On a typical day in a typical contact center operation—whether in support of a bank or a healthcare provider, an insurance company or a major retailer—hundreds of agents handle thousands of customer inquiries. Guided by historical data and bordered by budgetary constraints, workforce managers create capacity plans to schedule the correct number of agents to handle expected customer volume for the coming day, week, month, quarter, or year.
Workforce managers do their best with the technology and budget at their disposal, but the job of satisfying dynamic demand (incoming calls) with static supply (available agents) has always been a battle. In recent years, new challenges have surfaced to make it even more difficult. At a time when organizations are already struggling to reduce attrition, new factors are making the problem worse.
If contact centers hope to keep pace with evolving conditions, long-held workforce management practices will need to be updated. This is the mission of WFM Labs, an independent community of contact center professionals sponsored by Intradiem and launched in late 2022. WFM Labs is dedicated to realigning WFM practices with the real challenges confronting today’s workforce managers.
The Case for Change
Each day brings exceptions to the historical assumptions that underlie capacity plans. Maybe today is the last day of a big promotion. Maybe a storm is pounding the area where customers live. Maybe a new bank or insurance regulation just went into effect. And definitely—not maybe—an unknown number of agents scheduled to work today won’t make it, for various reasons.
All these things affect customer volume, but the effect can’t be precisely calculated ahead of time. As a result, even the most carefully crafted capacity plans can quickly unravel, forcing workforce managers into reactive “firefighter” mode to try to limit the seesawing imbalance between agents and customers.
Meanwhile the larger organization pays a price for each moment of imbalance—either in the form of customer dissatisfaction when incoming calls overmatch available agents, or redundant labor costs when slack call volume leaves some agents idle.
WFM Labs has identified five new developments which have added urgency to the need to rethink WFM practices:
- The global pandemic introduced a new remote/in-office/hybrid work model and also prompted employees to reevaluate their work-life balance. As the labor market recovers, workers have the upper hand and businesses are forced to compete for agents who can choose the employer that best satisfies their new work-life balance needs.
- Exponential technology change is introducing powerful new automated tools that will take over simpler customer service requests and leave live agents to deal almost exclusively with more complex, high-stakes inquiries. This will generate a need for more training and stronger in-call support.
- The rise of an informal “gig” economy is driving workers to view themselves as independent contractors rather than servants of their employers’ objectives. The supply-driven labor market gives agents more bargaining power and may be aggravating already high attrition, which usually resulted from long-term burnout but now occurs earlier and more unpredictably in agents’ tenure.
- New Millennial/Gen Z expectations resulting from the fact that many young agents entered the workforce during the pandemic, an introductory experience which has convinced them that security, stability, and flexibility guarantees are non-negotiable.
- A climate of acute business risk driven by increased vulnerabilities from geopolitics, supply chains, labor and capital markets, and other areas. Uncertainty has always been part of running a business, but the threat of volatility coming from many directions at once has added urgency to the need to devise and incorporate more effective risk mitigation strategies into planning.
Organizations that fail to address these issues effectively will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.
A Path to the Future of Workforce Management
Today’s workforce management practices focus primarily on the demand side of customer service. WFM Labs believes that more attention needs to be focused on the supply side. In the current scenario, demand (customer inquiries) is dynamic, but supply (available agents) is static. WFM Labs seeks to redress the problem by emphasizing three priorities:
- Employees First: Prioritizing agent satisfaction and engagement will help overcome the drag of costly and persistent attrition.
- Resilient Planning: Leveraging Monte Carlo simulation will deliver more resilient, risk-assessed capacity plans that achieve both cost and service-level objectives simultaneously.
- Real-Time Automation: Automating intraday activities and leveraging variance management systems will help replace reactive firefighting with proactive solutions.
This new framework will help organizations transition from today’s pre-scheduled model, which focuses on achieving a single endpoint, to a more dynamic approach using real-time automation technology to reduce risks associated with variance. Newly available technologies can actually convert inevitable variance into opportunities—allowing contact centers to leverage gaps in demand to deliver dynamic training, coaching, adherence assistance, and in-call support to agents.
Contact centers can then respond to variance with greater agility and ensure that each moment of staff time is used more efficiently and more profitably for both agents and the organization. The result will be greater customer satisfaction and stronger employee retention.
WFM Labs believes that effective workforce management practices can best be achieved through collaboration. Our community, comprised of industry leaders from across the business landscape, welcomes all professionals with contact center/WFM experience to join us.
We’re committed to examining workforce management in a new light, where employees are prioritized and automation and simulation technologies are leveraged to benefit agents and deliver superior results for customers and shareholders.