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Workforce Management in the Multichannel Call Center

Recent research from the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) revealed a pattern for agent group structures. For the most part, according to ICMI’s 2010 research report Self-Service and the Multichannel Contact Center, all or nearly all agents in the center handle phone calls, Web calls and Web callbacks. For more specialized e-support (email, text, chat, video chat and fax), most respondents reported that they specially train and dedicate a smaller, separate group of agents.

The Self-Service Impact on WFM

The potential cost and loyalty benefits of customer self-service are huge. In the contact center, for instance, a typical transaction completed in an IVR system costs about 50 cents, versus five or six dollars for a typical call handled by a live agent. However, respondent data in Self-Service and the Multichannel Contact Center shows that some organizations with self-service offerings have trouble meeting service level goals.

Self-service and multichannel environments can take a toll on forecasting and scheduling accuracy. Based on the survey results, we can confidently posit that at least some of the trouble in meeting service level goals can be attributed to the failure of self-service strategies to truly address and meet customer needs.

What’s Wrong with Customer Self-Service? (a complimentary research companion whitepaper) offers some tips for looking at your organization’s self-service customer experience — and may help WFM professionals understand why the promise of cost savings through customer deflection has yet to come to fruition.

It’s important to point out here that contact centers should be vigilant regarding overuse of segmentation. Consider the pooling principle, which states that any movement in the direction of consolidation of resources will result in improved traffic-carrying (i.e., call handling) efficiency. Conversely, any movement away from consolidation of resources will result in reduced traffic-carrying efficiency. Specialization may be necessary for certain complex call types or for multiple languages, but cross training should be practiced whenever possible. The best time to start this practice is in the hiring process — recruit and hire people with the broadest possible variety of skills.

Forecasting and scheduling agents for the multichannel environment is challenging for most survey participants’ centers (22.4% said it is much more challenging and 26.3% said it is somewhat more challenging). Just more than one-third (34.1%) said the multichannel environment is no more challenging than a traditional environment.

That forecasting and scheduling for the multichannel center is challenging isn’t a complete surprise given most centers’ inclination to create channel-specific teams. Of course, not all centers participating in the study have a WFM system in place — such systems aren’t always appropriate for small contact centers. Of those centers that do report having a WFM system, however, many of them do not have accounting in their system for channels other than telephone. Only 38.5% said their WFM system accounts for email; the number’s even lower for chat (18.5%) and lower yet for fax and video chat.

Of those respondents whose WFM system does not effectively account for all contact types, 69.9% said they manually analyze historical date for each con- tact type (using tools such as spreadsheets) to forecast workload. A few centers (19%) use computer simulation. Unfortunately, too many (20.5%) reported that they simply guess at forecasting for channels their WFM system can’t account for.

We see, then, that there’s much ground to be gained in the multichannel and self-service environment. WFM can both benefit and contribute to the overall cost savings to their centers and their organization. WFM professionals, by sharing their knowledge and experience, can help the contact center understand the impact of the multichannel environment and how their decisions may be inadvertently binding resources.

Layne Holley is Director of Community Services for ICMI. [email protected]