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Do-It-Yourself Workforce Management

In an ideal world, every contact center would be armed with state-of-the-art workforce management tools and software. Think of it...a master command center with large screens showing everything you need to forecast, plan and to make real-time adjustments. 1) Every agent's availability and status, 2) pre-populated schedules that change instantly as needs do, 3) all the queues and all the traffic patterns, 4) anticipatory reporting for long-term, mid-term, and day-to-day, 5) alerts that preemptively recognize when service levels or other metrics will not be reached, and 6) automatic messaging to agents to shift channels or adjust breaks.

Ah, doesn't that sound lovely? For most contact centers though, that master command center is far from reality. In a typical contact center, agent staffing can account for 60-70% of the operating cost, yet there is often no budget left for proper and efficient scheduling and managing of the workforce. In fact, during a recent polling of the ICMI community, only 22% of respondents used a cloud-based WFM software for schedule and forecasting, 15% had one built into their CRM, ACD or routing software, and the majority (56%) were still using Excel spreadsheets. The remaining 7% weren't using any formal process at all!

The challenge of managing a workforce without tools and software will only compound further as contact centers continue to add additional channels into the mix - like social, mobile, chat, and advanced self-service options. In our 2012 ICMI COmmunity Interest Survey, the adoption of new channels or new technology was one of the biggest concerns facing contact center management in 2013. Additionally, over 37% of the respondents expressed a need to know and learn more about workforce management.

So, where do you go for do-it-yourself workforce management?

Start with mapping out your contact center. ICMI has built the Call Center Planning and Management Process that lays out the nine fundamental steps that your center should be following in order to be properly staffed, scheduled, and forecasted. These nine steps encapsulate the basics for making sure that your center's service level objectives are suited to your organization's needs - and that your right resources are in place to make this happen.


Workforce management is a primary part of the overall planning process, which includes forecasting (Steps 2 and 3) and then scheduling (Steps 6 and 7).

WFM involves forecasting your total workload. Forecasting includes collecting your historical data, identifying seasonal and recurring contact drivers, soliciting input from other areas on what will impact your call load … and then adding a dash of judgment. At this point, you should have the number of calls that is expected to come in, but this does not complete the picture. Next, calculate the total workload by taking into account how long the calls take to handle—average handle time (AHT)—and then add any other non-call or deferrable workload the center may have. But you’re still not done: now you must determine the agents’ availability to take calls and account for the factors that might keep them from handling calls, such as being out sick, on vacation, on FMLA, in training, in coaching and/or in meetings.

The next step is to look at how to maximize the usage of the tools that you DO have. Excel, with the addition of the Erlang C formula, can be an effective tool for small centers. By understanding Erlang C and the accompanying Excel models, you can quickly improve your forecasting accuracy, which will then help you build better schedules based on interval levels. ICMI has great virtual training options to assist. If you need even more insight, I'd highly recommend a workforce management bootcamp, which is a intensive way to immerse yourself in both theory and practice of the WFM process.


Here's one last piece of advice as you embark on your do-it-yourself program. ICMI has a 10-minute Workforce Management Scorecard which assesses how well your contact center WFM program is functioning. You might be surprised to see how well you actually are doing, and possibly see where you can make improvements. WFM without all the bells and whistles may not be easy, but it is doable. And it is necessary...for your workforce, your customers, and the overall success of your contact center.