Contact Center Economics 101: When WFM Means Workforce Manna


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There are literally thousands of contact centers that are on (or over) the cusp of needing advanced workforce management systems. Continuing to spreadsheet your workforce needs as your center grows and becomes more complex may seem like a thrifty thing to do – but it isn’t. Some of the best returns on investment (ROIs) from contact center investments come from installing appropriate WFM systems.

Call Center EconomicsConsider the fact that most contact centers spend 60% to 70% of their budget on front line personnel. Consider as well the fact that a competent workforce management system can allow you to increase your agent-related metrics, including occupancy, utilization and adherence to schedule.

The numbers quickly become compelling. If you have a $5 million budget for a 100-agent center, of which 70% is attributable to front line personnel, then proper WFM could easily allow you to reduce staffing by, say 5%, resulting in savings in excess of $150,000 (based on base pay of $12.50 per hour).

If you insist on sticking with your spreadsheet, at least get one of the Erlang modules to attach to it. They are essentially free and propel your work to a higher level. However, keep in mind that, while they are reasonably good for forecasting, they are not so good on the scheduling side, which requires advanced pattern matching. Also, they don’t do as well in a multi-skill, multi-channel environment, which is becoming the norm. Thus, you would do well to consider one of the excellent workforce management systems that are currently on the market.

A system for a center such as the one indicated above might cost around $150,000 if installed at your site, or a few thousand dollars a month if “rented” from a hosted vendor. If you do the math, you will find potential first year ROIs of 100-400%. Your CFO is going to love you for this one. PLUS, if you are willing to consider more creative things like flexible schedules (with different shift-start times) and more part time and at-home agents, the savings can range to 10-15%, with commensurate increases in ROI.

So how big should you be before you consider acquiring a WFM system? For a center with normally complex shift staffing requirements, we find that headcounts in the range of 50 to 60 are thresholds above which you should consider trading in the old spreadsheet for something better. Run the numbers and see what comes out. It may well be time to lose the old Lotus 1-2-3. Keep in mind that as time passes there will be more data from your center for the system to digest and more accuracy in the forecasts. Manna from heaven will be yours to enjoy!

If you need any help working the math, we are available to assist.

“Contact Center Economics 101” articles are written by Bruce Belfiore (Harvard MBA) to spotlight practical opportunities for financial improvement of contact center operations. Bruce wants to thank WFM experts Bill Durr and Joe Perez for their collaboration on this article. Contact Bruce at [email protected].

Bruce Belfiore
Bruce Belfiore is Senior Research Executive and CEO of BenchmarkPortal, custodian of the world's largest database of contact center metrics. He hosts the monthly online radio show "CallTalk" and is chancellor of The College of Call Center Excellence. He has consulted for many Fortune 1000 companies, helping them to improve efficiency and effectiveness of their customer contact operations.


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