(This is a guest blog authored by Spence Mallder, SVP, GM Workforce Optimization, CTO of Aspect Software, originally published on February 12, 2014.)
Ben Franklin was a wise man and counseled us with his sage words, “Do not squander time, for it is the stuff life is made of.” Unfortunately, contact centers and back office operations across the globe are squandering time, and quite a bit of it. It’s not being squandered in big 30-minute chunks that would have any decent supervisor up in arms. It’s being squandered in dozens of 1 and 2 minute intervals of idle time that we have become accustomed to seeing in the contact center business.
We assume this is the norm, because we don’t know any better. Industry experts estimate that every day, agents spend about 11% of their time being idle.
Worldwide, that amounts to approximately 6 million idle hours (or 685 idle years) per day. That’s huge! Imagine the improvement in customer experience, employee morale and costs savings if there were a way to harness that 11% idle time and turn it into training time, call handling time, back office processing time or vacation time for that matter.
Traditional workforce management tools do a good job of estimating the level of contact center staff required to achieve a given level of service. Aspect’s Workforce Management solution, for example, uses some very complex algorithms that weight historical call volumes with more recent volumes to create very accurate intraday staffing schedules. However, it is impossible to predict the exact ebb and flow of calls from thousands of customers.
Historically, contact centers have scheduled agents with the very best information available, and beyond that, it’s just a question of how much risk you are willing to take and what SLAs you are willing to tolerate. So what is the next phase in the evolution of workforce management systems that can smooth out these unpredictable patterns and recapture some of the 6 million hours per day that would make Ben Franklin shudder?
The magic is in real-time. Real-time workforce management is the technology that groups together some of the 1 and 2 minute idle periods mentioned above across a large number of agents to free up dedicated agents for useful periods of time (typically greater than 30 minutes). By being able to seamlessly change the type of work being performed by your employees in real-time, contact centers can effectively break down the organizational silos among labor pools, whether they are in the front office, back office, different customer communication channels, different agent skill types or different software applications. Pretty soon all these minutes will start to create some significant time blocks.
Of course, the real-time workforce management requires real-time monitoring of ACD, chat, and email volumes in concert with tracking of agent skills to ensure that only appropriately skilled agents are transferred from one work type to another. But the returns can be absolutely breathtaking. The overall annual benefit is estimated to be about $9 million for every thousand agents when you consider improved customer experience and loyalty, improved employee performance and labor savings. Expect to see real-time enablement become an essential addition to every workforce management system. For call centers, it’s like the discovery of electricity.
Spence Mallder, General Manager of the Workforce Optimization Division and Chief Technology Officer at Aspect Software, is focused on identifying process efficiency improvement opportunities in the enterprise to meet the market demand for a single solution to optimize and orchestrate the different resources and tasks that impact the customer experience in both the front and back office.