Why organisations can no longer rely on traditional WFM tools with the surge in digital channels
Covid-19 has accelerated the take-up of digital channels within the call centre – indeed, McKinsey estimates five years’ worth of adoption in the first eight weeks of the pandemic as employees shifted to remote work and business models were upended.
Importantly, traditional ways of collecting data, calculating staffing needs and generating schedules no longer work for these digital channels. But despite this, many organisations are still attempting to apply their existing workforce management (WFM) tools to these digital channels.
“The old WFM systems are built to forecast and schedule based on phone calls. Digital interactions don’t operate like phone calls and that causes the issue,” explains Paul Chance, senior product marketing manager at NICE.
This is because when an employee wraps up a phone call with their first customer, they start talking to the next customer in line. It’s clear when the call began and ended, and how long the employee spent resolving the customer’s issue.
The problem with modern channels is that work today doesn’t necessarily flow sequentially, in a continuous stream of work handled by a single employee. Instead, it’s characterised by a series of simultaneous interactions, interruptions and more.
With channels like SMS, WhatsApp, chat and social media, employees may begin an interaction with one customer for it to be interrupted by a higher priority interaction with another customer. They may also be interacting with multiple customers simultaneously.
“Agents might be handling three or four chats at the same time,” says Chance. “Also, are you basing your estimate on when the agent is actively chatting in that window with their customer, or does it also include the time that the agent goes off to do some research in another application, where the chat window is now out of focus? Calculating how many staff you need is made more complex as it is more difficult to judge the handle time for digital interactions.”
Chance also notes that email brings further challenges, as the response time on an email might be four, 12 or 24 hours. This shifts the conversation from responding to these interactions, to deferred work, which has to be handled differently.
NICE research shows that for a contact centre dealing with 500 digital interactions per hour, the requirement could be off by as many as 100 employees, depending upon how to handle time is calculated. Those 100 people could equate to millions of dollars in salaries.
Organisations must therefore find a way to continue to balance service level with salary costs in the digital era.
NICE’s WFM Suite is based on a machine learning-based simulation model that provides unique calculations based on all types of digital interaction.
“We have re-engineered our forecasting and scheduling engines to handle some of these problems. Everybody else is just trying to fit it into their existing engines, and hope it works for the customer. But that’s a very expensive hope,” says Chance.
Almost 80 percent of UK contact centres have reported increased interactions as customers reach out for support since the start of the pandemic. It has never been more important for organisations to continue to support both customers and agents and unlock accurate workforce planning in the digital era.