What is Workforce Management for Call Centers?

To operate a successful call center, organizations need to be mindful of the numbers. The most important numbers – by far – are those of the staff in place to handle incoming customer contacts.  And that’s where workforce management (WFM) for call centers comes in.  In the simplest terms, WFM is a set of processes designed to achieve and maintain operational efficiency by ensuring that the right number of agents, with the right skill sets, are staffed at the right time.

In short, the ultimate goal of a WFM call center is to create the best possible fit between the forecasted required workload and the number of agents scheduled.  That means using the fewest number of paid labor hours without jeopardizing revenue opportunity, increasing employee discord, or creating customer dissatisfaction.

Organizations that are able to achieve this balance also reap considerable rewards, including reduced operational costs, lower churn, and improved customer experience.

So, let’s take a closer look at the components of a successful workforce management call center program, and the benefits it can bring.

Understanding WFM in the Call Center

Any call center workforce management is comprised of the same basic parts, and chances are you’re most likely performing all these tasks in some form or fashion: forecasting customer interaction volume, utilizing the forecasted data to create optimized agent schedules, assigning agents to schedules based on their preferences and business rules, and managing intraday activity.

It’s important to note that these parts comprise a cycle where each part is dependent on input from the prior component.  This cycle is in constant motion, and subject to constant change.

That’s why it’s vital to understand each individual component in the cycle, the role it plays, and how it interacts with its counterparts.

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Workforce Management

Forecasting

Forecasting is the backbone of the WFM cycle.  It’s the process of calculating the number of inbound calls for the upcoming intervals: days, weeks, months, or even years.  It draws on history, science, and insight to predict the future workload and anticipate call drivers.  By identifying trends and patterns, forecasting future volume becomes more accurate.

Seems easy, right?

But consider it’s imperative that data must be collected from every customer touchpoint across the organization – voice, chat, email, web, SMS, etc. – and it’s not difficult to see how the sheer volume of data could rapidly become overwhelming and compromise the accuracy of the forecast.

Additionally, unforeseen and/or emerging future trends need to be incorporated into the forecast as well, and may impact outcomes more than the historical data does.

And when you consider some organizations use manual spreadsheets to compile all this data, the true staggering scope of the task becomes clear, especially when multiple outcome scenarios need to be run.

Scheduling

Once the forecasting is complete, scheduling becomes possible.  Drawing on the requirements determined by the forecast, scheduling involves determining what shifts and hours will need coverage at the interval level.  This involves having the right staff available where the interactions will be delivered (i.e. queues and contact types).

Planning staff according to call patterns and skills sets results in a boost in service levels, improved first-call resolution, and makes the contact center a more enjoyable place to work, which is invaluable for staff retention.  The bottom line?  Accurately matching staff to call arrival patterns based on the forecast is essential in achieving workforce and cost efficiencies.

And – just like forecasting – some organizations are still using spreadsheets for this complex and labor-intensive task, manually attempting to match-up call volume projections with the right staff ratio.

Assigning Agents

To meet the operational needs defined by the scheduling, agents must be assigned to shifts.  This is where a delicate balance comes into play, because agents are not at their most useful or productive when over-worked or stressed.  Shift bidding is a beneficial tool that can help alleviate over-working agents.  It takes into consideration agent performance, call handling ability, tenure, and other factors to assign agents a specific schedule.

However, shift bidding alone is not the answer to assigning agents.

Additional agent preferences and business policies need to be incorporated into the scheduling process and are key to maximizing engagement and business constraints.

Compiling and keeping track of all these variables manually can be not only taxing, but time-consuming and arduous.

Intraday Management

The final component in the WFM call center cycle is ensuring the center is properly staffed during the published schedule period.  Organizations should anticipate the unexpected to happen and it is important to reforecast to ensure service levels are being met.  Part of the management of the day is making sure the staffing levels meet the revised forecast and another part is ensuring the agents are doing what they are scheduled to do during each time interval.

This is referred to as adherence.  All call centers track adherence; some at the team level and others at the individual level.  Either way, it is important to set the appropriate targets for adherence.

This was a very manual and time-consuming process until workforce management solutions introduced the ability to automate these activities.

Spreadsheet Shortcomings in WFM

As mentioned earlier, many organizations rely on manual spreadsheets to determine and plan staff schedules.  As a result, they also frequently utilize what’s called an Erlang formula in a spreadsheet.  Erlang C is a mathematical calculation that determines the number of staff needed to meet a given service level for a set number of calls.  That seems reasonable enough, but the Erlang algorithm was invented over 100 years ago, and its calculations have major shortcomings for a modern call center operation:

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Workforce Management
  • Only able to assume a steady call rate
  • Only able to assume a zero-abandonment rate
  • Does not consider blocking
  • Can only take “single-skilled” agents into account
  • Cannot consider contact priority
  • Cannot be applied to multi-channel interactions (email, text, chat, etc.)
  • Frequently results in over-staffing

These shortcomings are detrimental to the WFM call center cycle and prove extremely labor-intensive to correct or overcome.

A Workforce Management Call Center Solution

With a sound WFM solution in place, organizations are able to optimize their most valuable and most expensive resource: their staff.  The NICE Workforce Management solution uses artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation to remove the frustrations associated with manual calculations, adjustments, and cumbersome steps.

Adding the NICE workforce management call center solution can tremendously improve your contact center operational efficiency and provide additional insight to help drive your business forward while empowering your employees.