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Alphabet Soup: WFO - Workforce Optimization

Turning WFM into WFO - The Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time

WFM = Workforce management: The process of forecasting the workload and applying the appropriate resources to handle that workload at service level. - Call Center Management on Fast Forward, by Brad Cleveland .

WFO = Workforce optimization: A contact center workforce optimization solution integrates disparate contact center technologies - including contact center performance management, e-learning, interaction analytics, quality management and workforce management - which execute against a high-level framework encompassing strategic contact center planning; agent recruitment, deployment, monitoring, evaluation, improvement and motivation; and corporate accountability and contribution. - Gartner IT Glossary

Both are about getting the right people, in the right place, at the right time to achieve desired results. Sounds simple in theory, definitely much more complex in reality.

When you consider ICMI’s formal definition of contact center management: “The art of having the right number of properly skilled people and supporting resources in place at the right times to handle an accurately forecasted workload, at service level and with quality", it becomes apparent that while most think of agents when we reference “right people” the reality is that having the “right people” in the WFM function/roles is equally critical, if not more so given that these individual(s) are responsible for many of the processes required to “get it right.” Typically the WFM team performs the following functions:

  • Forecasting
  • Staffing
  • Scheduling
  • Real-time management
  • Reporting

    Often, as in my own case, a good rep who likes numbers and Excel and is looking for a career opportunity is often the moved into a WFM analyst role and often with little or no formal WFM training. And of course, the results are mixed. Sometimes we get “lucky” and it is a perfect job fit, other times, well, not so much.

    Does this sound familiar? If so perhaps the next time you are in a position to review the competencies, selection and career progression of your WFM team, the following may be of assistance. I would also highly recommend that you, if you have not already, partner very closely with your Human Resources experts.

    Here are some questions/topics to ask and discuss with your management team to ask about existing WFM function’s structure, analyst hiring processes, metrics and value to the organization and/or to assist you in creating these. While the list is certain not exhaustive and “one size does not fit all” these should provide a place to start and certainly prompt some interesting conversations.

    • WFM structure: What should it look like? Small center may mean one individual WFM generalist who needs to be able to perform all WFM functions, while a l arger center may have different people like WFM specialists performing different processes.
    • Centralized versus decentralized? Multi-sites might mean having some more WFM functions centralized and some not.
    • What are the pros and cons of centralizing forecasting and real-time management while maintaining scheduling resource(s) at each location, for example?
    • WFM candidates - hire and promote from within, or look outside?
    • Regardless of structure (generalist versus specialist) you need to document the competencies required to be successful. Do you have a clear set of competencies and corresponding job descriptions?
    • Have you identified which skills, knowledge and abilities must be present upon hire and which you are willing to provide training for?
    • What is the recruiting and selection process? Does it use real scenarios? If you are hiring someone to do forecasting, a part of the selection process should be to have potential candidates create a forecast from a set of actual data. A scheduler should be presented a schedule and asked to identify potential areas of opportunity or errors.
    • What is the new hire training process? Be sure to set them up for success
    • What software and tools do you have in place (WFM, WFO, Excel, simulations)?
    • What training can be provided? Oftentimes these are specialized systems and few in the organization are skilled on them. Be sure to have manuals and back-up guides available.
    • WFM performance metrics - h ow will you assess the WFM team's performance? What KPIs are they responsible for, or responsible for influencing?
    • WFM value and partnership with the business and the contact center - w hat skills, processes, tools and support are required ro ensure trust is established with everyone inside and outside the contact center?
    • Does your center require a real-time person to possess a specific "personality" to best relate with your contact center frontline?

    By the way, these are all questions that participants in our recent WFM Boot Camp in Orlando discussed, shared and debated. We are holding another during our symposium in Chicago this summer, and it is 4-days of intensive workforce inundation that should not be missed! The ideas, examples and viewpoints from the trainer and the class are always enlightening and most definitely interesting!

    Another great resource to help you navigate contact center acronyms is our ICMI Pocket Guide to Call Center Management Terms.

    We’d love to have all of you join in the conversation and share your thoughts, tips, processes, successes and learnings about your WFM function with us! Join us in Chicago, or comment here and let us know what WFO tactics and practices work for you!

    Read the complete Alphabet Soup series: Introduction | CSAT, Customer Loyalty and CSR | SM (Social Media) | SL (Service Level) | WFO (Workforce Optimization)