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Workforce Management to Workforce Optimization

In most organizations, labor accounts for 70-80% of the operating expense in the contact center.  Historically, “Workforce Management” has been the mechanism that drives staffing decisions to attain service level goals while assuring high utilization of front line staff.  While these goals are still critical to a contact center, the successful contact center of the future must also focus on both the customer and employee experience.  This renewed focus requires a broader thought process exemplified by “Workforce Optimization”.

Workforce Management

There are many workforce management tools available to contact centers.  In its simplest form, workforce management marries historical call patterns with key shrinkage factors to drive required staffing schedules.  Next, names are placed into available schedules and we are off to the races…….not the most personal process.

Using a typical workforce management tool, a contact center operation generally runs quite well.  Service levels are attained (not always as smoothly as desired) and representatives are quite busy answering the phone.

This rudimentary process is effective, yet there are tremendous opportunities for improvement.  Some of the key questions that need to be addressed to further enhance the process include:

  • Is shrinkage defined in enough detail to separate controllable/non-controllable activities?
  • For controllable shrinkage, what are the activities that will take place during those times and how are they justified?
  • How will volume fluctuations be handled without just throwing money at it?
  • How does this impersonal process impact employee attitudes/engagement?

Workforce Optimization

The gaps identified above can be addressed by driving towards a “Workforce Optimization” model.  The concept of optimizing the workforce allows organizations to look at things from a new perspective.  How about this?

Shrinkage as an opportunity – there are many factors that drive customer satisfaction including “First Contact Resolution” and “Representative Knowledge/Courtesy”.  What if the segment of shrinkage that was a placeholder for ongoing training was structured and justified by a return on investment? How about for every 5% of ongoing training that focused on first contact resolution and soft skills there is a projected reduction in call volume of X% (maybe even an AHT reduction).  These savings, at a minimum, offset the incremental cost of the additional training.  Now all ongoing training is justified and the customer is placed in a winning position.

Increased staffing flexibility – we live in an age where customers have access to the contact center through multiple communications channels.  The various channels require special skill sets and many employees can only focus on handling a specific type of communication.  What about those employees who have the skills to handle communications via multiple channels?  Let’s create opportunities for those individuals and offer them a richer career path.  As a result, the organization has built increased flexibility to deploy staff to support contact volume fluctuations.  Organizations are no longer locked into the overtime trap and/or watching service levels deteriorate.  Organizations have created a more flexible workforce that improves both the customer and employee experience.

Improvement in employee engagement –employees who are engaged and motivated are critical to the success of a contact center.  It is necessary to seize the opportunity to focus on employees by improving training, expanding career opportunities, and most importantly, communicating that staffing is no longer a “Black Box”, driven by ill conceived parameters.  Educating the workforce so they understand that workforce optimization is all about improving the customer experience puts it into a new perspective that will improve employee engagement.

The Journey

Traveling from the world of “Workforce Management” to “Workforce Optimization” is a journey.  The process must be changed from running a model and plugging in the names to creating an environment that improves the customer experience and employee engagement.  Yes, service levels must still be achieved and agent utilization must remain high.  More importantly, the focus on both the customer and employee experience must be at the forefront driving superior results for all of the key stakeholders.


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