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6 Steps to Build Better Workforce Management

How to improve the relationship between WFM and operations

Good working relationships are important across all lines of business in order to have a better chance of success. In call centers, one of the better examples of two entities that need to have a good working relationship is that of workforce management (WFM) and the operations it supports.  If not managed properly, the relationship between these two groups can be one of stress, which does not breed success.

workforce management cultureAs many in the industry know, the goals of WFM employees are science-based and quantifiable, while the goals of operation are based on customer and employee needs. Both approaches are separate pieces of the big picture; they are both important for the overall success of the call center. The difficulty comes when they remain siloed. The reality is that both areas have the same goal: a successful and responsive call center.  Having WFM and operations more closely aligned is a recipe for success.

For New York Life’s WFM team, our continued success has been built on bridging the gap with operations.  Here are six steps that WFM employees can use:

1. Establish a Proven Track Record

Having a strong WFM team with a proven track record is key to being a good partner to operations. This is the most critical piece to bridging the gap. Customers will listen to you once they see WFM as the experts in their field, consistently providing good forecasts, proactively managing to peaks and valleys of the call arrival patterns, providing optimal schedules, etc.

2. Document Clear Procedures

Procedures should define all interactions and requests between the business and WFM. There are two important steps to making this as successful as possible:

  • Clarity is the key. Documented procedures can be open for interpretation. The goal is to write procedures in a way that leaves no room for interpretation. Those who interpret procedures incorrectly will create unnecessary discussions and will potentially cause revisions to take place. When I tell this to people, they sometimes interpret it as they need to be short and to the point, which is not necessarily true. Sometimes making things clear requires elaboration. Letting people form their own conclusions because there was not enough elaboration can be more dangerous.  
  • The operation owns these procedures. WFM should write these procedures with operations. If WFM writes the procedures on their own, then they will be faced with additional challenges of having to explain “why” when requests come through.

3. Have Managers Rotate in WFM

What better way is there to get managers/supervisors to understand the big picture of the call center than by having them actually perform intraday management? It is important to properly determine the amount of time a manager should spend in WFM. Too short a time may not allow the rotating managers to retain the information. Too long will start to show a diminished return in the manager’s interest. The time that they spend with WFM can be determined by the complexity of the environment. Generally speaking, I recommend one day observing intraday how to perform the job, one day spent hands on with an analyst making sure they are doing tasks correctly, one day managing intraday while being able to ask questions, and one day spent managing intraday on their own. In addition, during those four days, we schedule meetings to review long-term and short-term forecasting and re-review the documented procedures.

4. Hold Manager Focus Groups

Focus groups allow for the information and understanding of the big picture to resonate with the management staff. Steps 2 and 3 do a great job in getting managers to begin to understand, but regular focus groups will provide continuous reinforcement of that understanding and education. Once this is an ongoing occurrence, the business should start to see the managers making more decisions encompassing both major aspects of the business.

5. Hold Agent Focus Groups

Since associates are the most crucial resource for the success of the call center, it is critical that their understanding of the procedures are clear. When associates don’t understand how to request something or, even worse, why it was not processed, it leads to assumptions of unfairness which causes unnecessary morale issues and explanation for both WFM and their managers. Although the focus groups should be hosted by WFM, I do recommend managers participate so that they can help drive the meeting and stay on the same page with their agents and WFM. Sometimes they act as a translator to help WFM understand what is being said, since the agents and WFM tend to have some differences in terminology.

6. Offer New Hire Presentations

First impressions are critical. WFM should host at least a one-hour presentation of WFM and expectations. This helps set the tone for the agents at the beginning of their employment in the call center. The earlier this step takes place, the better the odds of having an employee that follows the established rules and metrics. Waiting too long might give employees enough time to pick up some bad habits that are difficult to eliminate.

Bridge the Gap

These steps will bridge the unnecessary gap between WFM and operations. I can attest to these guidelines. I have been successful at establishing strong ties between WFM and operations teams and increasing the positive relationship with customers in multiple and diverse call centers across the globe.