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Article : An Introduction to Workforce Management

Workforce management has been described as "getting the right number of people in the right place at the right time to meet service level goals — all while minimizing costs." Those of you responsible for this area know this is not an easy task. However, it is one of the most significant because 75% or greater of a contact center's costs are related to staffing.

"Getting it right" is hard for several reasons. One of the biggest forecasting challenges that contact centers face is the random nature in which calls arrive. This is known as Random Contact Arrivals. No set call patterns and a lack of control make forecasting for Random Call Arrivals very difficult. For example, it would be difficult to predict when an airline reservation center may be bombarded with calls because of severe weather conditions on the East Coast. Or, perhaps there was a misprint on a monthly invoice, which was sent to 100,000 customers. Another example might be a television provider who loses a satellite signal during the Super Bowl.

It is common to have a fluctuation in call arrivals. One moment a rush of calls can come in that end up backing up the queue. Then, 10 minutes later, over 50% of your staff could be available with zero calls in queue. You may say to yourself, "It would be great if we could spread out calls or have some of the customers call back in a few minutes!" If customers knew there was an extended wait time, would some of them hang up and call back a little bit later? Studies have shown that some customers will. When customers are given a verbal estimate of prolonged wait time, a percentage of them will hang up and try their call again later, thus leveling out the call pattern. Even though this has been known to be true, only 25% of all contact centers have predicted wait time technology in place today.

Another reason it's difficult to "get it right" is the variation of call types and the increasing complexity of calls that contact centers are handling today. As product lines, services and methods of contact increase, so do customers' expectations. It has long been said that once we meet customers' expectations, we must increase the level of service in order to meet them again.

Customers now have choices on how and when they contact centers. Many centers are open 7/24 to ensure they are available when their customers need assistance. These same centers have opened up multiple contact channels so that their customers can choose how they want to contact the centers. Contact channels include telephone, fax, e-mail, Web chat or callback. This brings new staffing challenges as the skills needed to fulfill each contact type vary. Combine all of this with expanded products, multiple applications and servicing customers, and it becomes all the more complex.

Now that I've shared why "getting it right" is so difficult, what are the implications of "getting it wrong?" "Getting it wrong" leads to understaffing or overstaffing. Understaffing creates long hold times, increased telephone costs, a loss of revenue, agent burnout and turnover and a low quality of service. Overstaffing results in low productivity, a decrease in profits and agent boredom.

So, what is the solution to ensure that you "get it right?" There is an art and science to forecasting. The art is in your ability to predict the future based on your past experience and to use your intuition or judgment. The science is your ability to utilize software, calculations and historical statistics. The combination of both art and science provide you with the tools necessary to create the balance that "gets the right number of people in the right place at the right time."

About Connie Smith:
Connie Smith is the Chief Evangelist at Envision.

About Envision:
Envision is a provider of contact center software solutions that empower businesses to maximize every contact with their customers. Envision creates tools needed to provide for the success of the enterprise through the people who make every customer contact count - contact center agents. The product line includes Envision Workforce Management, Envision Quality Monitoring, Envision eLearning and Envision Logging.

Today's Tip of the Day - Avoid The “Knee Jerk” Reaction

Read today's tip or listen to it on podcast.

Published: Thursday, July 1, 2004

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