording applications and possibly e-learning tools too. Although the scheduling aspect remains central, most vendors are adding all kinds of bells and whistles to help differentiate their products and gain market share over their competitors (and this is a fiercely competitive space!). However, it should be pointed out that the way each company uses a particular software suite is totally up to them and there is no right or wrong way to manage your workforce. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that even though a solution might incorporate a coaching tool, a performance management tool and a monitoring application, it will ultimately be used for the purpose of scheduling agents, forecasting and predicting how many agents will be needed, and monitoring how well agents adhere to the schedule – so don’t look for a solution set that does things that you don’t really need it to do!
Left Bank Solutions is a leading developer of workforce management solutions – and its Monet Workforce Management System is a prime example of the type of solution we’re talking about. The company offers this as both an on-premise and a hosted solution. Both versions offer all the benefits of an enterprise-class WFM application suite and are easy and simple to administrate.
Perhaps most compelling for the small contact center is the hosted version, called Monet WFM On-Demand, which offers ease of management and improved agent efficiency – but perhaps most importantly, lower cost of ownership. Going with this hosted solution, which was introduced in 2005, not only means you don’t have to shell out for licensing or equipment, it also means you don’t have to place the burden of maintaining and troubleshooting the system on your IT staff, as this is handled by the hosting provider. Best of all, with the hosted model you don’t have to fully commit to the solution – Left Bank will let you try it our on a trial basis to see if it meets your needs!
Another huge advantage of the hosted version is the fact that as Left Bank rolls out new versions of its software, including new improvements and feature sets, you can benefit from those immediately without having to worry about completing an on-premise upgrade. Furthermore, with Monet WFM On-Demand, the cost of the service becomes part of your monthly budget, thus simplifying financial reporting. Rather than paying out a big chunk of capital all at once for implementation, you now have the ability to include the cost of the service in your monthly expense reports as a recurring line item.
Also making the hosted version of Monet WFM On-Demand attractive is the fact that it scales like no tomorrow – in fact, it is capable of handling 1,000+ agent centers with ease. These agents can be spread out all over the globe – in centers which are tailored to serve different customer groups and therefore need to be managed separately. This means that as your business grows, the solution scales to grow with it – even when you are ready to offshore. Obviously, having a flexible workforce management solution which is available 24/7/365 has its advantages for geographically dispersed centers.
Finally, Monet WFM On-Demand is currently the only hosted WFM solution on the market offering true real time agent adherence (RTA). With the addition of an optional ACD
integration module, you can gain the ability to quickly react to sudden fluctuations in call volume – or sudden or unexpected changes in agent’s schedules (such as agents who are unexpectedly late or who need to leave early). You can also quickly view agent statuses and compare them to the schedule to ensure adherence. While most other hosted offerings are simply a stripped down version of the premise solution, Monet WFM On-Demand is distinct in that it offers true RTA through integration with your ACD.
In addition to providing its software on a hosted basis, Left Bank Solutions also offers hosted professional services as well. These services are designed for contact centers that don’t want to pay the overhead for of a full time workforce planner and yet need the expert professional services necessary to ensure that agent availability is matched precisely with demand.
The Monet Workforce Management System can accurately forecast agent requirements by combining service objectives with historical data. It takes into consideration all contacts, including incoming calls, emails, and Web-chats. Schedules are determined for each 15-minute period of the day – and factors including shrinkage, maximum tolerance, and abandon rates are considered in developing the forecasts. Using employee data such as availability, ranking, skill set, and other information, the software can be used to develop customized shifts for the purpose of handling forecasted spikes or drops in volume for a specific product or service. This can be broken down into specific groups of agents – and the schedule can contain an unlimited number of “splits.”
In addition to enabling companies to manage seasonal fluctuations in call volume, Left Bank’s Monet Workforce Management System also lets you produce staffing budgets way ahead of time through the forecasting of shifts and agent schedules. For convenience, all of the data which the software collects can be packaged into reports and then exported into Excel and PDF docs, which can then be sent via email.
If you’re running a small or medium-sized contact center and your current scheduling tools are no longer serving you well, now is probably a good time to consider going with Left Bank’s Monet Workforce Management System. If you don’t do this, and your company’s competition does, you will most definitely be at a disadvantage in terms of generating efficiencies and cost savings in your contact center.
Patrick Barnard is Assignment Editor for TMCnet and a columnist covering the telecom industry. To see more of his articles, please visit Patrick Barnard’s columnist page.