Our industry experts discuss how WFO strategies are advancing to support employee experiences of the future
Workforce optimization (WFO) is not a new concept for many contact centers. Nevertheless, few operations currently have a thriving WFO strategy in place.
Missing out on this opportunity can thwart agent experience, leading to demotivation, absence, and often attrition.
As such, WFO is moving back into the fray with contact centers seeking to engage the next generation of agents working from new environments.
To help kickstart these WFO journeys, operations can take inspiration from our seven expert roundtable panelists. This month, they include:
Below, they answer several questions, sharing insights that may inform innovative WFO strategies that will inspire the agent experiences of tomorrow.
Rapp: There are a few key trends helping agents optimize their performance. WFM solutions that allow agents to better manage their time across synchronous and asynchronous channels serve to improve agent satisfaction and retention. This also allows agents to schedule breaks from handling live interactions, instead offering them the opportunity to respond via email.
A second trend is the introduction of AI-based WFM for automating routine tasks, like call volume forecasting, schedule management, performance tracking, budget and resource allocation, timekeeping, and attendance management. In particular, automated scheduling will likely become more common as more employees work remotely, often in different locations and time zones, making manual scheduling a more complex task.
Lastly, many organizations will begin incorporating supplemental staff, whether part-time or gig workers, into the WFM scheduling and forecasting. Automated processes for adding/reducing staffing based upon surges and lulls will support this strategy.
Cannon: Workforce management (WFM) is the foundation of the contact center, enabling optimal forecasting and scheduling of the right amount of agents at the right time.
Optimal coverage contributes to excellent contact center performance. However, to truly understand what drives performance, WFM solutions must optimize performance by going beyond standard reporting.
Real-time visibility into agent performance is vital in today’s contact center, which now operates in fully remote or hybrid work environments.
In this new post-pandemic model, contact centers should encourage and empower agents with the information and tools they need to meet changing customer needs.
Many that do so harness real-time coaching, a technology that listens to customer calls as they happen and automatically identifies opportunities to guide interactions toward better outcomes.
The solution also triggers coaching alerts, offering immediate advice to agents, ranging from knowledge to empathy and compliance. This benefits new agents and veterans by creating learning moments that will stay with them long-term, resulting in better performance and happier customers.
Draycott: WFM Trend #1: WFM Technology in the Back Office
Workforce management is for more than managing contact center agents. Many companies now adopt WFM technology to handle back office tasks and employees, who frequently outnumber contact center agents.
By using WFM technology to better understand the ebb and flow of work within the back office, businesses can effectively predict when their contact center may see an increase in calls due to a claim or order being processed. They may then staff accordingly.
WFM Trend #2: Size Becomes Less of a WFM Adoption Barrier
WFM technology is no longer used only by enterprise-level contact centers. The ROI gained from this solution is now palpable through metrics including forecasting accuracy, shrinkage, and cost efficiency.
Indeed, many solution experts now offer easy-to-use online WFM ROI calculators to help clients understand the potential savings a WFM solution can bring, regardless of contact center size.
WFM Trend #3: Automation
Another trend to consider is automation to maximize agent efforts and combat rising customer demand.
Automating agent communication and automatically adjusting schedules based on pre-set parameters are good examples of automation capabilities within a WFM solution.
Meikle: Organizations are rethinking what flexibility means for their remote and hybrid teams, with Calabrio research indicating that after higher pay, agents want flexibility (at 34%).
As such, savvy contact centers are increasing their focus on WFO technology and techniques that support ‘lifestyle scheduling’ to accommodate new work-from-home (WFH) regimes.
Indeed, operations are becoming more creative, introducing initiatives such as shift bidding to allow agents to view and select their first and second choices of available, unassigned shifts. Moreover, they are also trialing remote micro-shifts that offer agents the chance to make more money with a quick one- or two-hour shift at a time that works for them.
Meanwhile, self-service automation advancements allow agents to build and edit their schedules in real-time using their mobile devices. These schedules can automatically consider worktime regulations, wherever teams may be, for better compliance management.
Budding: WFM vendors are increasing their focus on providing self-service capabilities that improve employee engagement.
Automated holiday bookings and shift trading are not WFM staples, but more organizations are utilizing this, and more nifty features that include:
Each functionality makes employees happier in their roles. And, as the adage goes: happier employees = more productive employees.
Another trend is the introduction of improved forecasting and intraday management capabilities. AI forecasting advancements, best-fit algorithms, and automated “reforecasting” with the latest data are helping to change the game.
The improvements continue to enable contact centers to plan more effectively and prevent hostile working environments that agents despise.
Finally, WFM solutions leverage more data and insights from performance management solutions. As such, operations can seamlessly schedule sufficient time to coach agents, improving their overall quality and productivity.
Mackay: Contact centers focus on balancing operational efficiency with agent engagement, now more than ever. With costly agent attrition continuing to be problematic, especially regarding events like the Great Resignation, contact centers must keep their agents engaged and happy or risk losing them.
WFM solutions can increase engagement and reduce attrition by offering more control and flexibility for agents to pick and choose their schedules. Some technologies also provide agents with robust self-service scheduling options and real-time communication with their team from a mobile device or on the web. Such capabilities give agents a say in their work schedule, while real-time notifications keep supervisors informed.
Willmott: A buoyant job market means retaining agents is more challenging than ever. Luckily, WFM tools are increasingly offering the ability to balance agent flexibility with business demand, enabling contact centers to provide a better work-life balance.
When operations achieve this, they lower churn and enhance efficiency. Team empowerment also rises as agents gain more control over their schedules through autonomous shift swapping and bidding.
Yet, WFM is only part of performance management. Contact centers must consider a more holistic approach, tying workforce and quality management together.
In doing so, businesses may identify top performer traits and use WFM for buddy and team scheduling, ensuring that the contact center has the right mix of skills.
Rapp: Agents have one of the most challenging roles in an organisation. They’re on the frontline and constantly deal with many cases and customers. Lots of these interactions are fraught with frustration.
As such, agents are on the receiving end of a lot of negativity, which contributes to high attrition rates that become costly for the contact center.
As a result, contact center leaders and supervisors are beginning to look at how to engage and empower frontline agents in a way that helps them feel more connected to the business while also realizing their work’s value.
In action, this may include targeted coaching and training to set agents up for success, collaborative team sessions, gamification and motivation programs, and shift bidding or swapping, to name a few.
To further encourage employees, organizations can invest in achievement recognition, alongside offering remote or hybrid work options for those agents demonstrating exemplary performance and schedule adherence.
Cannon: The intersection of workforce engagement and employee wellness is approaching. Before the pandemic, performance statistics drove motivations. Now, the need to move beyond average handle time, schedule adherence, and quality scores to motivate teams is palpable.
Indeed, recent employment trends such as the Great Resignation make agent retention challenging. Thankfully there are many ways to cut churn. A recent Gallup survey showed that employees who feel their employer cares about their wellbeing are 69 percent less likely to actively search for a job. As such, WFM solutions that support employee wellness through flexibility and personalization can bring many benefits.
Giving agents flexibility in scheduling delivers them more control of their workday and supports work/life balance goals. An agent WFM app, which comes with many modern solutions, helps here, enabling agents to easily manage their schedules on the go. The solution may also build break time into each shift and schedule specific tasks such as email and chat to best suit their daily workflow.
Organizations rely on WFM to raise employee engagement with remote work here to stay. For example, automated quality management solutions ensure employees get the necessary coaching, training, and support. This process is critical to providing a supportive work environment in the hybrid world.
Draycott: Offering Multiple Shift Patterns.
Many contact centers have boosted agent engagement by optimizing their shift patterns. Offering multiple options to agents provides flexibility. These may include:
Offering agents the added benefit of shift bidding, shift trading, and self-service functionality also helps motivate employees, lowering attrition and absence costs.
Uncovering Customer Intent.
Customer complaints often de-motivate agents. Tracing the beginnings of why a customer may have gotten in touch as opposed to whether the agent resolved it can lead to significant complaint reductions and more efficient staff.
Interestingly, contact centers have started to track this metric more. Why? Because knowing why customers make contact helps identify gaps in agent training and broken workflows in the customer journey. Fixing these will improve customer and agent experiences alongside critical business outcomes.
Meikle: According to a Calabrio study, 62 percent of customers want ‘more emotional empathy from agents’, and this demand for ‘soft skills’ is revolutionizing how contact centers recruit, train, and monitor their staff.
Agents expect more frequent, personalized, and flexible support tailored to their skills and behaviors rather than the vanilla-flavor training they usually receive.
Modern performance coaching solutions enable managers to develop effective training programs that help staff deliver the fast, efficient, empathetic experience that customers crave.
Moreover, they harness automation to track both “hard skills” – such as compliance – and “soft skills” – including empathy, politeness, and patience – across all contact center interactions, identifying opportunities for personal development.
From there, the technology automatically schedules training for them based on individual metrics or skills gaps.
The solution may also suggest relevant training materials and harness gamification dashboards, offering agents a visual illustration of their improvement.
Finally, such technology can identify the best coaches and the most efficient individual training methods, providing a holistic view of contact center performance.
Budding: More and more organizations are moving away from traditional KPIs such as annual handling time (AHT). It’s not to say they do not track AHT- as handling time discrepancies often spotlight broken processes – but they do not measure their people on the AHT.
Organizations are more interested in outcomes. As a result, they are motivating teams by incentivizing them to deliver terrific service experiences. They are switching their focus to qualitative measures, concentrating on quality scores (across more interactions), customer satisfaction (CSAT), and net promoter score (NPS).
They also motivate people by increasing the focus and efforts on improving wellbeing and employee mental health. By creating flexible working environments and developing new agent support mechanisms, forward-thinking contact centers motivate teams to not only be at work, but to do a good job when they are there. WFO is a crucial enabler to making this happen.
Mackay: Contact centers are evolving how they motivate agents, with the majority (70 percent) of their workforce comprising of Gen Z and Gen Y/Millennials. The motivational needs and preferences of these groups differ from previous generations.
Typically, Gen Z and Gen Y require emotionally engaging experiences. By offering WFO solutions that gamify their day-to-day work, organizations can meet unique operational goals while motivating their teams through healthy competition, rewards, and recognition.
Moreover, gamification delivers real results, like reduced ramp time and agent attrition, while increasing supervisor and agent efficiency. Best-in-class solutions include gamification as part of the agent onboarding experience to drive higher engagement.
Willmott: Interestingly, companies are placing more of an emphasis on spotting excellent agent behaviors in real-time and offering on-the-spot rewards, relating to their schedules.
Moreover, QM processes increasingly involve agents in self-scoring and combined-scoring initiatives, so agents feel more involved in their performance reviews and better understand best practices.
Through such examples, contact centers are better linking quality management to coaching and overall contact center objectives.
Rapp: Essential data to help contact centers run more efficiently and better inform WFO strategies includes the ability to track the effectiveness of supplemental staffing on first call resolution (FCR). Harnessing this, operations can uncover resulting trends in supplemental staffing, such as the inability to answer specific issues and a need to reconfigure routing to send particularly challenging issues to more knowledgeable staff.
Additionally, integrating self-service channel analytics into WFM modeling improves forecasting accuracy as more customers use self-service for simple queries, freeing up agents to focus on longer, more complex tasks.
Lastly, monitoring channel usage, alongside how those patterns and preferences shift, allows contact centers and agents to adapt as customers begin to widen the ways in which they reach out. Doing so is crucial as contact centers must adjust accordingly to ensure appropriate staffing.
Moreover, a contact center can better hire, train, staff, and coach existing agents by looking at trends across channel usage.
Cannon: The key to leveraging data for better informed WFO strategies is to access data from everywhere, such as third-party applications, engagement channels, and other sources across an organization.
Once collected, that data helps to measure employee engagement and productivity, determining how well the operation leverages technology or if other tools are required.
With data and visibility across the workforce, organizations can use AI to intelligently forecast and schedule resources to meet customer demand across digital and traditional channels.
Draycott: Contact center data is readily available. But without an analytics solution or strategy, many operations struggle to extract the interactions that matter, drive change, and push contact center performance forward.
Analytics technology accelerates this, providing a view of vital statistics within the call center, ranging from call volume to customer complaints.
Analytics also identifies customer phrases and sentiment, spotlighting compliance issues and valuable competitor information.
Moreover, word clouds and detailed reports derived from a chosen analytics solution help facilitate the proactive resolution of customer issues.
Finally, insights pulled from analytics data can also better inform agent training requirements and agent script improvements.
Meikle: Analytics is the way forward, capturing data from within the contact center and beyond, then converting it into valuable business intelligence (BI). Many more companies seemingly recognize the importance of these BI insights to inform better WFO strategies, which can enhance their agent and customer experiences.
Yet, also consider how analytics fuels modern WFM technology. Thanks to analytics, WFM bots can communicate the latest schedules to agents, find opportunities for change, and assist in schedule requests.
In addition, frontline staff can automate schedule requests while receiving approvals for shift changes and time off anytime, anywhere. The latest WFM bots can even notify agents of overtime opportunities.
Finally, consider voice of the employee (VoE) data. Analytics can capture how agents feel (possibly bored or burnt out) to identify those struggling and needing extra support. Building such insight into tailored schedules helps accommodate individual needs for additional training or more regular breaks.
Budding: From a WFM perspective, it is critical to use data to understand if the correct target operating model is in place. For example, does data reveal that opening hours for different channels align with customer expectations?
Yet, it is crucial to cleanse historical data for forecasting purposes. Consider special events, marketing campaigns, and the like before removing data anomalies. Luckily, AI forecasting algorithms within WFM systems offer a time-busting helping hand here.
Also, contact centers must analyze WFM data to understand schedule fit, adherence, and occupancy.
Switching lanes to quality management data, this often needs supercharging. Thankfully, interaction analytics provides the necessary spark, enabling automated call scoring across 100 percent of all contact center interactions. In doing so, it provides insights for meaningful WFO strategy adjustments while surfacing coaching opportunities and optimal moments for wellness breaks.
Finally, look for trends and correlations across different data sets. This will spotlight what is working well – and what is not – within the WFO strategy.
Mackay: Data drives positive change in the contact center and across the organization. By automatically capturing and analyzing customer interactions across voice and digital channels, contact centers can understand product quality, marketing campaign results, competitive intel, and customer intent.
The collected information helps contact centers optimize processes and enhance the product or service they provide by relaying customer feedback to various departments across the enterprise.
In addition, this data helps identify training opportunities and examples of excellent agent performance.
Use these insights to improve performance management and enhance onboarding programs, allowing agents get ahead of potential challenges when they start interacting with customers.
Willmott: Access to data enables better links between WFO strategies and customer experience measures. These often include NPS, CSAT, customer feedback, and sentiment.
Furthermore, analytics allows access to a previously untapped and vast data lake in the form of call recordings and written communications, extending agent goals beyond simple adherence metrics and small samples of interactions reviewed via manual quality management processes.
Rapp: The use of automation for scheduling and forecasting will likely rise significantly as remote work and supplemental staffing increase. Such a model will finally expand to the gig economy and, as a result, “pull” scheduling by the agent will replace “push” scheduling by the supervisor or workforce manager.
Further advances in AI assistance and self-service channels will facilitate this. Increased automation will free supervisors up to focus on the agent experience and retaining valuable agent resources instead of the nuts and bolts of workforce management. Much of the control will shift to individual agents, significantly improving retention.
Moreover, WFM may begin to proliferate into the larger organization in response to the need to manage customer-facing teams across locations and time zones due to remote and hybrid work.
The adoption of the “One Workforce” approach will likely grow as businesses step away from siloed contact centers and build a flexible human (and bot) resource pool, which may extend into the back office and retail branches.
The pandemic highlighted the need to share resources across the organization to optimize the workforce while meeting service goals and customer expectations across all channels. To accomplish this, WFO technology must stretch across the organization while driving increased productivity and employee flexibility beyond the contact center.
A One Workforce approach can also help businesses navigate increasing labor costs, hiring and retention challenges, and elevated consumer expectations.
By removing silos across an organization, customer-centric teams can access a significant resource pool, ensuring consistent, high-quality customer experiences across any customer engagement point.
Draycott: AI bots will soon remove many transactional customer queries, leaving agents to handle only the more complex, nitty-gritty interactions.
Powerful forecasting algorithms will activate and deactivate the number of bots required online in real-time, maintaining optimal resources in line with customer demand.
Meikle: The role of the contact center is changing amidst multiple pressures. Rising customer expectations and unprecedented recruitment challenges threaten to derail efficient scheduling and forecasting. Meanwhile, the contact center’s increasingly elevated status as an intelligence hub for the whole organization adds an extra layer of WFO complexity. Indeed, it spotlights agents in particular.
As such, Calabrio encourages its customers to build a team of ‘brand guardians’, including agents – who know customers best. These guardians will help create the perfect brand story that makes their company stand out from the crowd.
Pivotal to achieving brand guardianship is taking a more intelligent approach to WFO technology. Transitioning from simple ‘right place, right time’ WFM towards complete workforce performance management, where AI-enabled coaching, self-scheduling independence, and performance insights are united, is a critical first step to giving everyone a chance to shine.
Budding: The short-term future of WFO is all about connecting the dots with close consideration for supporting employee wellbeing. Indeed, different WFO components will likely trigger more automation in other WFO arenas to help achieve this.
For example, analytics-driven analytics tools will pick up on angry customer interactions and burnout indicators, inform the WFM solution, and schedule an automatic wellness break.
WFM solutions will also target specific pools of agents with overtime and annual leave opportunity alerts based on agent wellbeing inputs and signals.
Longer-term, the future of WFO will support interactions in a new online frontier; the metaverse. The metaverse will allow more immersive service experiences supported by VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality). To prepare for this, contact centers must appropriately skill agents and consider how to extract relevant insights.
Yet, no matter the channel, progressive employee experiences will likely increase brand advocacy, and intelligent WFO/WFM strategies will continue to correlate with excellent customer experiences, helping brands differentiate from their competitors.
Mackay: WFO will become increasingly flexible and scalable thanks to third-party applications. Unified WFO products that center on improving employee experiences will dominate the market.
These solutions will also provide robust APIs that allow customers to scale and modernize their operations based on unique business goals.
Finally, the ability for each WFO product to “speak with each other” and connect to other third-party tools – like unified communications and BI software – will enable more seamless service experiences.
Willmott: Further interoperability and integration between contact center platforms, more personalized service, and predictive routing will increasingly come into focus.
Such a routing strategy links customers with agents best skilled to deal with individual needs, various sentiments, etc.
Also, expect more automation, agent-assist, and better coaching options that provide real intrinsic motivation, helping agents invest in their future while gaining knowledge and qualifications that support their professional development.
Miss out on the last edition of our roundtable series? If so, catch up here: Reimagining the Helpdesk