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What is Workforce Management (WFM)?

Two women smile as they use a workforce management solution in the contact centre.

Workforce management is a set of processes contact centres use to optimise operational performance and efficiency.

The goal of workforce management is to schedule the right number of agents, with the right skills, at the right time, to meet customer demand and deliver the best experiences for customers and agents.

So how does it work? Why is it important? And what are the benefits of using a WFM solution?

What is workforce management and how does it work?

The typical workforce management process involves five steps: forecasting, scheduling, intraday management, adherence and reporting. In the contact centre world, this is usually carried out by a resource planner.

First they create a forecast of future customer demand based on historical data from the contact centre. They then use this forecast to calculate staffing requirements and build a schedule that will achieve the highest possible service levels, for the lowest possible cost. Agents’ availability, shift preferences and skills are also taken into account.

During the scheduled time period, the resource planner can then adjust shifts in real-time and monitor adherence to ensure demand is continually met and staff are working productively. They can then close the loop with analysis and reporting to ensure schedules are continually developed and improved.

Why is workforce management important?

Today, contact centres are complex business units. They serve multiple channels and can deliver everything from customer service to marketing, sales, billing, technical support and appointment setting. Many also employ large teams of agents with varying levels of skill, knowledge and experience, and even operate across multiple onshore and offshore sites.

A robust workforce management process is therefore essential to ensuring the right resources are utilised at the right times to meet demand, optimise the customer experience, and importantly, stay on budget.

What are the benefits of using a WFM solution?

The workforce management process can be difficult and time-consuming, especially when working solely with spreadsheets. There are lots of moving parts to consider, including customer demand, lunch breaks, holidays, last-minute sick days, training days, overtime costs, and strict service-level agreements.

WFM solutions simplify and take the guesswork out of this process. With a WFM solution, forecasting and scheduling can be completed in just minutes, with all information, data and insights in one place. The latest solutions also include agent self-scheduling, which enables agents to submit their availability, request shift changes, trade shifts with colleagues, and manage their holidays via their own agent portal. This significantly reduces managerial overhead and increases agent engagement.

Where do contact centres typically see return on investment?

In the past, only large contact centres with hundreds of agents tended to invest in a WFM solution. This was due to the high installation, training and maintenance costs associated with legacy systems. However, the rise of easy-to-use, cloud-based solutions has now enabled even the smallest of contact centres to benefit from WFM.

Here are some of the areas where WFM users typically see savings: 

  • Staffing: With a WFM solution, contact centres can more accurately predict the resource needed for each 15-minute interval across the day. This brings staffing levels closer to what is truly required, and can deliver a saving of 5% or more.  
  • Sickness: When staffing levels don’t accurately match demand (e.g. are too low during busy periods or too high during quite periods) this can lead to stress, boredom, low morale and potential sickness for agents. Improving forecasting and scheduling leads to a better agent experience and can reduce sickness by around 1%.  
  • Attrition rate: When agents are able to perform the tasks they are trained for, achieve their targets and objectives, see their schedules, and have some control over their working hours (e.g. swapping shifts and booking holidays) they are more likely to stay with your contact centre beyond a year. As a result, WFM users typically see attrition rates fall by a minimum of 10%, saving them thousands in recruitment and training costs.  
  • Overtime costs:  With a WFM solution, contact centres can maximise the flexibility of staffing hours to reduce overtime costs significantly. With a low to medium change, a minimum saving of 10% can be achieved.  
  • Adherence: Adherence has a huge impact on contact centre performance. For example, if a 10-minute unscheduled break is taken or an agent is pulled away from their schedule, the impact over the year can be costly. Ten minutes per day lost over the year could translate to losing around 35 hours of lost time per agent per year. A WFM solution helps to increase adherence and maximise productivity.

How can workforce management improve agent experience?

Workforce management can improve your agent experience through more effective resource management. Because when contact centres are properly staffed, contact centre work becomes much more fun, productive and fulfilling.

The top three ways WFM can improve your agent experience are:

  • Reduce over- and under-staffing: When your contact centre is properly staffed, your agents can focus on their work, deliver their best service, and achieve their targets. But when it’s understaffed, they must juggle a higher workload and often assist in other areas where they may not have the necessary experience. This extra workload can lead to stress, mistakes, frustration and burnout. On the flip side, overstaffing can leave your agents scratching for jobs and customers to serve, which can lead to boredom and low morale.
  • Provide greater flexibility: Giving your agents more control over their schedules – by enabling them to submit their availability and shift preferences, trade shifts, and manage their holidays – provides them with greater job flexibility. It allows them to work around their personal commitments, such as doctors appointments and school drop-offs, which leads to greater work-life balance, wellbeing and satisfaction. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, flexible working has become a coveted perk for contact centre agents.
  • Make more time for employee engagement, training and development: With more accurate forecasts and deeper insights into contact volumes and Average Handling Time (AHT), you can identify the best times of day to engage with your agents without causing too much disruption for your customers. These times can be used to hold team-building exercises, training sessions and one-on-ones with agents to work on their career development. With the help of Puzzel WFM, Simply Business was able to find gaps in the week where they could hold regular award ceremonies to boost morale.

Download our Buyer’s Guide to WFM

A WFM solution is one of the most powerful tools you can have in your contact centre toolkit. For more information on what to look for in a solution, download our free Buyer’s Guide to WFM.

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