Friday, October 29, 2010

Available WFM systems | Workforce management systems

This section reviews the general characteristics of vendor offerings in workforce management tools, in particular, monitoring systems. This very robust and advanced area of technology offers a variety of products to serve different call center characteristics. A major contributor to advances in this area is the growth of the Internet, a technology that has made it easier to store and retrieve information across networks and in a variety of different media formats.
Monitoring systems
Add a note hereMonitoring is a critical part of the process of teaching a new CSR how to deal with customers, how to handle difficult situations, and simply how to follow a script and read a screen full of complex information. Feedback is important to improving the performance of CSRs. Even CSRs that have years of experience need constant skill assessment and additional training to update their phone skills and to keep them up-to-date on new technologies and how to use them.
Add a note hereSome telephone switches have a monitoring system built in, and some vendors provide sophisticated software for combined monitoring and quality assurance programs. Typically, these software tools collect data about agent performance and assess that data over the short or long term. Some products also automate the scheduling of agent monitoring for later review. Managers don't need to be present to monitor or to set up tapes.
Add a note hereTraining headset models are also available that have a second jack on the amplifier to accommodate a "no-microphone" headset that a trainer could wear when sitting beside the trainee. A low-budget monitoring system can be incorporated by plugging a tape recorder into the jack.
Pros and cons of monitoring systems
Add a note hereThere are two basic criteria for quality measurement in call centers:
§  Add a note hereEnsuring the center has the best CSRs available, operating at the highest level they can personally achieve
§  Add a note hereEnforcing a consistent standard of quality for customer contacts from the customer's point of view
Add a note hereMonitoring CSRs is still the best way to achieve quality in terms of both criteria. If handled with sensitivity, monitoring can be a benefit to CSRs because it helps them define and reach career goals, assess strengths and weaknesses, and make progress according to realistic standards. One technique used by some organizations is to involve senior management in the call center process. A call is monitored by a senior executive so that this individual hears directly the "voice of the customer." Although monitoring does have some negative implications, if properly presented to CSRs the benefits to both the individual and the center become obvious. The proper instructions for using monitoring products emphasize the benefits to both parties of performance monitoring.
Add a note hereOne obvious benefit of monitoring, assuming that it is performed in the right atmosphere, is that it creates an objective standard of behavior that can be measured and one that can be repeated. It helps ensure delivery not only of good service but also of consistent service from each and every CSR. From a CSR's viewpoint, monitoring creates a way to measure performance that can be described in advance and critiqued intelligently. Results can be quantified and reps can see improvement over time. As well, it allows management to benchmark standards and ensure that all CSRs are treated fairly and by the same standards.
Excesses in monitoring
Add a note hereSome monitoring tools go too far in assessing CSR performance and can be a detriment to improving productivity. As noted previously, call centers typically have the problem of high turnover; one product that has a voice analyzer that dynamically analyzes the speech flow of either the CSR or the customer during a call would probably make this problem worse. The product advises supervisors about how CSRs are "feeling" during the call by reporting on stress levels and other psychological indices, the theory being that this information could then be used to enhance the management of customer relations within the call center. The vendor thinks that this product could be used in conjunction with a monitoring application that stores calls and then retrieves them on demand and runs them through the analyzer. It includes a suite of tools that can diagnose both real-time and offline stress.
Add a note hereThe types of data that are routinely captured by "quality monitoring systems," include, along with an audio message, the agent's screen activity or the Web page that the caller was looking at when completing the transaction. These data are combined to bring a new level of detail to the verification and quality monitoring process. Products such as these tread heavily on CSR sensitivities and they are very unlikely to enhance a CSR's performance. All CSRs experience stress, but there are a number of other, better ways from a human resource perspective to measure performance and reduce tension in the call center workplace. For example, some vendors offer screen monitoring and screen recording systems that provide tools with which supervisors can evaluate the interactions between CSRs and customers, evaluate CSR performance, and train new agents. Supervisors using these products have several monitoring options: They can view in real time one or more CSR PCs at the click of a button to see how they use the script and if they are using the system correctly. Or they can do a "round robin" among multiple PCs on the network, using a cycle mode, to systematically monitor a group of agents. There is also a "stealth" monitoring capability that lets supervisors monitor an agent's PC screen undetected. Supervisors can record any agent's screen at the click of a button and view and record one or more screens simultaneously. Later, they can play back these sessions, search to any point in the recording, and play back at any speed. These sessions can also be archived to accurately document performance on outsource contracts and to provide "proof of performance."
Selecting, installing, and using monitoring systems
Add a note hereSeveral useful guidelines, for monitoring systems should be considered before selecting a system and installing it in a new or existing call center operation. The newest technology tools are broad-based and make it possible for call center supervisors and managers to combine streams, allowing performance trends for both individual CSRs and groups to be analyzed from a variety of perspectives. Such an analysis can be scaled up to look at an entire center or groups of centers. Add information from accounts receivable, order entry, and other areas and a picture emerges that describes several characteristics about CSR performance. Thus, information on how much money a CSR or group of CSRs generates and whether a particular campaign is in trouble can be accessed.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rationale for implementing WFM

In many companies, workforce management systems are not considered to be an essential element of call/contact center management resources in the initial setup of the center, despite the compelling rationale for installing these systems. When the pressure to cope effectively with the growth of customer interactions builds on the center, business users and operational staff must make a decision about which variety of WFM system is required.
Add a note hereAnalysis of the cost and benefits of WFM systems indicates that the average time to breakeven on initial expenditures for workforce management solutions is 12 months using traditional workforce management systems in a telephony-based call center. Workforce management systems in multimedia contact centers will reduce the time to breakeven by about 50%, meaning that it will usually take six months from initial implementation, rather than 12 months.
Add a note hereThe intangible returns must also be considered, because the call/contact center is an environment that can thrive or not depending on how well intangible aspects are managed. Happy, satisfied employees, reductions in recruitment and training costs through lower agent attrition, and increased upselling because of increased customer satisfaction are examples of intangibles that are important to the organization and that need to be considered by call/contact center management.

Add a note hereReview of functionality and benefits of WFM tools
Add a note hereHere is a summary checklist of features and functionality previously described that organizations evaluating workforce management systems need to consider. The WFM system should support the following features:
Add a note hereA core component of any WFM should take account of past operational data and be capable of assisting managers to plan exceptions.
Add a note hereResourcing and supporting a skills-based environment is a critical function, and CRM-focused organizations have to take into account agent preferences and abilities.
Add a note hereKey characteristics of effective WFM tools enable managers to see quickly whether activities are going as planned, and if not, to change them before it is too late.
Web-driven flexibility
Add a note hereWhere remote working and "hot-desking" occur in a center operation, browser-based access via an intranet is a useful feature.
Add a note hereReal-time reports are critical to the effectiveness of center operations, and flexibility and rapid report capabilities should be considered.
What-if scenario planning
Add a note hereWhere major changes are anticipated—adding many new agents, channels, or advertising and marketing campaigns—what-if scenario functionality means testing the waters before embarking on a full-scale campaign.
Multimedia support
Add a note hereAn important functionality to look for in new-generation WFM solutions is the capability to schedule and forecast across multiple channels and ensure service levels throughout the organization, especially at every customer Touch point.
Virtual contact center, multisite support
Add a note hereAllowing for growth and expansion to multiple centers should be a part of the WFM system. Running a virtual center rather than several stand-alone operations can increase the CSR competencies available and improve service levels.
Compliance with employment law, rules, and union regulations
Add a note hereAs noted earlier, companies based in Europe, for example, must comply with the Working Time Directive. The selected WFM solution should be capable of easy adaptation to a specific country's requirements.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The workforce management cycle

Add a note hereFulfilling service levels while managing costs is an iterative cycle that requires several key processes to be completed. Feedback secured from each stage allows the enterprise to continually improve its efficiency and become more confident about its predictions. (see Figure 1) Workforce management systems should offer the following functionalities to support the modern customer-focused enterprise:
§  Add a note hereScheduling to meet service levels
§  Add a note hereAdherence
§  Add a note hereReporting and forecasting
§  Add a note hereWhat-if scenarios
§  Add a note hereVirtual contact center/multisite support
§  Add a note hereCompliance with employment law, rules, and union regulations
§  Add a note hereMultimedia support
§  Add a note hereWeb-driven interfaces and tools

Add a note hereFigure 1: Workforce management cycle.

Scheduling to meet service levels

Add a note hereScheduling is not as simple a process as it may appear. Knowledgeable organizations take CSR preferences and skill sets into account when scheduling. The "warm-body" approach to solving human resource issues—regarding one CSR the same as any other—will cause both agent-satisfaction and customer-service problems. Most companies using advanced workforce management software will have between 6 and 9 skillsets to work with, although a few contact centers use as many as 50. Business needs must come first, however, so a scheduler needs to find the best way to match the company's requirements with the skills of its employees. Scheduling can get particularly complicated in a multimedia environment, which usually has CSRs with multiple media-handling skills—voice, e-mail, text chat, and so on—and multiple business abilities such as sales, service product knowledge, and languages. Businesses must look for a solution that does not oversimplify the scheduling process, yet retains usability and the flexibility to make changes.

Add a note herePrior to planning staffing resources, an organization needs to have an understanding of past history. A WFM system that provides historical data from all customer contacts, based on input from CTI as well as the ACD, means that scheduling can be more realistic. The WFM solution should enable organizations to factor in exceptions that affect staff workload—advertising campaigns, training, public holidays, and other special events and occasions—and determine the best time for a meeting or training session, as well as measure the impact on the overall operation of the center. Thus, an important factor in assessing the capabilities of WFM tools is flexibility in forecasting functionality, because situations can develop very quickly that make forecasts useless without the ability to alter schedules to reflect reality.


Add a note hereAdherence is the ability to compare forecasts with reality and to use this information to correct problems. Sophisticated scheduling and forecasting is useless without the opportunity to improve the process through adherence monitoring. Real-time adherence allows managers to see exactly what is happening and can alert them to deviations from the expected activity, allowing them to make changes before problems occur. Adherence allows a business to fine-tune its call/contact center activity; the more it is used, the more accurate the forecasts and schedules will be.

Add a note hereThe objective of call/contact center managers should be to look for a solution that is simple to understand so the staff will feel comfortable using it and that has the power and functionality to help the center manager understand what has happened and to make necessary changes quickly.

Reporting and forecasting

Add a note hereThe ability of managers and supervisors to see exactly what is happening via real-time reports is key to the workforce management process. Reporting provides a measure of success in achieving targets. Standard reports that are important for determining efficiency include
§  Add a note hereSpeed of answer
§  Add a note hereAverage call-handling time
§  Add a note hereTalk plus Not-ready plus Non-ACD
§  Add a note hereDelay before abandon
§  Add a note hereE-mail handling time
§  Add a note herePercentage of calls abandoned
§  Add a note hereNumber of interactions waiting

Add a note hereWorkforce management systems can be excellent for gauging the efficiency of a center and also forecasting results, but including CRM-focused measures, such as customer satisfaction, increase in market share, and improvement in loyalty levels, is more difficult. These metrics are just as important as the queue-centric reports, and businesses should make sure they capture and extract this information from their systems. The more statistics from various sources that can be brought together consistently, the more accurate the view of customer-focused activity. There is no point in striving to achieve high levels of efficiency if customers remain unhappy with the service provided or unknowledgeable about products they should be buying. Taking into account and reacting to business metrics, as well as the service-level measures that workforce management systems are so effective at providing, is important to assessing the overall performance of the center.

What-if scenarios

Add a note hereOne of the most useful tools for call/contact center managers, particularly in a multimedia environment, is the ability to see what will happen to service levels if an event occurs, before that event occurs. Sophisticated workforce management systems allow managers to try out what-if scenarios, at no risk to the center's operational ability, by providing a way to model various scenarios.

Add a note hereUsing these modeling techniques, the contact center manager can, for example, understand how the center workload would change if the following events occurred:
§  Add a note hereA new advertising campaign increases call volumes.
§  Add a note hereA large number of untrained agents start work at the same time.
§  Add a note hereA new multimedia channel becomes available to customers.
§  Add a note hereA key product line is offered at a discount.

Add a note hereWhat-if scenarios are very useful in directing long-term strategies, such as planning, budgeting, and recruitment.

Virtual contact center/Multisite support

Add a note hereAn increasing trend in some global enterprises, especially in larger markets such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France is to have several call/contact centers servicing customers. This operational model has been driven by a number of developments, including
§  Add a note hereRapid call/contact center growth in particular areas that has caused recruitment and retention problems
§  Add a note hereThe increased number of call/contact centers for businesses involved in acquisitions or mergers
§  Add a note hereTeleworking and remote call center locations that mean CSRs may never see their parent center
§  Add a note hereThe preference of some companies to offer a "local touch" to customers by basing centers in their area
§  Add a note hereImprovements in networking and telephony that make it easier to establish virtual centers
§  Add a note hereThe increasing need of companies to serve global customers, requiring either operating contact centers in different time zones or paying overtime to CSRs to work covering hours
§  Add a note hereThe possibilities of operational redundancy and disaster recovery with multisite centers

Add a note hereCombining multiple smaller centers into one large center can provide significant economic benefit through simple economies of scale. Correctly staffing five 100-seat call/contact centers is generally more complex and less efficient than staffing a single 500-seat operation. This is especially true when skills-based routing via a universal queue is being used. All agent competencies are displayed to the scheduler, who can be more flexible simply because the available resource pool is so much deeper.

Compliance: union rules, regulations, and the law

Add a note hereDifferent countries have different labor laws, and a superior workforce management system has to be easily configurable to take into account union regulations, laws, and other rules applying to businesses. For example, companies based in the member states of the European Union must take into account the Working Time Directive, which specifies that employees must work no more than 48 hours per week and restricts working nights, holidays, and breaks. The monitoring of CSRs is regulated by law in Germany, where monitoring by name is considered to be an invasion of privacy. An evaluation of WFM systems needs to include whether or not a solution can be easily adapted to each specific country's regulations.

Multimedia support

Add a note hereWorkforce management systems provide a significant benefit to call/ contact center managers by answering one of the most urgent questions center managers ask themselves: How do I staff my multimedia contact center? Many so-called contact centers simply give agents a few e-mails to deal with when call volumes decrease, but when call volumes rise, e-mails are forgotten. Contact center managers may be quite capable of efficiently managing telephony-only call centers. In many cases, their experience allows them to make good judgment calls on these operational issues, based on years of experience. However, managing the multimedia contact center challenges even the most seasoned call center manager, because multimedia contacts and transactions are fundamentally different from telephone calls and must be handled differently. This is a situation that can lead to staffing issues, for the following reasons:

§  Add a note hereCSR competencies have to be considered. Good telephony CSRs may not have the skills required to be good at handling e-mail or text chat contacts, where quick typing speed is required along with strong technology skills and correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. CSRs good at written customer service may not have the listening or verbal communication skills required for telephony service.
§  Add a note hereCustomers have different levels of expectation depending on the channel they are using. Most customers expect a response via e-mail within 24 hours, whereas a typical telephony service level is 80% of calls to be answered within 20 seconds.

§  Add a note hereStandard responses using e-mail can speed up the process considerably.
§  Add a note hereBatch customer requests—e-mail, fax, and letter—are, by definition, not interactive. Additional resources may be needed to deal with incomplete requests.
§  Add a note hereTelephone queues are essentially self-managing. If the phone is not answered quickly enough, the call is abandoned and the phone queue decreases. With e-mail, contacts back up until they are dealt with, a situation that can present serious problems.
§  Add a note hereE-mails may get "stale-dated" because the customer loses interest, gives up on the e-mail, and calls the center for a verbal response. This leads to a nonproductive, time- and resource-wasting cycle of answering dead e-mails while live ones go unattended until they too go out-of-date!
§  Add a note hereCosts increase as the unsatisfied e-mail customer rings the contact center to find out what happened to the e-mail. Where e-mails are held separately from transactions—that is, in organizations where the universal queue and universal routing are not being used—the e-mail may remain live even after the issue has been resolved.

§  Add a note hereIn the early stages of multimedia contact implementation, extra time should be allowed for each nontraditional transaction. CSRs will still be adapting to the process and the time per transaction should decrease as they become accustomed to the new environment.
§  Add a note hereCustomers also need time to familiarize themselves with new contact methods such as text chat and Web collaborations.

Add a note hereExperience has shown that many customers using Web collaboration for the first time enjoy the experience so much they spend longer than needed with each CSR.

Add a note hereSales-focused call/contact centers will notice a rise in calls after a marketing campaign. In addition to the spike in calls after TV ads,
§  Add a note hereE-mail advertising will produce a similar spike in inbound contacts with a range of different patterns.
§  Add a note hereInteractive digital TV will produce major spikes in e-mail activity after TV commercials, which may well extend to text chat and Web collaboration as well, depending on how many channels the enterprise opens up.
§  Add a note hereDifferent patterns of usage emerge from these new channels. Interactive TV is used more in the evenings, when most people return from work, whereas direct e-mail campaigns are likely to get an immediate response depending on where people access their e-mail.

Add a note hereThe call/contact center manager has some advantages when handling e-mail, because supporting e-mail is not dependent on the time of day. This means the scheduler has a considerable amount of freedom in trying to reduce the backlog. For example, some contact centers bring in students in the late evening to answer e-mails when most of the full-time CSRs have left the center. Others can answer e-mails through the night by employing people in other time zones—India, the Philippines, and Australia. In addition, the cost of e-mail is not location-dependent, given the resources available to the World Wide Web. It costs as much to route an e-mail around the globe as it does to send it to the person next door. And although telephone calls still have an associated long-distance cost, the difference between the two channels will become even less when VoIP becomes used globally. All of these points need to be considered when scheduling and forecasting for nontraditional types of contact. Additionally, how multimedia contacts will be handled must be decided. Will they be handled by dedicated agents or by blended agents, a process that could be more effective in a universal queue model and that has very positive effects on agent satisfaction?

Add a note hereA large number of operational headaches in call/contact centers are caused by not resourcing tasks correctly. New-generation workforce management systems will go a long way toward helping managers run things more smoothly and efficiently. Next-generation workforce management solutions will focus strongly on allowing call/contact center managers to plan long-term strategies. They will use these tools to model their operations based on various assumptions (for example, agent turnover at 20%, fixed agent career paths, 25% of workload being e-mail). Rather than having to react to external forces, the center manager will know how to resource the operation effectively before events actually happen as well as understanding their effects on the business.

Add a note hereWFM tools are very useful in assisting managers to prepare for sudden changes in call volume and other peaks and valleys that often come along without warning. For these situations, WFM can provide a warning, and it is often intuitive enough to see patterns in call histories and discern peaks and valleys that even experienced call center managers could not anticipate. A good example is holiday scheduling. Holidays bring together two divergent elements that most directly affect the call center. Calls surge up in unusual ways; however, they are predictable if the patterns that drive them are recognized. At holiday time, employees tend to have a variety of counterproductive demands, such as days off, flexible schedules, vacations, and time with families. WFM software predicts the call load for a given day from historical data. It provides information about how many calls are going to come in at any moment and allows managers to match that load effectively to the human resources available, even at times of unusual call patterns. Thus managers can act quickly to handle any divergence between people and calls, either days ahead of time or within a shift.

Add a note hereThe preceding are just a few of the examples of improvements in efficiency and optimization of resources that WFM tools can provide, factors that take on new significance in a multimedia center. The following sections summarize the benefits of WFM and provide some guidelines for measuring the results obtained from WFM.

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