How to create a successful WFM strategy in your contact center

Charles Watson Workforce Management Oct 18, 2017 15 min read

Recently, we’ve seen a trend of organizations starting to shake up their organizational structure.  As competition heats up for attracting and retaining top talent, businesses need to continue to evolve how they operate.  This will of course also affect your workforce management (WFM) strategy...  

When you also factor in the increasing percentage of millennials in the workforce, the work dynamics really shift.  No doubt, you’ve heard of contact centers that have moved to 100% work from home, or other alternate work arrangements.  With the exception of the outsourcing industry, where command and control are critical, we’ve moved beyond brick-and-mortar contact centers with a traditional hierarchy being the norm. 

I want to share with you some WFM strategies to survive and thrive in this new environment.  But before I do, it’s important to explore why businesses are making these changes.

As you have undoubtedly heard, companies like Uber have really taken off in the past few years.  With technology so easy and accessible, anyone with a great idea has easy access to turn them into a new product or service.  It also means that consumers have far more options than in the past, and no company can assume their customers will remain loyal in the fact of this competition. 

The same thing applies to employees.  People have more options of places to work that don’t require them to physically live in the city where the business is located.  Employees have more choices than they’ve ever had. 

So the competition for customers and the competition for the best employees is changing.  Companies are adapting.

As a result, the traditional techniques workforce management teams use has to change as well.  Let’s talk about a few of these changes and strategies that have proven effective.

Flat organizational structure

In a traditional organizational structure, you have call center agents reporting to a team leader, who reports to an operations manager, then to the operations director.  These centralized configurations make it easy to ensure compliance and facilitate to control the operations. 

Given the size of a contact center, and the potential impact of the brand to good or poor interactions, this has been a key way to ensure customers get consistent quality service. 

It’s a “one size fits all” approach.  But for many companies, it’s no longer good enough. Customers are looking for customized servicing for their specific needs. One way to enable this is making the move to a more flat organization. 

A flat organization is where accountability is more employee-to-employee vs. top-down.  Front-line agents still report into a leader for administrative purposes, however, feedback, reviews, and merit reviews are more peer to peer. 

So you might need to go more towards self-managed teams where teams hold themselves accountable for the outcomes. Goals are 100% team-based. If one team member isn’t pulling their weight, systems are set up for their coworkers to provide them with the feedback and take action. 

This approach can work well in many environments, but is very challenging in a contact center, where there are so many external accountabilities for service level, and the impacts of some performance metrics e.g. schedule adherence and average handling time (AHT) have an immediate impact on the queues.

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Work at Home

The classic example of Work at Home in the United States is JetBlue.  JetBlue is a New York based airline with work at home contact center representatives located across the country. 

American Express Global Business Travel also has a high percentage of their staff work at home in the US and across the world. 

The attraction to Work at Home is twofold. 

First, it provides employees with a high level of flexibility.  They can often work non-traditional schedules and save the time and money it costs to commute into the office each day. 

 

Need a solution for Work at Home agents?

Check out the mobile agent self-service portal injixo Me, where agents can view their shifts, swap shifts, get schedule adherence reminders and much more – no matter where they are. 

 

Second, it provides the company resources who can log in and take calls during extended hours.  In cases of a site going down (due to weather or power outage, for example), the employees can still work. 

It’s great for business continuity. There are pitfalls with this, of course.  

Employees have to exhibit more self-discipline. Operations leadership has to have a way to monitor the quality and productivity of the employees.  Team leaders and workforce management lose direct visibility and have to rely on their real-time reporting and monitoring. 

For the employees taking the calls, they can’t just turn to their neighbor if they have a question. 

There has to be some systematic way for them to get answers quickly.

 

Supporting these through WFM

What both of these new ways of working have in common is they really force the operations to be process-oriented, documented, and follow strict systems. 

It actually fits very nicely into what WFM wants and you have leverage to dictate some requirements in order to ensure this new set-up can work.  Here are some examples of what has to be clear between workforce management and leadership:

 

Schedules 

All schedules need to be filled.  This is a no-brainer for WFM.  In any center, there are a number of exceptions that happen when schedules are created and assigned. 

When the workforce isn’t on site, or isn’t reporting into a team leader, it means the system of schedules needs to be maintained to ensure your employees are there for the customers, consistently. 

Now, there is some flexibility here in terms of trading shifts, overtime and voluntary time off.  Automate all of this through your WFM system if you can and let it run based on business rules.

 

Real-time Management (RTM)

Real-time management needs to be autopilot.  There are no team leaders in the flat organization to get people back on the phones, and when agents work at home, you can’t just walk up and ask them to log back in when they are out of schedule adherence. 

[Read our tips on how to get real-time right in your call center.]

Create a simple “one pager” to show the actions everyone takes when service level hits certain thresholds.  Have pre-agreement on who can be skilled to what, so the real time team can just act, and not ask. 

Ideally, you should automate 100% of the skilling options through your call routing system.  This is quicker and far more efficient than reacting to the queue.

 

Feedback

Ensure you have a solid feedback and continuous improvement process. This can be done in a number of ways.  My favorite way is to create a team leader or agent council. 

Have regular meetings with this group to have two-way dialogue.  Workforce management can share what’s working well, what’s not working well, and what to expect in the future.  The council can do that vice versa.

These conversations are invaluable. 

They ensure a close partnership, and ensures that there are no understanding gaps as you go to execute.  Consider having the teams meet every week or every other week at least.  This should be very regular and timely.

Your business may not yet engage in these new ways of operating, but it’s likely they will experiment with one or both of these in the future. 

Get involved in the conversations early and advocate for workforce management and for setting up processes that support this transition. 

Contact centers will continue to evolve, but the role of workforce management will continue to be ensuring the customer, shareholder, and employee metrics are all being translated into the actual performance in the contact center.

Check out how injixo WFM can support you WFM strategy by optimizing your forecast, schedule and intra-day management. 

 

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