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Work at Home Agents a Necessity for Challenging Times

Mar 24, 2020
Work at Home Agents a Necessity for Challenging Times

by: Bob Brittan, Director of Marketing at WFMSG

During challenging times when employees cannot or should not report to work at the corporate office, it is important for companies to still maintain good customer relations with a transparent method of communication and operational continuity. This can be an active website with up-to-the-minute notices about opening and closing hours, FAQ sheets, or even chatbots, that keep the customer informed and businesses operating. 

Work at-home or remote agents have become a viable and even desirable alternative for both employees and their employers. Not including freelancers, entrepreneurs, or business owners, remote workers grew over 44% in the last five years according to Global Workplace Analytics. Aside from having an available off-site agent resource, a recent study by Stanford University highlighted the reasons given for the new popularity in work from home. Among a few of those cited were improved productivity and employee retention, better work-life balance, reduction in stress and reduced costs for both employers and workers.

Keep Customers Connected

In times of uncertainty, being able to continue working from just about anywhere there is an internet service helps companies keep connected to their employees, business partners and vendors. The at-home agent is often the unsung hero behind business continuity, seamlessly connected to the chaotic outside world.

Many organizations that rely on at-home agents have adopted the practice years ago after living through business disruptions caused by weather related issues, acts of nature, disaster recovery and other calamities. Early adopters utilizing at-home or virtual agents include reservation agents, airlines, insurance companies, travels agencies, credit card, and cruise lines.

Cloud-based Infrastructure

At-home agents require the same business tools to get the job done as in-house teams. A primary need is a telephone system to collect and re-distribute customer calls and requests. This can be a premise-based system or a cloud-based solution that many businesses are migrating to because of lower costs and added flexibility. 

Managing the attendance of at home agents using software tools such as the Community WFM Automated Schedule Attendance Monitor (ASAM) becomes even more important because supervisors will not be able to see who is actually at their workstation in the contact center. ASAM is integrated with the phone system and the agent mobile app and provides an automated and streamlined communication approach to track agent arrival and attendance. The Attendance Monitor in ASAM allows supervisors to view agents as they arrive by specific time intervals. The Arrival Detail Console provides a dashboard of an agent’s status including expected arrival time, check in status, and late for shift while also streamlining the process of managing exceptions.

A reliable and robust scheduling tool for agents, wherever they may be located, is very important. Cloud hosted workforce management solutions that support browser-based WFM and contact center applications will allow management as well as all agents to ensure adequate contact coverage. Companies will typically provide personal computing equipment and other basic tools required to ensure success with the at-home job, and with a sufficient amount of internet speed the home agent is ready to take customer calls.

Other critical applications to get the job done will include some type of CRM and help desk software to provide agents with necessary (and up-to-date) customer information and resolution procedures. Many companies also use various other tools to evaluate agents and customer satisfaction such as call recording, analytics and customer survey applications.

Emergence of Mobile Apps

Using a workforce management solution that supports mobile applications can help guarantee that management can send up to the minute alerts, scheduling changes and updates as business needs change during the day. An agent mobile application can also be used as an additional communication tool for agents that are working remotely and allow them to keep in touch with other remote agents as well as the in-house staff.

Community WFM software offers a feature-rich agent interface designed to deliver key information and communication to all agents whether they are on site, at home, or on-the-go. Through the Community WFM agent portal, all agents can use the tool to manage their schedules, shift bidding, review adherence, and receive and respond to all related communication.

  • Weekly or monthly schedule views
  • Receive notifications for event reminders and schedule changes
  • Receive and accept overtime offers
  • Agent adherence reporting
  • Manage communication preferences

Business Critical Necessity – Remote Agent Strategy

Community WFM software has always supported work at home agents. Using a browser-based workforce management solution can also monitor remote agent performance as well as intraday events that can affect service level and ultimately the ability to deliver a good customer experience. Management now has the ability to reassign agents – no matter where they are located, offer overtime or undertime, and keep them informed of important up-to-the-minute business needs or changes. In times of uncertainty and chaos having a remote agent workforce strategy becomes a critical business necessity for operational continuity. 

Business photo created by nensuria

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Intraday Management - Part II - Agent Adherence

Feb 18, 2020
Intraday Management - Part II - Agent Adherence

by: Bob Brittan, Director of Marketing at WFMSG

Are you a contact center supervisor who is constantly asking the daily question, “Where is everybody”? And that’s in addition to the agents who have approved PTO or called in sick. These are the agents who come to work late, don’t take assigned breaks or lunches, and quite frankly just don’t work to the assigned plan. Welcome to a contact center’s daily dilemma – agent adherence.

Having agents in their seats and helping customers is the goal of every contact center. Indeed, maintaining a great customer experience makes for loyal repeat customers. When agents understand their role and adhere to their assigned schedules, you have the best chance of meeting service level goals based on all common staffing conditions.

Supervisors are responsible for forecasting an accurate schedule. They must properly account for daily overhead, capture all the exceptions, and know what components of overhead are in or out of line such as meetings, trainings, and call outs.

Establishing clear lines of communication for executing those plans is critical, and having a WFM software platform that can help with instant communication gives you a big advantage juggling intraday adherence exceptions. Some common communication methods include:

  • Intraday or intra-shift meetings
  • Broadcast messages, wall boards
  • Blanket reports
  • Mobile phone notifications
  • Internal and personal emails
  • Text messaging

When you find that you are still not meeting demand due to adherence issues - reforecast demand against existing schedules and analyze variances on service level (targeted, planned, and forecast). Having a WFM software solution like Community WFM lets you view adherence performance alongside daily schedules for intraday schedule management. You can easily access real-time adherence alerts detailing performance metrics by team or at the agent level. Automated Schedule Adjustment Plans let analysts create, save and re-use an unlimited number of customizable strategies for dynamic intraday management and automated schedule management. Don’t be afraid to run multiple scenarios.

Once you realize your contact center is out of adherence you need a corrective strategy that makes sense.

  • Increase staff
  • Delete off-phone events
  • Extend shifts/offer overtime shifts
  • Decrease staff, refine staff, migrate staff
  • Plan a meeting
  • Offer voluntary time-off
  • Re-optimize off phone events

Usually you can isolate changes to just a few groups or people to stay on plan and correct the adherence issue.

  • Net effects of those changes
  • More efficient
  • Better service
  • Overtime/under time

Know what you are going to do based on all common staffing conditions and remember, lines of communications are crucial to effectiveness. An integrated mobile app such as Community Everywhere© can quickly and easily notify affected groups or people. Community WFM natively connects agents, supervisors and analysts so they can interact as scheduling dynamics change throughout the day.

Try not to be overzealous with schedule changes – agents don’t want to feel as if ‘big brother’ is constantly monitoring their actions. The best intraday and agent adherence manager is a prepared manager - run scenarios!

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Intraday Management - Part 1

Jan 22, 2020
Intraday Management - Part 1

by: Bob Brittan, Director of Marketing at WFMSG

Intraday Management – Part I

What exactly is intraday management and why is it critical to contact center operations? Creating a solid forecast and building schedules is only the beginning of the workforce management cycle. Intraday management is the art of anticipating, monitoring, and identifying daily potential staffing risks. This can occur due to unforeseen changes such as inclement weather, lack of internal communications, agents not adhering to schedule, and internal and external events - events that can cause a daily schedule to be less that efficient to cover customer expectations for good service. Understanding what may happen during the course of a typical business day can profoundly affect your service level and how you deliver a great customer experience. Without the ability to quickly recognize daily trends and manage risks you incur the dilemma of being overstaffed or understaffed. 

Poor intraday management can be identified when WFM managers ignore several common opportunities:

  • Inadequate planning - missed opportunity for increased schedule efficiency
  • Underutilized WFM (software) features
  • Data and adherence trending (historical)
  • Chasing service levels; no explanation for missed service levels
  • Losing track of exceptions due to late reporting
  • Lack of inter-departmental communications
  • No formal agent communication plan for adherence to daily schedule changes
  • Missed opportunity for increased schedule efficiency

Developing a clear picture of your staffing and short-term plans from internal organizations that can influence the customer experience and end service level results helps to combat intraday obstacles. Often the contact center is the last team to learn about new marketing campaigns, technology changes, competitive updates and other external events. Outside influences can also impact the contact center and agent behavior and shrinkage. This can negatively impact your plan for the current day or week and include events such as weather related, flu season, transit strike, or even elections. 

Changes from any unforeseen event results in miscalculated overhead variables that will negatively impact service level. Monitoring, managing and reporting service level variance and trends including exception management must be reported to leadership and supervisors. By analyzing variances, you will be able to understand the service level impact compared to your targets, and identify risks to customer service.

  • Trend monitoring
    1. Calls
    2. Average handle time
    3. Arrival patterns
    4. Day of week patterns
  • Monitor forecast variance for percent for calls and handle time
  • How is the day trending?

As the demand for additional agents or skills changes throughout the day, it is beneficial to have a workforce management tool such as Community WFM’s A.S.A.P. (Automatic Schedule Adjustment Plans) that allows forecasting analysts the ability to increase, decrease or refine staffing levels on-demand. Combined with a built-in notifications’ platform such as Community’s Everywhere™ mobile application, provides agents immediate information on schedule changes and the need for overtime or under-time and accept or decline those offers on any one, or a combination of all notification channels. Accepted offers will automatically update the schedules and A.S.A.P will automatically notify the agents again on those same channels.

Collaborate and communicate conditions, influencing events, short term plans and proposed strategies with all stake holders. With the ability to quickly reforecast you will be able to correct deficiencies and compensate for over or under staffed for the balance of the day. 

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Reaching Every Contact Center with Affordable and Accessible WFM Solutions

Nov 06, 2019
Reaching Every Contact Center with Affordable and Accessible WFM Solutions

by: Bob Brittan, Director of Marketing at WFMSG

No matter the size of your contact center, you will always have the task of making sure you have enough call representatives, or agents, to handle the call load. The art of successful workforce management (WFM) is understanding the basic process of forecasting and scheduling. The truth is in the numbers, both physical and financial – too few agents, and your customer satisfaction bottoms out – too many agents, and your payroll is too high. In fact, labor costs account for more than 70% of your contact center budget, so you can see how important accurate forecasting and scheduling becomes.

The WFM Process

The basic WFM process begins with an organization choosing a service level goal, usually expressed as answering some percentage of calls within a certain number of seconds. To achieve this goal, a call demand or load forecast must be created, typically by looking at historical data from the telephone answering system. Then, calculations determine how many staff are required to meet the predicted demand at the desired service level.

Once requirements are known, individual employee schedules are generated so that agents understand when to report to work, when to take breaks and lunches and when to finish their shifts. Finally, the management team needs to make sure that agents are following their schedules.

Creating a Forecast and Schedule

If you are new to the WFM game you might try to manually create a forecast from the historical call data available to you, and make a list of all of your agents. A spreadsheet is a cost effect method often used in small to medium sized contact centers and will greatly help you get organized. 

It’s fair to say that spreadsheets can be an effective tool in creating forecasts. After all, forecasts of call volume are essentially a math problem. Our old friend Mr. Erlang and his formula can be effective at calculating the required number of single-skill staff. The real problem is creating schedules.

When you take into account agent schedule preferences, multiple skill routing scenarios, complex work rules, tracking schedule adherence, and over and under staffing, failure in anyone or multiple areas results in needless expense and lost customer good-will that you may never recover from.

Removing Complexity – Just Ask a Wizard

Modern workforce management solutions enable contact centers to quickly and economically capture the benefits of modern workforce optimization technology. They have become much more affordable and can cater to entry level and start-up organizations, to large multi-site contact centers with may skill sets, telephone systems, and omni-channel environments. Administrators, supervisors and analysts no longer have to worry about long learning cycles, or resentment from agents due to a significant cultural change, just by implementing a workforce management solution. 

To ensure you are not behind the curve when it comes to accurate forecasting and scheduling, look for a WFM solution with a browser-based wizard to intuitively walk users through the process of developing and executing an accurate forecast - while managing overhead costs. Make sure your users can also run advanced “what-if” analysis by varying demand, service levels and other variables to optimize agent schedules when your services demand changes. Another plus feature are unique forecast modeling options for contact centers that offer multiple channels of support.

Modern WFM software also takes agent empowerment into consideration – after all, agents are your customers window into the organization. Empowerment for agents, supervisors, and analysts who can seamlessly be connected through tightly integrated desktop portals and multiple notification channels can keep everyone up-to-date on operations. 

Don’t forget the infrastructure. Look for a solution to fit your needs whether it be an on-premise solution, cloud hosted, or hybrid. Many WFM users today opt for a cloud-based solution for ease of implementation, cost-effectiveness, and minimum IT involvement. Remember, the historical data used in forecasting and where it comes from – make sure your telephone system is compatible with available data collection adapters. Popular cloud-based adapters now include sources such as Amazon and SharpenCX.

Instead of struggling with spreadsheets, look into affordable WFM tools for contact centers that enable you to have the right number of agents with the right skills, at the right time, across all channels throughout the day. Keeping the agents involved in the process every step along the way, gives them input into critical scheduling decisions.

Clear the Way for Growth

The business landscape never stops evolving. Small business grows into larger organizations or can become part of a merger or acquisition. Implement a new solution that automates routine workforce optimization functions including forecasting, schedule optimization, adherence reporting and workforce engagement – all presented within an easy to use web browser interface and mobile app.  

It’s clearly advantageous to have a WFM solution that is easy to expand as your business needs change. Use a solution with a simple and clear migration path and license update when basic users require access to advanced features and greater automation.  Use a vendor that provides your center with cloud-based access to a workforce optimization tool kit that meets your needs and budget. WFM solutions today are making it faster, easier and less expensive to adopt world class workforce management.

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We know agent retention is important. What is your strategy?

Nov 18, 2018
We know agent retention is important. What is your strategy?

by: Dick Bucci, Founder and Chief Analyst of Pelorus Associates

Companies are no longer being defined by their products and services but by the way that customers experience them. As the primary point of entry for many consumer interactions, contact center agents are uniquely situated to influence customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. However, while turnover rates vary from one contact center to the next, on average contact centers experience turnover rates between 30 – 45 percent. Not only can agent turnover impact the customer experience, it’s expensive! Studies show that employee turnover costs an organization at least 25-30 percent of the benefits and salary for a vacated position.

Contact center managers are always on the lookout for new tools and practices that will help retain their best-performing agents. This is especially true today as falling unemployment levels present agents with many more employment options. Recognizing the importance of aligning customer service agent preferences with business needs WFMSG’s Community workforce management software offers a unique feature call Automated Schedule Adjustment Plans (ASAP). ASAP is designed to automate a range of common schedule and intraday management administrative tasks and works in conjunction with Community’s fully integrated communications framework.

Rather than manage schedules on an ad-hoc basis, managers can quickly execute various plan types and communicate with agents through a number of notification channels. Through this messaging feature agents are alerted to opt-in opportunities for overtime and other schedule options and can respond immediately.

WFMSG’s latest release of the Community workforce management solution deliverers a significant enhancement to the ASAP feature. Community 4.3 now includes Agent ASAP Calendar View. This allows agents to see all plans for which they are eligible, giving them more control over their work schedules. Clicking an offer from the calendar provides the agents with a detailed description of the available offer. The option to accept or decline will depend on the disposition of the offer at the time of selection. This is one of many new features or enhancements included in Community 4.3.

While there may be limits to what management can do in terms of improving compensation levels and advancement opportunities, they can and must take actions to make the work more attractive and to reward superior performers. Empowerment is a powerful tool for building agent morale and increasing retention. The power of modern workforce management software makes it possible to satisfy (within the confines of business rules and service level requirements) employee preferences for work schedules, vacation preferences, and time off requests.

About Pelorus Associates

Dick Bucci is Founder and Principal of Pelorus Associates where he specializes in contact center technologies. Dick has authored seventeen market research reports on workforce optimization applications and has published dozens of articles and white papers. Prior to founding Pelorus Associates Dick was a senior sales and marketing executive with leading telecommunications vendors and value added resellers. Dick has over 35 years of experience and is one of the most widely published and quoted analysts in the contact center industry.

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