One of the biggest challenges I faced running workforce management teams was building a strong team with strong bench strength. In other words, creating a team that is not only effective today, but is set up to be successful on an ongoing basis, with no interruption. What is “bench strength”? It’s having people who you can promote into workforce management to fill gaps as people leave, or to scale up the team as business grows. We take that term from sports, where you have active players and you have additional players who sit on the bench. These players are skilled, trained, and capable to go in at a moment’s notice. This can be a part of your succession planning and growth opportunity. In the fast-paced world of contact center management, having a strong bench is absolutely critical. There is no pause button in contact centers.
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In my experience, the best bench strength comes from the front-line employees taking the inbound contacts. There are a number of reasons for this:
- They know your business
- They understand the customer
- They bring a unique perspective to WFM
- They are a ready source for internships and mentoring with WFM
Before getting into setting up the bench strength, let’s start with how the workforce management function should be set up. The standard set-up for workforce management is to have three key functions: Forecasting, scheduling and real-time management. A successful workforce management team establishes a career path between these functions. A great way to do this is to start with the real-time management function as the first level, then progress to scheduling and ultimately to forecasting.
This path is logical, because the real-time analyst is very close to the business. They understand the call arrival patterns, the staffing patterns, the interval service levels, and they engage directly with the operations staff to manage real-time situations.
All of these traits are valuable assets to a scheduler. Scheduling is an exercise in aligning the staff to a forecast. Schedulers are heavy users of the workforce management system, and they tend to be less engaged with what’s actually happening intraday. Because of this, the scheduling role can become theoretical. The reality of service levels rarely coincides exactly with what the scheduling system expected. This can happen for a number of reasons.
Pictured below is a common example. If net staffing is projected to be negative for one half-hour, there is a good chance that part of that volume will overflow to the next interval. Many scheduling tools aim to hit service level goals by establishing staffing requirements for each interval in isolation. A real-time analyst knows this (and other anomalies) first-hand. Bringing this knowledge into the scheduling function ensures the scheduler ties the theory with reality.
Similarly, the scheduler experiences the realities of things like hours of operations, geographic differences in what types of schedules employees can work, labor/business requirements of the staff, and engages with the operations team to actually align the staff to where the forecasts call for staff. The forecasting role is very data-intensive, and with this added experience, a scheduling-trained forecaster can ensure all of these factors are taken into account when forecasting. This is especially true if the forecaster has been both a scheduler and a real-time analyst in your business. They really understand how things actually work from end to end, not just how they are supposed to work.
Clearly identifying the roles and career path within workforce management is an important prerequisite to developing bench strength. People who aspire to move into workforce management need to know that there is a career path. Employee mobility is a key part of having an engaged workforce, and the best employees are more likely to join workforce management if they see that path. Another reason for having roles and responsibilities clear is that it allows you to carve out portions of this work for aspiring workforce management professionals to do so they can gain experience.
Let’s put this to work in practice:
There are administrative functions within workforce management that don’t necessarily cleanly lend themselves to forecasting, scheduling or real-time management. This would include tasks like maintaining an attendance line, entering approved exceptions into the system, maintaining dictionaries and glossaries, etc… These tasks are great entry points for workforce management interns to do. They are simple to train, provide an easy entry into workforce management, and allow you to take these tasks off the plate of the core workforce management team so they can focus on their core discipline.
Create a workforce management internship program in your contact center. Partnering with the operations leadership team, identify high potential contact center employees to become a part of the program. The role should be part-time, and mean having the employee off the phones for a set number of hours per week. During that time, they work as an extension of the workforce management team and engage in those administrative tasks while gaining understanding of how workforce management works.
With this in place, this is what your career path/succession planning could look like:
As you can see, building bench strength to ensure the continuity and success of your workforce management team ends up being a career path for your high potential employees. It also sets up your department as a clear choice for those aspiring to grow their careers within your contact center.
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Originally published on Jan 13, 2017, updated on Mar 11, 2021.
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How to Build a Strong WFM Team
- Set up the WFM function the right way
- Identify promising future candidates to promote into the WFM team
- Partner with operations to create a workforce management internship program
- Future-proof your WFM team