Workforce management can be multiple things to a contact center manager. Forecasting and scheduling. Schedule adherence. Intraday management. “Getting the right people in the right place at the right time.”
This is WFM in the traditional sense. But to continually make the customer experience better than everyone else, contact centers now require higher, more exact levels of predictability for staffing and service delivery over time. They demand a broader notion of WFM that embraces the concepts of longer-term strategic planning for business goals and operational improvements.
What is strategic planning?
Defined generally, strategic planning is the process of determining required staffing resources across a period of one, two, or more years, including how best to implement those resources. Variables within the planning process range from agent attrition to changes in contact volumes (seasonal and other causes), unplanned shrinkage, new hire learning curves, and handling time differences between centers or staffing groups. Strategic planning further encompasses predicted outcomes for key performance metrics such as service level, occupancy, average speed of answer, abandonment, and other indicators.
Improving planning results
When decisions are being made for protracted agent hiring, vacation allocation, the timing and amount of training, and so forth, accuracy in the planning process is vital. Done conscientiously, strategic planning can optimize future handling capacity and service levels, and minimize labor costs at the same time. But if predicted results don’t model the contact center’s operations accurately, the results will be flawed.
Case in point: for strategic planning, many contact centers use home-grown spreadsheets that are often complicated and prone to error. Unfortunately, these spreadsheets hamper the center’s ability to examine different “what if” scenarios and options for strategic goals like customer experience, operating costs, and revenue. Spreadsheet models in many cases also aren’t properly validated, resulting in inaccurate forecasts and significant differences between staff required and staff provided.
In lieu of spreadsheets, new strategic planning systems are now available to enhance WFM and capacity planning in the contact center. The best of these systems offer:
• Data capture and storage. Use ACD, dialer, WFM, payroll, and other data sources to calibrate and ensure the accuracy of forecasting and operational simulation models. Collected data provides variance (“actual” vs. “planned”) reporting and lends to general purpose reporting needs.
• Forecasting. Forecast key metrics — contact volumes, handle times, attrition rates, sick time (plus other shrinkage metrics), and so forth — at a detailed level, such as contact center and staff group. Multiple forecasting methods ensure that that the method fits the data being forecast, whereas “one size fits all” models typically use compromises that introduce significant error.
• Performance prediction and requirements generation. Predict interdependencies between key operational metrics such as contact volume, staffing level, handle time, service level, abandons, contacts handled, and occupancy. To handle multiskill, multichannel, and multisite environments accurately, the best planning systems use discrete event simulation techniques, rather than Erlang C.
• Staff planning optimization. Simulation models develop required week-over-week staffing levels, but do not create an actual plan. Conversely, optimization models, like integer programming, automate and optimize this process and create just-in-time hiring and overtime plans that achieve service goals at least cost. The outcome is an efficient plan that still considers real-world constraints, and that is a huge source of ROI.
• Variance analysis and budgeting. Bring the strategic planning process full circle. Variance analysis monitors the execution of the plan developed by the other components, and serves as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. If plan results vary from forecasts, operational changes are likely needed. Variance analysis detects when unforeseen changes happen, providing executive-level lead time to react and make changes accordingly.
Strategic planning becomes a quicker and far more effective process when all of these components are brought together and automated. More importantly, beyond traditional WFM, contact center organizations get a powerful new class of business performance and planning analytics.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi