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Article : The WorkForce Management Guide To: Center Performance Data Integration

Does your contact center accurately report center performance to calculate future staffing requirements? You may be surprised what you uncover by looking at the data source, formulas and integration process.

Do you question whether you are properly reporting the amount of work completed within your center or have questions about the transfer of data from an ACD to a workforce management (WFM) system?

Within this article, we will examine the data elements commonly used to report center performance from an ACD to a WFM system. Whether you are intending to implement a WFM system or are already using a WFM system, this article can assist you, the center data analyst and project manager.


We will begin by identifying the steps to a successful WFM implementation followed by a review of different integration options. Next, we define center performance data elements such as events offered and average handle time while covering points that need analyzed to assure values are consistent with business needs.

 

Identify Project Team Resources
With each workforce management implementation, a vendor will assign a project manager to co-manage the project with your project manager. If the implementation does not have these resources assigned or unable to communicate, a WFM project will definitely be costly, delayed and may even fail.

In addition to the project managers, a representative needs assigned to analyze, implement and support the data integration process. This person usually is in IT and has some ACD support responsibilities.

 

Identify The Integration Process
The first thing a WFM vendor will provide is hardware requirements and a list of reports that need purchased from the ACD vendor.

To determine exactly what needs purchased the integration process needs defined. There are two integration processes that cover most of the marketplace, interval and real-time. Interval data reporting from an ACD to a WFM system occurs at the completion of every half hour; some of you may choose to have the data on a 15 or 60-minute basis. Real-time integration is the sending of agent data in a real-time data stream. Note that not all ACD have the ability to send real-time data.

Interval reporting can stand-alone and is the source of events / calls offered. Real time reporting is purchased in addition to interval reporting and does not stand alone. Real time increases the reporting accuracy of such items as average handle time and agent productivity. The reason real-time does not stand-alone is because it collects time and does not count the number of occurring activities such as offered or handled events.

Interval reports are plain text files. The ACD sends the files to a specific location on a WFM server or a workstation dedicated to the integration process. The server then recognizes the file and processes the information by importing the data into the associated activity tables defined within WFM.

For real-time reporting, you need to work with the ACD vendor to program the ACD to send agent data in a real-time data stream. The data stream will contain each agent workstate change. For example, when an agent changes from waiting for an incoming call, the ACD sends the call activity with the time the activity began. The next agent workstate change will determine the total time spent in the activity.

Your hardware usually includes an application server with the option for an additional database server. For the integration process, some vendors will request you to setup an additional workstation to be dedicated to the integration process. The WFM vendor will work with you to determine which environment is best for you.

The ACD reports, usually one or two, cost between $5,000 and $10,000 per report in addition to the WFM vendor cost, usually another $5,000 to $10,000 for setting up their end of the service. The process of installing the reports can be difficult because you have to work between the ACD vendor and the WFM vendor who may resist communicating with each other. This point of an implementation requires a project manager to step up and get the two vendors communicating and working together to assure the data transfer is implemented correctly and timely. Delays in WFM projects implementations routinely occur at this point.

 

Analyzing Reports
We now want to analyze the content of the reports. Analysis of reports is necessary to assure the WFM system will report values based upon your business principles and practices. Not analyzing the reports is the most common and costly mistake of any WFM implementation.

Each data element that is contained in integration reports and WFM system reports need analyzed to determine the source of data and the calculation formulas.

Let us walk through the steps you need to follow in your report analysis. Start by listing each element contained in the integration reports. Next you want to determine the formulas so you know what each element represents. Finally, determine how each data element is used within the WFM system.

Interval report data elements are commonly calls handled, calls abandoned, talk time, after call work, average speed of answer, total sign on time, service level, and occupancy. The actual elements collected are dependant upon which vendor you choose.

Do you use custom reports within your ACD? Amazingly, some analyst may not even know if the reports they are using are custom or default. If you are using custom reports, it is probably because there was, or is a business need for a custom calculation for one of the data elements. If a custom calculation is required based upon your business need, you may need to modify the formula for some of the data elements contained in the default data integration report.

In addition to analyzing the ACD report, the WFM application needs analyzed to determine how the new data is used. This is required to assure there is a clear understanding of which data elements derive from the ACD data integration and which values are formulas from within the WFM application.

Service quality level is a good example of a data element reported on an ACD and contained on the interval integration report but at times calculated by a different formula by some WFM vendors. This results in the ACD and WFM systems reporting two different values for your service level. This will definitely question the validity of your performance.

The question you have to ask is "Does my service quality level (SQL) need to match the ACD?" If your business is based upon a calculation reported from the ACD this same calculation should be reported from with the WFM reports and should be the basis for calculating staffing requirements. Is the report that your center references to look at SQL a custom report? If you answer yes, you also need to modify the integration report calculation.

Again, each data element reported needs analyzed and understood, preferably prior to implementation to determine if an interface report needs customized. ACD vendors usually charge an additional $1,000 to customize a vendor recommended report. This charge is a small price to pay compared to the total investment that would otherwise be producing inaccurate center performance reports and staffing requirements.

 

Analyzing Events Offered
We now want to take a close look at the two most important data elements involved with data integration, events offered and average handled time (AHT). Analysis of these items is so important it can make or break the investment of the workforce management application. Numerous factors influence these elements and have a direct effect on forecasting staffing requirements.

For the setup of data integration, WFM vendors will ask for events offered to use as the basis of calculating staffing requirements. Some ACD will report offered while other ACD will report handled and abandoned which comprises offered.

Offered = Handled + Abandoned

Workload = (Handled + Abandoned) * (AHT)

Handled and abandoned values are usually easy to identify. However, some centers do not count events that occur within the service level or other defined length of time. An example is a center with a goal of 80% of offered within 20 seconds but all abandoned events discounted within the first 20 seconds.

If you have a customized service level based upon a modified abandoned value and your WFM application does not discount these abandons in the forecasting algorithm, you will also need to customize the formula for offered in your WFM data integration reports. If reporting is not consistent, the data will not result in an effective staffing requirement forecast. If discounted abandons are factored in the calculation of service level performance but not discounted in the integration of offered events to the WFM system, the calculation of the forecasted offered will be overstated resulting in overstated staffing requirements.

Even with a customized offered the algorithm calculation of staffing requirements would still factor a percentage of the offered calls to abandon prior to the service level goal. This will result in the understating of staffing requirements.

Seldom will a vendor customize the forecasting algorithm, but the trend is changing with new releases and new vendors by allowing users more options and the ability to customize the abandon delay in the algorithm.

 

Analyzing Average Handle Time
Along with offered, average handle time (AHT) is the second component comprising workload. In the simplest of terms, AHT is the sum of average talk time (ATT) and average after call work (ACW). ATT is the time from when an agent begins to work with a customer to the time the customer departs. After the customer has left the agent, further time may be necessary to complete the work generated by the initial event known as ACW.

Workload = events * (ATT + ACW)

Interval or Real-Time AHT

Do you know that some vendors offer two different ways to collect AHT? AHT can be collected from the interval ACD report or from a real-time data feed? Each process will report different AHT values. There are positives and negatives to each option. You will need to review the following points to determine which is best for your business needs. Again, not all ACD offer real-time data feeds and not all WFM vendors will process the real-time feeds.

The negative point of interval collection is that work is not always attributed to the actual increment worked. If an event starts at 11:58 and ends at 12:02, the event is 4 minutes in length. All 4 minutes of work are applied to the 12:00 to 12:30 increment. The process understates AHT for the 11:30 to 12:00 while 12:00 to 12:30 will be overstated. The greatest effect caused by this integration method is at the beginning and the end of the day because the peak periods of the day will have both negative and positive effects applied. A positive point of using this process is that the data is retrievable from the ACD as long as it stores the data, data integration can occur at any time.

The alternative approach to reporting AHT is through the real-time data integration. This process applies work to the actual increment the work is completed. A negative point is that if the datastream is down for any length of time, the data cannot be re-sent and is lost. Note that not all ACD will support real time data streaming.

The real-time process is also dependant upon employees properly defined within the WFM application to associate the work time. All employees that potentially work scheduled activities need defined. If an undefined agent, lead, supervisor, or trainer works an activity, the work time is lost resulting in an incorrect reporting of AHT and ultimately incorrect forecasted staffing requirements.

 

Average Talk Time
Average talk time (ATT), the primary component of AHT, is usually straightforward. However, the time agents spend while having placed a customer on hold time may need reviewed. Work time can possibly be missing if hold time is not in the talk time calculation. If hold time is not in AHT, the work time needs summed regularly and included as a shrinkage category.

 

After Call Work
After call work (ACW), the follow-up work that is required from a previous event and the second primary component of AHT, is the most common element that causes inaccurate workload performance reporting. Reporting ACW is difficult because it is dependant upon an agent's ability to place their phone or CTI into the proper work state and due to the affects of multi-skilled agents.

Determining what activities are supposed to be included in ACW is vital to properly reporting performance. Ultimately, all activities are defined prior to the setup of data integration. Usually the guideline for determining if an activity should be included in ACW is if it is a direct result of an inbound activity. Activities not a direct result of an inbound activity need defined as a shrinkage category and planned independently. For example, training is an activity but not associated to an event generated by a customer. The activity of sending a fax to the plant to finish a customer order, in most instances, is included in ACW.

Upon determining the different activities to be included in ACW, the agents need to be educated on what phone and CTI workstates represent what activities so they can place their phones into the proper workstate. You should support this education through quality control monitoring and coaching.

If you have multi-skilled agents, ACW becomes even more complex. Centers with multi-skilled agents using an ACW will not be able to associate the ACW time to the proper activity. If agents are assigned to handle two activities and place themselves into ACW, there is no link to associate the work and activity. Some ACD and WFM applications will report the ACW time to the most recent inbound activity, while other ACD will only report the overall ACW time.

 

A Close Look At Some Numbers
Let us look at some efficiency numbers to see the impact of not staffing properly due to an inaccurate representation of center performance.

In this scenario, a center has one activity and handles 1000 events during a day with a talk time of 3 minutes. However, the after call work does not include all of the after call work activities and reports 45 seconds instead of 1 minute. The overall cost is that the activity will be understaffed by approximately 6%.

1000 events handled

180 seconds talk time

45 sec reported ACW

15 sec of unreported ACW

15 / 240 = Approximately 6% understaffed

To look at a similar scenario, if ACW includes activities like unscheduled breaks and reports 75 seconds of ACW instead of what should be 60 seconds, the overall cost is a forecast overstaffed by approximately 6%.

These figures quickly justify why the review of each data element is so important to the success of workforce management principles and practices.

 

Summarizing Our Points
In summary, the following points must be reviewed to successfully manage a data integration process for the transfer of center performance data.

  • Identify project resources to support the data integration setup.

  • Identify the best integration process based upon business needs and ACD limitations

  • Analyze ACD integration report data elements and how they are utilized within your WFM system

  • Analyze offered events by determining how your business calculates service level

  • Analyze how hold time is calculated to determine talk time

  • Review which activities are used to calculate after call work and which are shrinkage categories

  • Review operation's workstate management procedures

The data integration process is an extremely vital component of a successful workforce management system implementation. In order for workforce management to produce an accurate staffing requirement forecast, there must be an accurate representation of the center's historical performance based upon the specific center and activity goals.


About the Company
The WorkForce Management Group, Inc. is an authority on workforce management systems and solutions for the customer contact center. Changing technologies and increased pressures for optimal utilization of resources have pushed workforce management software to a position of higher visibility and represents increased risk during the product selection, implementation and utilization cycles.

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Published: Tuesday, June 17, 2003

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