Labor costs are on the rise in the United States and abroad. As recently reported by Reuters (News - Alert), the Employment Cost Index, the broadest measure of labor costs for the United States, edged up 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2015, following steady nudges upward in the third and fourth quarters of 2014. Not only do these projections suggest a continued across-the-board rise, but also adding fuel to the fire, Congressional debates are drawing the country closer to a rise in the minimum wage. Such increased costs obviously present a challenge for business owners. However, they may also represent an opportunity for technology dealers and providers that can deliver solutions to help their customers address these escalating costs by optimizing their human resources management tools.
The upward trend is the same overseas. A recent study on global labor cost projections compiled by the U.K. bureau of PricewaterhouseCoopers (News - Alert) shows worldwide labor costs rising through 2030, “as emerging economies begin to catch up with the major developed economies.” It appears that what was considered “cheap labor” in other parts of the world is proving less so every year.
When one combines these spiking labor costs with the growing consumer and operational demand for companies in the United States to bring offshore customer service operations back onto home soil for various strategic reasons, it is easy to see why the pressure to maintain lean, productive, and skillfully managed teams in the contact center is higher than ever. In addition, the maturing of advanced networking technology has enabled contact centers to exponentially expand and enhance operations by distributing their agents in low-cost – and even home-based – environments. Today, workforce efficiency in the contact center is no longer an aspirational goal for improving competitiveness and profitability; but rather, it is a mission-critical mandate for ensuring survivability.
Workforce Management Is No Longer Enough
It goes without saying that every service-centric company desires – and needs – a well-managed contact center operation. Getting the most productivity and adherence out of the contact center team and its resources has always been a fundamental prerequisite: management 101. This is especially true for industries where margins can be razor thin and every hour and dollar counts. Such management challenges range from scheduling people and shifts; forecasting needs; assessing temporal and seasonal coverage needs by reviewing historical data of similar events and timelines; and comparing fluctuations in call volume vs. headcount vs. sales and service goals. Of course, business needs must always be balanced against human resource issues, such as paid-time-off requests, sick days, and other no-show occurrences, shift-change requests, and overall payroll integration across single- and multi-site locations.
As is the case with many contact centers today, to keep the ACD management software in step with these ever-changing day-to-day operational circumstances, and to maintain productivity and adherence throughout the department, call detail and data is drawn from SMDR call feeds onto spreadsheets. From there it is fed, quite often still manually, into the ACD platform, or it is sent as a hard copy to supervisors for them to take action, and it is also forwarded to payroll for reconciliation. The obvious problems with these approaches, to name just a few, are input redundancy, time consumption, and widespread human error.
Even in cases where companies have invested extensively in third-party workforce management software to automate these data feeds, due to software compatibility issues that often plague these mismatched bolted-on systems, data doesn’t always come through completely, or even correctly, or at times arrives corrupted and unusable. Contact centers have pretty much resigned themselves to working in this less than ideal environment, since some automation is better than none, and does somewhat relieve the high cost of manual input. The prevailing sentiment was that third-party software integration, while not perfect, might have appeared to be the only viable option.
But as the stakes for efficiency grow higher in lockstep with rising labor costs, and as companies increasingly feel the need to bring contact center operations back in-house, third-party workforce management software is proving insufficient for the task. Good enough management is no longer good enough. Contact centers today require more than workforce management; they need workforce optimization.
Native Integration for True Workforce Optimization
Bolted-on third-party workforce management software is no longer meeting the deep data quantity, quality, and variety needs of today’s over-worked, high-pressure contact centers. Money continues to hemorrhage and profits keep dwindling due to chronic losses in time, cost, and business opportunity that most companies have trouble even identifying, let alone fixing. Contact center supervisors are desperate for capabilities that extend beyond just managing the workforce and its resources; they are being pressed to optimize these assets to the fullest. And to achieve this, they can no longer continue conforming to third-party workforce management software that collects and feeds only some critical data points; they need robust functionality that can harvest and analyze a full cadre of essential and anecdotal data and metrics with tools that have not simply been added onto the ACD platform, but have been developed native to it – and can be managed in real time.
Having access to complete, accurate, real-time data that can be tracked, analyzed, and automatically fed into the ACD platform on an up-to-the-second basis, allowing for precise control over contact center assets with on-the-fly management flexibility and adaptability, is a huge differentiator for a business. Core agent information, such as log-in/log-out time stamps, do not disturb periods, and auxiliary time activities like breaks, lunches, or administrative training all give supervisors key data that no longer needs to be manually entered or batch-loaded before steps can be taken to ensure service level compliance. These managers can now have real-time visibility into all contact center activities, people, stats, and resources, displayed on the desktops, wallboards, and mobile tablets of their choosing. They can code scripts to produce anytime/anywhere automated alerts and notifications, covering a host of areas, factors, and predetermined thresholds that arrive via the communication channels they prefer, enabling them to execute resolutions on the spot.
Supervisors are empowered with the real-time contact center insights they need to project, assign, and immediately adjust to the department with greater precision and accuracy – minute to hour to shift to day – week after week and month after month. Information is shared automatically with payroll, so that accurate pay adjustments can be applied. In other words, in an environment where workforce optimization tools are natively integrated as opposed to being added on as a third-party offering, the contact center can be fully optimized, tracking and utilizing personnel as efficiently and accurately as possible for achieving peak adherence to budgets and service levels.
Workforce Optimization Pays For Itself
Investments in new contact center solutions that have ACD functionality and workforce optimization tools seamlessly and natively integrated may seem costly at first. But when the cost of systematic inefficiency is multiplied over each area, agent, hour, and day, the tangible savings the optimized contact center realizes more than cover the capital expense, improving bottom lines and creating environments more conducive to leveraging revenue opportunities. This is not only good news for companies looking to reintegrate outsourced contact center operations, but also for those organizations that opt to keep their contact centers out-of-home, as they can now fully optimize them, as well.
The thriving contact center of today is one whose workforce is being more than effectively managed; it is an environment where every asset and resource is optimized in every viable way. Workforce optimization in the contact center is not a wish list item; instead, it is an absolute imperative for any business looking to get the most out of its team.
Rick McFarland is CEO at Voice4Net
Edited by Maurice Nagle