Building a better customer experience with workforce management

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Source: Petr Machacek vis Unsplashed

Imagine for a moment you are a customer calling your healthcare provider because of an incorrect charge you received on a bill. You dial the number listed on the back of your insurance card, nervous at the prospect of experiencing a long wait time and still not having your issue resolved. To your surprise, the call is picked up on the first ring. It turns out that the charge was improperly entered on your account. The entire issue is resolved in less than five minutes, and within the hour you receive a follow-up email from the contact center confirming that the bill has been changed and offering you an opportunity to leave feedback on the experience.

Anyone in the contact center industry would recognize this as an example of positive customer experience, and it was made possible because the contact center was well-staffed and achieving its service goals. But what if three agents called in sick on the same morning due to a flu outbreak in the office? What if the contact center didn’t anticipate a midweek surge in call volume due to a complex new promotion being run by the marketing department? Enter workforce management.

In its most basic form, a workforce management solution helps managers determine the staffing levels needed to provide adequate service to customers and control the cost of that service to the company. This crucial element of running the contact center is not just an internal tool, however, it is vital to the overall customer experience.

Forecast staffing needs

Before a contact center can even set realistic service goals, managers must have an understanding of historical call volume and the number of employees needed to respond to the requests of an average day. I managed a contact center for Citibank earlier in my career and tried to do this myself on a spreadsheet, and I can safely say that you’ll need some help doing this. I’d recommend looking at different contact center software solutions, either a la carte or as part of a larger suite.

Once you’ve realized that no day is an average day in the contact center, you are practicing workforce management, whether or not you use a software solution to assist you. Workforce management is about culture; it’s the answer to all of your day-to-day contact center decisions. With workforce management solutions, though, analysts can run hundreds of different scenarios to anticipate the kinds of call volume fluctuations you’ll need to handle. The math necessary to compare dozens of potential schedules and move all of the interconnected parts of the process to match each forecast would take a team of analysts the entire week. With workforce management software, it takes 5 minutes.

After determining the anticipated call volume, it’s time to set service goals and align staffing levels to hit your standard. Danish mathematician AK Erlang wrote a handy set of equations to help understand the number of employees necessary to respond to a given number of requests in a specific amount of time—industry average is about 80% of calls answered in 20 seconds. It’s up to each company how high to set the bar, but know that even slight changes to service goals can have a massive impact on the customer experience and the cost of running the contact center.

Adjusting on the fly

A perfect forecast is still only an educated guess at the level of staffing a contact center will need. In reality, all sorts of surprises crop up and spoil the fun. No matter how well-prepared your agents are or how certain you are about customer demand, there will still be unanticipated surges in customer need. Your CRM platform will lag or your power will go out. Employees will have to leave early to handle family emergencies. This is why intraday management is crucial to meeting customer service goals.

When a customer’s call drops or when they have to sit on the phone for 45 minutes in the afternoon, they do not care how perfect the contact center service was earlier in the morning. Being able to call in reinforcements or extend shifts to cover for a last-minute schedule change gives the manager much needed flexibility. The most comprehensive workforce management solutions allow managers to communicate in-platform with employees at their stations and with those who aren’t in the office (or the home office). Software can even integrate with HR and payroll solutions to help manage employee PTO or overtime pay. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that flexibility is key.

Improve agent adherence

No matter how many agents you employ, nor how good they are on the phone or in a chat, it doesn’t matter at all if they aren’t at their station handling customer concerns when we expect them to be. Agent adherence has a profound impact on the customer experience because the agreed-upon schedule makes the assumption that the number of agents working in a given window is the same number handling new requests.

Falling out of adherence simply means that the contact center agent isn’t where the schedule expects them to be. If the agent has 45 minutes for lunch and takes an hour, they’ve spent 15 minutes out of adherence. Without a detailed workforce management solution, it is difficult to track these small events, but they add up. This is especially important while managing a remote workforce, as managers can’t visibly see their employees minute-to-minute movements while they are at home.

Even hitting 97% adherence in a 100-seat contact center—an unrealistically high adherence rate in my experience—means the company is paying for the equivalent of three agents who aren’t working to meet customer needs. There is nothing that torpedoes customer service goals more quickly than lousy adherence.

Returning to our satisfied insurance customer, though they never see workforce management in operation, they reap the benefits of its impact. There is nothing to fear if three agents call in sick on the same morning; with intraday management and quick reroll of the schedule optimization, managers can request cover to make sure service levels are met. A complex new promotion from the marketing department shouldn’t scare the contact center, because if call volumes are increasing the analysts will rebalance the workflow throughout the rest of the day and or week. Workforce management tools allow contact centers to constantly strive for service goals that leave customers smiling and bring them back.

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