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Workforce Optimization: A Strategy for All Times

by Bill Durr, Principal Global Solutions Consultant,
Verint® Witness Actionable Solutions®

The term “workforce optimization” was created and defined by highly regarded analyst firms, like Gartner and McKinsey, more than 5 years ago. They coined the expression because they saw previously disparate software solutions becoming more integrated and a new layer of cross-functionality being created based on these novel integrations. Further research helped them discover that this convergence was being driven by the user community — tired and frustrated by the problems of dealing with multiple software interfaces, multiple information databases, unsynchronized vendor software release cycles, costly yet limited integrations, and the overhead costs of dealing with multiple vendors. At that time and in their view, workforce optimization consisted of the following typical support applications found in contact centers worldwide:

• Call Recording
• Quality Monitoring
• Workforce Management (Forecasting & Scheduling)
• Reporting / Scorecards
• Training / eLearning

Each one of these applications is well-understood by contact center professionals and is available from a number of suppliers. Coincidentally, each of these applications has spawned the creation of functional silos within contact centers that at first improve performance but eventually make it impossible to continue improving.

A useful way to think about workforce optimization is to view it as a data-driven process to identify and close employee skill gaps. And because it is a business process itself, workforce optimization not only addresses staff development needs but also provides the opportunity to re-engineer and streamline existing fragmented and time-consuming legacy contact center management processes.

Don’t make the mistake in thinking that workforce optimization can be bought. Workforce optimization is a strategy designed to maximize customer value and satisfaction at the best cost. While strategies are “free,” the cost of their execution is most assuredly not. Every strategy has a cost of execution. Manual executions of WFO strategies have high real costs. Silo solutions have high real costs, too. A WFO infrastructure – tightly integrated – is the transformative engine that enables the center to continue to create greater customer value. To execute a workforce optimization strategy, center management teams need appropriate workforce optimization technology infrastructure to support their efforts.

A workforce optimization infrastructure frees center and enterprise management to manage more effectively and efficiently, develop employees and re-engineer or streamline internal management processes. A step-change in contact center performance occurs through the rigor of a workforce optimization process where:

• Clear goals are established for everyone in the center
• Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are created for each role
• Employees are held accountable for KPIs under their control
• Coaching is recognized to be a scarce resource and is used thoughtfully
• Feedback about performance is available daily
• Performance feedback is private and individualized but also provides a context for comparison among peers

Contact centers and back-office operations, executing a closed-loop process consisting of these elements, will elevate the skill and knowledge of the workforce, enabling them to do the best possible job on behalf of the customer.

As important as all that is – and make no mistake, it’s vital – workforce optimization is essentially an inward-oriented strategy that focuses upon execution in the contact center to achieve maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

According to a recent survey of top executives, managing the customer experience to ensure loyalty and retention is a key component in remaining competitive in troubled economic times. To provide a really great experience is to imply that you already know what your customer truly wants. Do you? Armed with only internal metrics, we have a largely internal view of customer service. And so, workforce optimization has evolved from the basic definition of five years ago.

Two new technologies that are now being incorporated into workforce optimization suite solutions, speech analytics and customer feedback management, are externalizing the contact center and impacting back-office environments. By focusing on the center from the outside-in, leading organizations transform themselves from cost centers to strategic assets in a customer centric enterprise.

Speech analytics is the result of a convergence between computer hardware, sophisticated software and linguistics. Speech analytics solutions for contact centers use techniques commonly referred to as audio mining, where large volumes of recordings are searched and transcribed into text files. Then the text files are indexed, rendering them searchable for key words and phrases as well as surrounding words and phrases.

Speech analytic applications organize the recorded conversations into categories. Categories can be created by the user to research specific issues of interest. The application can also self-suggest categories it notices. Searches for commonalities within a category of recorded calls can reveal probable root cause.

The potential impact of the rigorous and continuous utilization of speech analytics by the contact center is stunning in financial and career terms. For example, a particular insurance company measured its first call resolution rate to be 60%, a number well below their expectations and desires. Speech analytics was used to mine a very large volume of recorded calls. Peering into the 40% of calls where no first call resolution was achieved, the solution identified a high occurrence of calls that contained the phrases “I don’t know,” “I need to check with my supervisor,” “…calling back about my claim,” and “…waiting for a claim form.” The solution further analyzed the calls in each identified category and surfaced some probable root causes for each. The “I don’t know” conversations revealed agent knowledge gaps that could be filled easily with coaching and eLearning knowledge clips. The “I need to check with my supervisor” conversations revealed a lack of agent empowerment embedded in the center’s processes. The “…calling back about my claim” recordings revealed processing issues outside the contact center. As did the remark “…waiting for a claim form.”

With these powerful insights, the insurance company improved its first call resolution by 25% and enjoyed a whole host of ancillary benefits including a reduction in average speed of answer, reduction in average handle time, better staff morale and the avoidance of hiring 22 additional agents.

Soliciting opinions from people in a systematic manner dates back to at least the 19th Century, and probably much earlier. Contact centers have been attempting to survey customers for many years using a number of tactics and techniques. Mailed surveys, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems and live telephone conversations — immediately after the transaction or performed some time later via a call-back — are all employed to determine how the customer feels about the interaction with the agent, the company, its products and so on.

The key to high participation rates and successful customer surveying is found in the following:

• The survey has to be in the flow of the interaction. It should not be viewed as two separate transactions.
• The survey questions have to be in context with the transaction. If someone simply called with a question on their statement, it’s not in context to survey them about your new product.
• The survey is short, in the range of three to five questions.
• The survey questions presented are dynamic and intelligent. The answer to the first question determines which of several second questions are posed. And so on.
• There is an opportunity for the customer to leave unstructured, verbal feedback. Sometimes, even intelligent, in-context questions fail to enable the customer to convey something important to them.
• The survey questions change regularly and during some campaigns may change multiple times a day. Direct customer feedback on specific offers is among the most valuable kinds of intelligence a contact center can produce.
• The process has alerts built into it. When a good customer reports a really bad experience, somebody or some group is notified immediately.

Workforce optimization is a strategy — the execution of which is quite difficult without enabling technology infrastructure. Synergies are realized through the democratization of functionality once held exclusively inside the functional silos. Roles, responsibilities and support tools are redefined and the process of managing a world-class service delivery network becomes streamlined and more responsive. This is fundamental to becoming customer centric.

About the Author
Bill is an industry veteran and has held sales, marketing and consulting positions with a number of major firms in the industry. He has authored numerous articles and white papers on contact center technology and management and is a frequent speaker on topics of interest to the contact center community. Bill has written two books on contact centers and the third, Customer Centricity through Workforce Optimization was published by ICMI Press in May, 2007. Bill is employed by Verint Witness Actionable Solutions as Principal, Global Solutions Consultant. In this role Bill evangelizes on workforce optimization. Bill provides private seminars for enterprise and contact center executives and engages in best practice consulting with customers and prospects around the world.