Workforce Optimization: Combining People, Processes and Technologies

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Workforce Optimization:
Combining People, Processes and Technologies
How complex is managing a contemporary contact center? Only as complex as the people
comprising the workforce, and that makes it very complex indeed. While delighting customers is of
the highest priority for customer service-driven businesses, it’s not the only one: in order to satisfy
customers, management must also satisfy the individuals responsible for serving those customers.
It’s a balancing act that directly impacts the survival of the business itself -- particularly given that
staffing represents 65% of total contact center expenditures

“Workforce management is really an art: it’s about having the right people in the right seats,
accurately answering questions at the appropriate service level, and delighting the customer. It’s
about involving agents and making them want to be accountable. It’s about kicking everything up a
notch to deliver world-class service,” says Dr. Rosanne D’Ausilio, president of consultancy Human
Technologies Global Inc. and author of such books as Customer Service and The Human
Experience and Wake Up Your Call Center: Humanizing Your Interaction Hub.

If it seems to be a daunting task, it is: to ensure growth through customer retention, the contact
center must become the face the organization truly wants to present to the public, and that means
developing a service and support strategy that encompasses every facet of inbound and outbound
communications. The organization must establish workforce lifecycle processes that make sense for
the business -- encompassing everything from recruitment to retirement -- and continually finetune
them according to corporate and market dynamics. Where it makes sense for the business -- and in
today’s fast-moving business environment, it makes sense across an increasing range of functions --

companies have got to choose workforce technologies that automate those processes. In doing so,
they must prove to employees that these technologies are beneficial, not an invasive distraction -- a
significant challenge in an industry that’s seen a more than 100% turnover rate in some cases.

These challenges are driving a market that’s broadly defined as workforce optimization, which seeks
to deliver a range of technologies to maximize human capital. It’s a market that, according to
Datamonitor, will be generating global revenues of $1.5 billion by 2007. Workforce optimization
strategies are becoming a key consideration in CRM initiatives, as businesses begin to pay more
than lip service to the idea that customer service is only as good as the people delivering it.

“Some call centers have very basic needs, but when you start to reach a certain level of complexity -
- large call centers with huge product lines, multichannel deployment, complex products, varied
language requirements, complex escalation processes—workforce optimization becomes more
critical,” says Joanie Rufo, an analyst with Boston-based AMR Research.

Not only is the performance of the contact center coming under intense scrutiny but it’s becoming a
testing ground for enterprise performance management initiatives. “Corporate performance overall is
a very hot topic,” says Wendy Close, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. “If I wanted
to undertake a performance management initiative and I had 20,000 agents in the call center, I’d
start there, because the call center has a major influence on the business. It’s a great test bed.”

Rosemary Turley agrees. “I think the most important component of employee performance
management in the call center is its ability to drive behavior and action across the entire employee
base,” says Turley, a partner with Burlington, Mass.-based Performix Technologies, a provider of
employee performance optimization technologies that focus on agents’ needs. “Enterprise employee
performance management won’t necessarily make sense for all of the organization, but where a
large number of employees are performing repetitive tasks—customer service, mortgage claims
processing, bill payments—and generating lots of data, it has great promise.”

What’s Your Function?

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While some of the technologies in the contact center workforce space -- scheduling and quality
monitoring, for example -- have been leveraged for some time; others are just beginning to gain
traction. According to experts, workforce management/optimization technologies cover the following
functions:


Forecasting: Forecasting software allows managers to forecast resources and skillsets
based on historical trends and future predictions. Forecasts take into account the business’
service delivery channels and multiple site needs.

Scheduling: Scheduling software defines the resources needed to deliver optimal service
levels based on business requirements and agent skills and availability. It allows agents to
input schedule preferences -- a key attribute in the drive to give employees a stake in the
businesses they support.


Skills-based routing: Skills-based routing software allows companies to route a call to the
agent with the appropriate skillset, reducing call handling time, improving first -call resolution
and driving customer satisfaction. The software can be programmed to deliver calls to the
appropriate agent across a range of channels, taking into account the employees with the
best phone skills, writing aptitude, etc.

Budgeting:
Budgeting software calculates salary expenses and revenues based on predicted
multichannel traffic volume. It takes into account such variables as part-
time status, staggered
schedules, skillsets, worker seniority and more.

Quality assurance/monitoring: This software records agent/customer interactions to
determine strengths and weaknesses in an agent ’s performance. Paired with intelligence
tools, these tools enable managers to identify patterns that will likely result in good and bad
customer experiences. The software allows managers to monitor performance based on the
frequency that makes sense for the business.

Training: Though too few companies have developed comprehensive training programs
based on individual agent needs, that’s changing. More vendors are developing and/or
integrating e-learning systems that are delivered based on assessed agent needs.


Analytics and reporting: This segment is growing in importance. In workforce optimization
scenarios, management uses this software to analyze a wide range of areas, including costs,
performance, process adherence, success of marketing campaigns, etc. Reporting tools can
look at conditions at predetermined intervals, enabling managers to respond to changing
conditions.

Recognition and rewards: As companies recognize the importance of retaining good
employees, this software segment is making inroads into contact centers. Based on targets,
systems can automatically create reward statements, which can be used for delivering such
benefits as bonuses and time off. If performance is poor, the system can reflect that as well.
These technologies are coming from a host of vendors, both as standalone offerings and as part of
integrated suites. According to Gartner’s Close, there are roughly three camps of vendors, though
many cross lines or provide the technology through integration and partnerships.

Contact center infrastructure providers:
These providers’ solutions include contact center components such as ACD call switching,
IVR, CTI, universal queuing, Web-based collaboration channels, outbound dialing; and voice
messaging. Their solutions also include contact center support applications, such as
workforce management, quality monitoring, e-learning and analytics, typically provided
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through partnerships or reseller agreements.

Contact center workforce optimization providers.
Vendors in this segment seek to provide a comprehensive view of people, skillsets and
performance, and come at it from various strengths. In some cases they provide a large part
of the suite themselves -- WFM, budgeting tools, performance management, quality
monitoring, analytics and training solutions -- and in others, they do so through partnerships.

Contact center workforce management providers.
Vendors in this camp, says Close, typically offer scalable standalone solutions -- forecasting,
planning, scheduling -- for call centers, and in some cases, for other industries as well.

Close says she’s seeing vendors expanding their capabilities to handle more components of
workforce optimization. Envision Inc., for example, recently buttressed its quality monitoring and e-
learning solutions with workforce management products to create an integrated optimization suite.

As with any technology segment, whether contact centers will purchase an entire suite or choose to
go with standalone options depends on how established the company is and what technology it
already has in place. A small company just coming into the market may see the appeal of an
integrated, single vendor offering, says Close, while a large, established company with multiple
contact centers may have successfully leveraged many workforce management components and be
looking toward performance improvements.
“In many aspects, the workforce management technologies such as quality assurance and
scheduling are mature markets,” says Close. “For large companies, there’s a lot of interest in e-
learning and performance optimization, particularly if they’re looking at cross-selling and upselling.”

We the People
While technology that automates the various components of workforce management has become
critical to contact centers, experts are quick to warn that it represents just one aspect of successful
workforce optimization strategies. In the end, technology becomes meaningless if the people it’s
meant to manage aren’t the most important consideration.

“There will be virtual agents, but never virtual
customers. They’ll use self-service as long as it’s
simple, and then they’re going to pick up the phone,”
says D’Ausilio. It’s in a company’s best interest, she
says, to ensure that the person at the other end of
the line feels they’re a stakeholder in the business
they’re supporting.

“Often management acts like a parent to the front
lines rather than holding them responsible for their
own jobs,” she continues. To that end, management
must make communicating with employees a priority,
as well as making them privy to the initiatives that
affect them—whether it be an outsourcing threat, the
deployment of new front-office technologies, or hiring
processes.

“In today’s fast-moving environment, management wants to go from A to C without going through B.
But that middle step is the communication piece,” D’Ausilio says.

Employee-oriented initiatives are only going to gain in importance as the contact center gets more
visibility from executive management. And rightly so, says Close.

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“If I’m a service-oriented business, the contact center is the way I compete. They’re the army.
Revenues are largely driven by how well companies service and support their customers, she says.


Sidebar: Metrics and ROI

The growing management focus on workforce optimization doesn’t mean that such pressing issues
as revenues and profitability aren’t still front and center. What it does mean: in order to exploit
workforce technologies to improve customer service, managers need to implement new metrics and
measurements that better tie employee performance to overall business performance.
“Scheduling and monitoring and analytics are all important because what gets measured gets
managed and what’s managed gets better,” says Rosanne D’Ausilio, president of consultancy
Human Technologies Global Inc. “But contact centers need to better understand the value of metrics
and link that to ROI, because the old paradigm of the call center as a cost center is gone. Call
centers are a revenue-producing entity that are an integral part of overall marketing and a focus for
the entire company.”

If a company can define a poor customer experience and determine how many of those are
occurring, and then place a dollar value on it, they can begin to better tie performance to business
impact, D’Ausilio says. By placing a dollar value on each call type—whether it’s a sales call or a
support session—they can accurately predict lost revenue. Then, by implementing the proper
performance improvements and measuring their effect, they can begin to turn those losses into
gains.

Great improvements can be made just by ensuring that employees are fully engaged in work
processes, says Rosemary Turley, a partner with Performix Technologies. “If you get 90% of
employees engaged and working efficiently [through performance optimization], rather than 10%
doing a brilliant job, you can get huge improvement.”

Business that understand this stand to reap significant ROI on their workforce investments, says Bob
Farina, CEO of Cybershift, a workforce management solutions provider based in Parsippany, N.J.
The bulk of human capital management system investments, he says, has been spent automating
such departments as human resources, which affects a relatively small number of people. Yet
staffing eats up the bulk of corporate expenses and in service-oriented business, front -line people
comprise a big piece of corporate headcount.

“Businesses need to realize that optimizing the highest cost piece of their business translates to high
ROI,” Farina says.

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