Workforce Management

Tips for more effective call center forecasting, scheduling and agent adherence

Workforce Management Software Hints, Tips & Best Practices

Balancing Technology and Human Resources

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Artificial Intelligence is not yet a reality. And if you saw Avengers: Age of Ultron, you know that may be a good thing. 

Sometimes we get the feeling that the machines are taking over. They have already assumed many jobs that used to require people, and complete them more quickly and efficiently. This is true in the contact center as well, and has been since interactive voice response began routing calls to available agents.  

But will they ever take over entirely? Will a contact center one day be comprised of a roomful of voice-activated machines taking calls, completing tasks and analyzing the data thereafter?

That this could happen is undeniable; the question is, should it happen? And the answer is no. 

Regardless of how sophisticated technology becomes, there should always be a human element in some forms of customer communication. The goal for contact centers will be to find the right workforce optimization balance between sophisticated technology and professionally trained agents. 

Anyone who has ever become trapped in a conversation with a virtual call recipient and their menu of pre-recorded options (press 1 if you are calling to place an order, press 2 if you would like to return a product, etc.) soon realizes that their business could be conducted more efficiently with a human being at the other end of the line. 

And while there are now younger adults who have never known a world without smartphones, ATMs and self check-outs at the grocery store, some tasks simply cannot be handled by an automated response. This is especially true if a customer is angry or disappointed – when that happens you want someone who will listen to the problem, empathize with your situation, apologize for your inconvenience and try to provide a solution. 

No matter how intriguing the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) agents may be, contact center technology that is not supported by living, breathing agents can never provide the same positive customer experience. 



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Workforce Management and Memorial Day

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Everyone looks forward to a 3-day weekend – with the exception of those who have to work one or all of those days, and those that have to make sure resources are allocated at a contact center to meet consumer demand. 

As Memorial Day weekend approaches, here are some of the ways that workforce management can help contact center managers anticipate and optimize for the three-day holiday. 

  • Gathering Data – historical reports from the ACD provide the best indicators of what to expect. Go back at least two years and analyze call volume and other important KPIs. 
  • Remove Variances – a holiday is a variance in itself so that will obviously be taken into account, but watch for other issues that might be responsible for lower or higher numbers.
  • Follow the Pattern – what specifically happened last Memorial Day weekend? Perhaps call volume dropped on Friday, was almost nonexistent Sunday but picked up again on Monday. Will that pattern remain consistent? Or is there some reason it might change? 
  • Check with Marketing – Has the company announced a new Memorial Day sale or promotion? How will that factor into call volume? 

Once you have this information, it will be much easier to calculate staff requirements to meet service goals. 



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Forecasting and Scheduling Home-Based Agents

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Many companies have discovered the advantages of virtual call centers, such as the cost reductions derived from agents working from home, and a more flexible scalability than what can be imposed at a brick and mortar contact center.

It’s an arrangement that is also preferable for many agents. They eliminate the time and fuel costs associated with driving to and from the contact center, and it allows parents of small children to be closer to their families. There is also something to be said for the trust shown in agents that work remotely, which is appreciated and often inspires greater confidence and performance. 

Forecasting, Scheduling and Telecommuting

The evolution of cloud software has accelerated the work-from-home trend, as it provides the same service capabilities to an agent’s home computer as can be accessed at the call center. 

No installation is required, data sharing remains secure, and managers enjoy even more flexibility in the forecasting and scheduling process. Forecast simulations can be run in the same way as with an office-based workforce, and scheduling will be easier because of greater agent availability. 

Now it’s easier to always meet optimal service levels, as managers can create a pool of back-up telecommuting agents for times of increased call volume, peak calling seasons such as holidays, or for when there are just too many unexpected absences. 

Best of all, with an automated, cloud-based workforce management solution, managers receive the same detailed reports and real-time information on employee performance, agent activities, shift assignments, schedule adherence and other data, regardless of whether the agent is working from home or elsewhere.  

Managers used to a more traditional contact center environment make require some adjustment, but the benefits of cloud-based WFM, and the positive reception of agents who would prefer to work from home (and now may stay with the company longer) should ease the transition. 

Any system that assures service levels are being met while costs are being reduced is certainly worth a try.  


Forecast & Scheduling Best Practices

The Biggest Challenge Contact Centers Face

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What is the biggest challenge faced by every contact center, regardless of size or type? 

The answer is one you may already know: It’s the challenge of delivering great customer service at the lowest possible cost. The question that is more difficult to answer is – what is the best way to do it?

It starts with information – having the data your agents need, when they need it. 

Specifically, this means real-time insights delivered via dashboards and reports on KPIs, as well as alerts that allow managers to adjust forecasts and schedules as needed when the unexpected occurs. It means running scenarios to prepare for various contingencies, and changing breaks to meet the demands of call volume. 

It also means being able to record and score calls so agents receive the coaching and training they need to deliver outstanding customer service. 

With the capabilities provide by this data, the contact center manager has the actionable insights necessary to be proactive in decision-making, and that means every shift of every day will be prepared to deliver the kind of customer service that keeps customers loyal and happy. And when the contact center is running at peak efficiency, that reduces costs as well.

Even greater cost savings can be achieved when contact center technology is provided through the cloud as a subscription service, which eliminates the need to invest in additional hardware and software. In this model, call centers pay only for the time and capacity that they need. For a smaller call center, this means the ability to significantly lower upfront costs, while maintaining the option of scaling up as needed.



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Cyber Attacks and Contact Centers: Are you Prepared?

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You may have seen the news earlier this month: AT&T Inc. has agreed to pay a $25 million settlement following the discovery of a data breach at their call centers in Mexico, Colombia and the Philippines. It happened because employees at these call centers accepted illegal payments to share the private information of the company’s customers. About 280,000 people were affected. 

This case raises awareness that contact centers play a central part in dealing with customers in case of a cyberattack. They are the first point of human contact. Everyone can remember the large scale attacks that hit Target stores in 2015 or the Sony PlayStation Network in 2011. Millions users were affected, millions of credit card numbers leaked. This is a stressful situation for the customers and it can affect the company’s reputation dramatically. 

Just like any other businesses, call centers have to be prepared and proactive to deal with the aftermath of a cyberattack targeting the company. 

It becomes essential that shrinkage is taken into account, in order to handle an unexpected spike of calls, agents are trained, available, and scripts with an emergency procedure are ready. 

How should you prepare your contact center?

Most companies devote just 2-4% of their IT budget to security and disaster recovery planning. And yet, the actions taken before a cyber attack are as significant, if not more so, than actions taken after the worst has become reality. 

Some companies specialize in disaster preparation. They can help implement a strategy to fit a contact center’s needs, likely threats and budget. Many of these companies may begin with a business impact analysis, to assess the potential loss (whether financial, technical or in human resources) from a cyber attack. 

It’s also a good idea to put together an issue response team ahead of time, so you will have the right people in place if an attack should occur.

What to Do After?

A cyber attack is not the same as other unforeseen activities that could not be anticipated with forecasting and scheduling. This is a situation where customers are directly and negatively affected by what has occurred, and may even incur financial loss as a result. Some will be angry. Some will be frightened. And most of them will be calling you as soon as the news of the attack is made public.

Because data breaches are now, unfortunately, an ongoing threat in 21st century business, most customers will understand that these incidents are not always avoidable. That means it’s no longer an automatic deal-breaker for that business relationship – but a lot will depend on how the company responds. For the contact center, that means focusing on 4 words: Communicate, Respond, Explain, and Apologize.

Communicate

Let customers know as soon as possible that an attack has occurred. Don’t wait for them to call you. This will be the first step in rebuilding any trust that has been lost. The faster they are aware of what has happened, the faster they can contact their bank or credit card company and take steps to protect themselves. The companies that lose the most customers from a cyber attack are those that wait weeks (or even months) before going public.

Respond

Customers will have questions. Have your best agents in place – those that have shown via quality reviews and coaching that they know how to remain calm when speaking with someone who is upset. Make sure these agents have the answers ready to the questions that are always asked following an attack (“What happened?” “How will this affect me?” “Do I need to call my bank?”). 

Explain

Cyber attacks are highly technical in execution, but customers will not be interested in explanations that they cannot understand. Agents should be able to explain in plain English what has happened, why it happened, and what steps the company is taking to control the damage, and make sure the customer is inconvenienced as little as possible. Also, tell them what steps are now being taken to make sure their information will be safer in the future. 

Apologize

This is where agent training should begin when preparing for the aftermath of an attack. The apology should happen near the beginning of the call, and again at the end. It will go a long way toward maintaining a customer’s confidence. 

Bonus Step: Stay in Touch

Customers will expect a company to be reluctant to talk about a cyber attack, so they will appreciate if the company takes the initiative in keeping customers apprised of what is happening. Whether it’s a phone call from the contact center updating them on the situation, or an apology email from the company CEO, or some other means of following up, it demonstrates ongoing concern for the customer’s welfare and interest in keeping their business. 

Conclusion

With cyber attacks in the news almost every week, companies can no longer assume they will be the exception and never have to worry about the fallout from such a damaging incident. However, few companies have devoted sufficient time to advance preparation, and a recent Ponemon study found that companies were also not prepared to communicate with customers following a data breach; in fact, of more than 470 surveyed, just 21% had a trained communications team in place. 

For contact centers, where communication is the first and most important skill considered for agent hires, that percentage will not do. This is the moment when agents should be called upon to use their skills to address customer concerns and restore confidence and loyalty. 

Ponemon study referenced in article: http://www.corpcounsel.com/id=1202598001685?slreturn=20150320141052



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Contact Centers and Tax Paying Season

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Different call centers have different busy seasons. 

For those connected with our annual income tax obligation, this is the month that requires more advance preparation, agent training and full staffing. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance typically handles about 1 million calls every April. 

If your contact center is one designed to help businesses and consumers answer IRS or state tax-related questions, how did you do? If your agents now look like they have been through a 15-round fight, and your callers had to wait longer than you would prefer to speak to an agent, it’s never too early to start preparing to do better next year. 

That process starts by studying this month’s figures. That will help you better anticipate what traffic will be like in April of 2016, not just in call volume but in how many chose to seek help through other channels (chat, email, etc.). With a sound forecast in place you’ll be better prepared to allocate resources and personnel to the shifts and the areas where they will be needed most. 

Do you have a workforce management solution in place that can route a specific type of call to the agent best qualified to take it? Do you have qualified temp agents on stand-by who will be available on the busiest days? If not, start hiring early and have contact information ready for more agents that you expect to need, as some drop-off should always be anticipated. 

Keep in mind also that just because you are busier, it’s no reason to pay less attention to quality control. This is actually a critical time to be monitoring calls, emails and chats to compare to the call center’s quality benchmarks. Do not wait until after the season is over to address any issues. 



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Scheduling Spreadsheets Become Obsolete in the Cloud

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“Is it in the budget?”

Some variation of that question is always asked when any changes to contact center procedures are proposed. And it’s a valid question. Economic realities have forced businesses of all kinds to do more with less, and contact centers are no exception. 

But there comes a point when inaction can be more costly than a beneficial investment. And when it comes to the use of spreadsheets vs. workforce management software, that time has come. 

Yet many small and midsized contact centers still rely on spreadsheets for daily forecasting and scheduling. Even larger contact centers, those with 100 agents or more, are still making due with an inefficient system that lowers customer service, and can actually increase costs. 

When an increase as low as 1% in productivity can significantly impact the contact center budget, it is imperative to identify areas where efficiency can be improved. Ditching spreadsheets should be at the top of that list. 


Spending Money to Save Money

The limitations of a spreadsheet result in fixed schedules that can produce higher shrinkage and overstaffing, or understaffing and a low service level. But with WFM it is easier to manage start times, end times and breaks with an ease of flexibility that dramatically improves service levels. 

Managers can also consult more detailed and accurate call histories with WFM, resulting in better forecasts. Scheduling is also faster – some managers can save as much as 25% of the time once devoted to filling in spreadsheets – time that can now be used for additional agent training or to attend to other matters. 

Is increased efficiency worth the investment? One of our clients, the Texas credit union GECU, found out first-hand. Their call center, staffed by 85 agents, selected Monet’s cloud-based WFM Live as a way to improve customer service. Affordability was a key component in the decision, as WFM Live provides such benefits as reduced IT investment, low implementation service fees and a more cost-effective per-user license model. 

Just a few months after implementation, GECU was able to save money by reducing its number of agents by 14, while delivering better customer service. With the more accurate scheduling made possible by WFM Live, there was a 30% reduction in unscheduled breaks. Costly overtime scheduling was reduced, while call volume spikes were managed more easily.


“In terms of ROI, Monet has already paid for itself after a few months. The cost of the 3 year subscription I've already saved in salaries, overtime and administrative costs.”

--Joshua Gomez, GECU Assistant Vice-President, Call Center


Today, the quality and service levels at GECU are solidly placed in the top 97% tier. 


The Better Solution for Managers, Agents and Your Customers

A spreadsheet can be used to calculate workforce percentages, but precise forecasting requires more in-depth analysis. And when forecasts are wrong, stressed agents cannot deliver the service level you and your customers expect – or, they’re sitting in their cubicles with nothing to do, and earning money for it. 

One of the reasons we hear most often from companies reluctant to change is, “But this is the way we’ve been doing it for 10 years.” Change can indeed be intimidating. What we tell them is they are not really changing the things they do – they are just going to be able to do them more easily and efficiently. 

Forecasts rely heavily on historical data – daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal – to determine call volume. Contact center managers may start with monthly and weekly stats, and then delve deeper into daily and hourly numbers, perhaps even examining work periods as short as 15 minutes. 

This can be done with spreadsheets, theoretically, but with WFM it is significantly easier to analyze call types, call volume and call patterns, and then to note past variations, determine their cause, and forecast accordingly. With WFM it is also much easier to forecast special days or other events that impact call volume. “Special day” provisions can be created for any factor, from marketing campaigns or events to weather patterns.

Scheduling is yet another area where WFM offers enhanced capabilities. Spreadsheets can handle fixed schedules, but in 2015 how often do contact center schedules stay fixed? 

With a WFM system managers have the flexibility to automatically manage start times, end times and break times. Now, agents can work the hours that work best for them, and happier agents are far more likely to excel at customer service. They are also more likely to stay with the company longer, a consideration that should not be minimized considering the average employee turnover rate in this industry. 

Intra-day adherence tracking is another significant component of a best practices approach that is practically impossible with just a spreadsheet. WFM also provides insight, through dashboards and real-time alerts, into which agents are meeting their schedule obligations, and which may require additional guidance or training. 


Conclusion

The annual budgeting process presents a familiar challenge – cut costs where necessary while maintaining (or improving) the customer experience. Since labor forces rank among the highest cost items, it is essential that they be managed properly. With WFM, a manager can always be confident that he or she is scheduling the right agents with the right skills at the right time. 

Those still using spreadsheets for these functions are missing out on the convenience, efficiency, flexibility and functionality of workforce management. 

The calculations necessary for optimal forecasts and schedules are very difficult to do with Excel. WFM has sophisticated simulation processes that tell a call center how many people it will need and when it will need them.

“But we can’t afford it.” That might have true ten years ago, but today with cloud-based WFM, even smaller and medium-sized contact centers can reap the benefits of automated workforce management at an affordable cost. A lower investment also means a more rapid return on that investment. 

When call volume changes, spreadsheets are insufficient. With WFM, managers can get back to managing people, instead of spending hours on Excel planning forecasts and schedules. To learn more about this, download our whitepaper "The Real Cost of Spreadsheet-based Scheduling".




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Spring Break at the Contact Center

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Is your contact center ready for spring break? 

Certainly many of your agents are looking forward to this annual celebration. If that means taking additional time off, managers will need to have a plan in place for potential attrition. 

This time of year can also mean increased business in certain industries – travel, hospitality, entertainment – creating the perfect storm at some contact centers of more calls coming in and less agents there to handle them. 

How can a business negotiate this impending crisis? A workforce management (WFM) solution is the answer. 

When a manager needs to know what type of calls, and call volume, to expect on a certain week or day or even during a particular hour, WFM collects and analyzes historical call data to help predict future workload. That makes it easier to forecast needs and schedule staff accordingly. 

This is also a time when the flexible schedule creation made possible by WFM delivers additional benefits. Now you can take foreseen and unforeseen variables and agent exceptions into account, as well as make intra-day changes to both forecasting and scheduling. 

With WFM, costly instances of overstaffing and understaffing are reduced, schedule adherence is improved, and more flexible scheduling is possible. If you try to achieve the same results with spreadsheets, you’ll be the one that needs a spring break vacation. 


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Contact Centers are Coming Back

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If you see a building going up or being renovated in an office park or commercial area near you, don’t be surprised if it turns out to be a call center. 

Enter “contact center jobs” into a news search engine and you’ll see story after story about companies adding positions – 682 in Hamilton, Ohio; 600 in Clearfield, Utah; 750 in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Part of this can be attributed to a steadily growing economy, but the trend toward insourcing these jobs from overseas, rather than shipping them out to India and The Philippines, is also significant factor. Today, there are approximately five million Americans employed in contact centers, and many of them are working in positions that were outsourced more than a decade ago.  

Why the switch? Labor costs are going up in other parts of the world, so companies aren’t saving as much money; security has also become a concern, considering the uncertainties in data privacy laws outside the United States. 

There has also been a renewed appreciation for the central role the contact center plays in customer service, whether that entails order processing, payment processing, market research or addressing customer concerns. Given how contact center agents are on the front line of customer communication, CEOs now acknowledge, maybe this isn’t the best place to cut corners. 

But the real issue may be the escalating numbers of complaints from callers, who are tired of speaking to agents that are poorly trained and difficult to understand. Not only are outsourced personnel not trained as thoroughly, they are thousands of miles away from management personnel, who are thus unable to monitor and interact directly with these employees. 


Not Just Jobs: Good Jobs

Since businesses originally outsourced to save money, it’s encouraging to see that as these contact center agent jobs come back to the U.S., they are doing so in most cases with a salary that will attract intelligent, capable employees. 

S&P Data LLC, which provides contact center solutions to Fortune 500 companies in the United States and Canada, has announced plans to bring 425 new contact service representative jobs to Rio Rancho, NM, with annual salaries averaging $38,000 plus benefits. 

This is reflective of one way that call centers have changed since the outsourcing boom – with basic company information accessible through social media and order processing available online, the responsibilities of the contact center agent has changed. 

“The types of calls that are coming through to our agents today, regardless of the client, are more complex, and it’s requiring that higher caliber associate,” said 

Richardo Layun, director of operations at the Melbourne eBay Enterprise center. 


One Success Story: Colorado

Colorado has been in the national news often of late, mostly for its legalization of marijuana and that decision’s impact on the state’s culture and economy. But in La Junta, a city in the southeast part of the state, a less controversial means of economic recovery is underway. 

The city converted an old Air Force training facility into a 1,500-acre industrial part that is already home to two call centers: the first employs 180 agents in a 10,200 square foot building. Nearby a 300-seat center is housed inside a 33,750 square foot brick building with ample space for additional departments and meeting facilities. Amenities for both include a restaurant, day care facility and golf course all located within the park itself. 

The influx of new business is the result of a community effort that also includes The Colorado Workforce Center, which provides recruitment and training programs, and the local junior college, which offers preparatory classes in computers, software and technology training. The La Junta City Council has shown its support for new business by approving a relocation incentive that allows contact centers to operate for five years rent-free. 


Things Have Changed Since We’ve Been Away

That may be the reaction of agents and managers when they realize how the contact center industry has evolved in the years when companies were shifting positions overseas. The technology and use of spreadsheets that was sufficient to stay competitive in the industry has been surpassed by more sophisticated solutions. For these new contact centers, it is important to equip agents with the tools they need to prosper. 

That starts with an automated workforce management (WFM) solution, which delivers a means to improve the productivity and cost-efficiency of the contact center by making so many vital tasks easier. These includes running simulations for more accurate forecasting, and scheduling that incorporates all call types and other activities. Exception planning, performance analysis, intra-day management, and other practices are streamlined through the real-time data generated by today’s WFM systems. 

An investment in such technology might have been counterproductive, as companies would be reluctant to add a $100,000 equipment investment on top of other development and personnel costs. Even if you are relocating to rent-free La Junta, that’s a lot of money. But with a cloud WFM system, a unified solution can be implemented quickly without a large upfront cost. Instead, users pay only a low monthly subscription fee. 

In addition to cost savings, a cloud platform also provides maximum flexibility and scalability, and is more easily deployed even across multiple locations. Since all data is stored “in the cloud,” it can be retrieved at any call center workstation. If you are interested in this topic, please also read the article "5 Reasons Why Contact Center Jobs are Coming Home" that was published by Contact Professional.


Conclusion

While customers now have other options when it comes to interacting with a company, such as email and online chats, surveys show that the majority still picks up the phone when they want to ask a question or place an order. 

To take better care of these customers, companies that outsource their contact centers are now shifting their focus to centers within the U.S., which can provide a higher quality of care. But that investment can quickly escalate if a large technology investment is required. 

Cloud computing can reduce these costs. In this model, contact centers pay only for the time and capacity that they need. 



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The Art and Science of Service Levels

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There are many challenges to success and improvement at the contact center, and one of the most persistent is stagnation. The best contact center managers are never satisfied; they are always in search of ways to improve every aspect of their business. 

One factor that should always be part of such discussions is the contact center’s service level goal. Anything that can be done to raise service levels should be explored, though too often this requires additional investment that might not be possible. Still, such considerations should not be a barrier to exploring options. 

As always, the process begins by asking the right questions. 


Do you know what your service level costs?

How would higher or lower service levels impact your costs?

How would a change impact customer satisfaction?

How did you decide on your service level goal? 


All good questions, but the last one may be the place to start. Was the contact center’s service level defined before you joined the company, and that is the way it has always been? Was it set because the competition is trying to hit the same level? There are times when assumptions take on the guise of decrees, and that puts them beyond questioning. It’s a trap that no contact center manager should fall into. 


The Myth of the Service Level Standard

What are the variables that will impact the optimum service level? Start with the so-called seven factors of caller tolerance, which include the customer’s expected service level, available time, motivation for the call and whether other options exist for achieving what the customer wishes to do. 

To these, we can add contact center labor costs, equipment costs, and the relative value attached to different calls. It would be impossible for one standard service level to meet all these criteria across different contact centers, meeting all customer needs and expectations while maximizing revenue and minimizing expenses. 

Perhaps that is why so many contact centers settle on the 80/20 objective (80% of calls answered in 20 seconds) as a reasonable balance between staffing and customer expectations. Others will tweak those numbers as they investigate how low they can be adjusted before they start losing business. The problem here is the assumption that if a caller will stay on the line for five minutes, acceptable service has been provided. Abandonment rates, of course, don’t tell the whole story. 

Customer surveys are another popular method for reviewing and adjusting service level. However, when some calls are answered immediately and other takes 90 seconds or more, responses are likely to vary based on individual experience. 

Perhaps the best option is to combine elements from all of these methods – track what others are doing, review customer feedback, and run calculations based on current staffing and scheduling capabilities. Then, set a service level target based on the result. 


Cutting Costs without Cutting Service

Once an appropriate service level has been established, contact center managers can explore options for reducing costs.  That means asking how long customers are willing to wait, and how busy you want agents to be. This is known as the occupancy rate: the busier your agents, the lower the service level.  

Once that rate has been set, an equivalent service level goal can be determined by reviewing historical data. Look for instances where the new occupancy rate goal was achieved, and collect the corresponding service level data – that will serve as your new service level target.

The right occupancy rate also bolsters service by making shifts less stressful for agents, which allows them to deliver better, more consistent customer engagements. 


Most Budget Reducing Tips

Here are some additional ideas for reducing costs while maintaining a practical service level. Some will not be appropriate for every type of contact center, but implementing just one or two could result in significant savings. 


The Audit: Make it call center-wide. Review metrics, productivity, revenue generation and potential process improvements.


Full, Part or Flex? What makes the most economic sense for your contact center – full time agents, part time or a flexible staff with a mix of both? 


Attrition: Cutting attrition and its associated recruiting and training costs is one of the most direct ways to save money.  Review training techniques as well to make sure agents are learning when they should, and not ‘on the job.’ 


Quality Assurance: A QA review can uncover inefficient processes and other shortcomings that impact customer service. 


Adherence: Service levels cannot be maintained if agents are not at their desks when they should be. 


Workforce Management Software: Much of the data on forecasting, staffing, adherence and KPIs can be delivered more quickly and accurately with a workforce management solution. And with WFM in the cloud, a contact center can avoid the large upfront cost traditionally associated with such a technology upgrade. 


Telecommuting: Agents that work from home reduce the contact center’s occupancy costs, and can also boost employee morale. 


Reduce Call Volume: Does the contact center receive a lot of calls on subjects that could be addressed another way? Find out why customers are calling and see if some of those unneeded calls can be cut down. 


Conclusion

Because contact centers are different in size and scope, it can be difficult to provide a general approach to improving service level, especially when attempting to lower cost at the same time. But the challenge of creating a positive change is no excuse for not taking a fresh look at service level status at your contact center, and questioning whether the standard that was determined or the methods used to maintain it should not be open for discussion. 


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Defining – and Improving First Call resolution

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In the old days it was simpler – first call resolution (FCR) at the call center was a simple measurement of how often a customer’s issue was settled within one call. No standard definition was required. 

Today it’s a little more complicated. If a caller is transferred from an agent to a technical support expert, that’s still one call but two separate conversations – does that still qualify? What if a call is made after an attempt to resolve the issue via web chat proves unsuccessful? That’s just one call as well, but it was also the customer’s second effort to achieve a goal. 

While definitions might change, one thing is certain – FCR is the most highly correlated metric to customer satisfaction. A CFI Group study surveyed customers whose issues were not resolved in one call; it found that 43% said they would take their business elsewhere. 

Keep These Customers with WFM

An automated workforce management (WFM) solution is one way to improve first call resolution and encourage customer loyalty. 

With WFM it’s easier to implement a skills-based schedule so calls are answered by agents with the talent and experience to resolve them. It also allows managers and agents to use recorded calls to learn from mistakes and train new agents in proven company procedures. 

These recordings can subsequently play a role in your quality monitoring efforts. Score each one based on specific criteria and overall success, and it’s easier to discover the best way to address different types of customer questions and concerns. 

Finally, if you have a WFO system with speech analytics, you can use this resource to identify important recurring words and phrases, and how an agent should react when receiving a call that fits their criteria. 

However you choose to define FCR, one fact is certain: the better prepared your agents can be for any eventuality, the more likely they will be able to end a call knowing they have just said goodbye to a satisfied customer.


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Does your Workforce Scheduling Software Deliver these Reports?

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Optimal resource scheduling requires accurate forecasting of work volume and staff requirements. Workforce management (WFM) software makes it easier to specify shift patterns and daily duties, and factor in the skill sets and preferences of individual agents. 

This information should be delivered via reports. But if your system is not delivering the information you need, or is providing that data in a way that is difficult to decipher, it might be time to consider a new WFM solution. This is particularly important since the responsibility of WFM does not end with the production of an accurate schedule. 

If you are ready to consider a new WFM system, be sure to ask about the reporting options that can make a positive difference at your contact center. These include: 


The Hours Worked Report: this report makes it easier to observe the breakdown and summary of assigned activities, balance multiple types of work, and handle other backlog issues

The Agent Status Report: Compare this report with the Hours Worked Report for new insights into workload distribution and productivity 

The Service Performance Report: Compare “How we did” results to “What we expected” numbers. 

The Coverage Report: Reveals gaps in staffing. 


These are just some of the capabilities of Monet WFM. Find out why we call it “Call Center Workforce Management Made Easy.” 


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Cloud WFM for the Enterprise – A New Monet Software Whitepaper

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There is still a misconception that cloud computing is best suited only for small and medium-sized contact centers, because of concerns over security and scalability. Whether this was ever accurate, it is certainly no longer the case. 


Cloud computing is not only ready for the enterprise, it is now the preferable option over traditional on-premise software.


Monet has created a new whitepaper that analyzes this topic, at a time when more companies of all sizes and types are exploring their technology options. 


Use of cloud applications is increasing rapidly every year, which is not surprising given the array of benefits intrinsic to this service:


Scalability – Cloud service providers allow clients to increase or decrease existing resources as needed to accommodate changing needs on demand. 


Flexibility – Cloud applications are available from any computer or any device—any time, anywhere. That allows enterprise personnel to be more flexible in and out of the workplace. 


Cost – With a cloud system, larger companies can take advantage of scaled maintenance in a specialized data center, while investing the money saved in capital expense into other aspects of the business. 


Ease of Use – Since the cloud provider manages all updates and upgrades, there are no patches for customers to download or install. 


Security – The cloud offers a much higher grade of security than most internal IT departments. 


Monet is always available to help address the concerns of companies considering a cloud solution, and to identify the many ways in which the cloud can benefit your enterprise. 



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Successful implementation of Workforce Management Software

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Workforce management (WFM) software provides the best means of optimizing personnel resources in a contact center.

When a contact center decides it is ready to make the move to a workforce management software system, it now faces another decision when reviewing the range of available products. One way to improve the odds of choosing the right system the first time is to make a list of the qualities and capabilities that are most important. Such a list might include the following:

Forecasting
By using historical data, and through simulations to calculate future call volume, WFM generates forecasts for appropriate staffing, call handle time and other factors to maintain optimum call center performance for any time interval of the day.

Scheduling
Accurate forecasts create accurate schedules. A WFM scheduling engine should incorporate all call types and other activities. A staffing schedule is only valuable when it is optimized for all necessary factors, including agent skill sets, staff availability, holidays, breaks and service levels.

Intra-day Management
Scheduling an agent for a shift is not enough – WFM should provide a graphical display of variances in agents’ schedules during the workday for breaks, lunch and other exceptions. Real-time updates allow managers to compensate during surpluses or shortages for each time period.

Exception Planning
Choose a WFM solution with an integrated exception calendar that simplifies the scheduling of agent exceptions for training, time off and other variables.

Real-Time Adherence
Use WFM to compare planned agent activity to actual activities throughout the day, while also reviewing forecasts for key performance indicators such as call volume and handle time.

Configuration/Administration
WFM should adjust to your call center regardless of how it is organized. Choose a system that lets you build an unlimited number of center splits or agent groups with separate service objectives and guidelines. Use WFM to manage multiple sites and time zones, and set service level goals down to 15-minute intervals.

Performance Analysis/Metrics
WFM provides actionable insights on all agent activities through dashboards, key performance indictors and real-time alerts.

Implementation: The Forgotten Attribute

All of these qualities pertain to the day-to-day usage of WFM, but contact center managers should not overlook the importance of implementation. Technology cannot benefit a business if it is not easy to use, and if it cannot be incorporated into the center with minimal training. It should also be possible to implement a workforce management solution to deliver break-even status in a matter of months, as opposed to years. But that will take some foresight.

While every company and corporate culture is a little different, these guidelines should prove valuable to any contact center in the process of a WFM transition.

Plan Ahead
Upfront planning – that incorporates both technical requirements and business processes, is critical.

Include all Departments

All of the contact center’s functional groups, including agents, managers, supervisors and trainers, should be involved in the process. The implementation of WFM software is going to represent a change for the center. It’s important for all those involved to know why the change is needed, how it will improve their business processes and how they all benefit from shared data and metrics.

Appoint a Liaison
While all voices should be heard, there should also be one project coordinator – usually a manager – with the experience and knowledge to work with personnel, answer questions and address concerns.

Training

It will take time and patience to adjust to today’s feature-rich workforce management systems. But the last thing a contact center wants is to make the transition and then discover that employees are only using 20% or 50% of the system’s capabilities. Comprehensive training will be necessary to ease the culture shock and ultimately arrive at a place of optimal functionality. The faster agents in particular realize the benefits of a WFM solution, the faster they will take to its advantages.

What to Expect from a WFM Provider
Up to this point we’ve described the implementation process from the end-user perspective. But few of these steps can be taken without the support and expertise of the software provider.

For the contact center, WFM implementation is (ideally) a one-time process. For the provider, this is what they do every day, and they should have a system in place that will make the transition as easy as possible.

At Monet, our implementation plan and timeline begins with a kick-off call of about 60-90 minutes. This consists primarily of a discussion of roles and required data necessary to get started.

Once that is completed, the initial set up can begin. This process typically involves the creation of workgroups, shift profiles, skills and skill teams and the selection of service level targets. While the provider initiates these processes, they are then completed and customized by the client team.

Data collection set-up is next, which incorporates configuration and historical data import and verification. Depending on the contact center and the specific situation.

Once this is completed, training of personnel can begin. The procedure will start with the basics – forecasting, scheduling, rosters – and then examine the more advanced features of WFM, from assigning exceptions and analyzing reports to intra-day management.

After implementation and training are complete, the provider should continue to be accessible for questions or concerns, and provide follow-up checks to make certain everything is running smoothly. And since Monet's complete suite of workforce optimization is cloud based, there are not a lot of resources and money required for purchase and installation of hardware and software. Therefore, the implementation team can focus on the business needs and business processes, and less on technology. And the whole set up or implementation can be done in 30 to 60 days.

Conclusion
When a contact center makes the significant decision to install workforce management software, it is critical that the system be implemented and configured properly, since management will be making key decisions on operations and staffing based on the information it provides.

A successful implementation requires not only software integration and configuration skills, but also a solid understanding of the customer environment and of the multiple ways of addressing and solving the specific requirements of the contact center. It should also be completed as efficiently as possible to shorten ROI.

With a little research, contact centers stand a much better chance of not only selecting the right WFM solution the first time out, but the right software provider as well.


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Getting More from your Workforce Management System

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When choosing the best workforce management (WFM) solution for your call center, there are a number of considerations to review based on that center’s specific needs.

From capabilities and implementation to cost, usability, scalability and ROI, it’s a decision that will require advance research and feedback from the key members of your management team. Of course, one of the main objectives should be to increase efficiency and service levels, while also reducing costs.

If you’re near the beginning of this process, or have been using it for a while,  here is a checklist of considerations that may be helpful in getting more out of your WFM software to maximize the performance of your contact center.

In the area of process design and improvement, run reports and do analysis in the following areas:

  • Call Handling Analysis
  • Benchmark Analysis

  • Activity Summaries and Details 
  • Work Standards 
  • Quality Form Review and Feedback

  • Evaluation of Coaching Techniques and Calibration

  • Staff Flexibility
In the area of management discipline, take a look at these areas:


  • Intraday Reviews, Adherence and Exception Management
  • Forecasting and Scheduling Best Practices 
  • QM and PM Coaching, Training and Role Playing
Finally, if you need help, be sure to assess the software provider as well, to make sure they will deliver the necessary training and follow-up so your agents, supervisors and managers can get up to speed quickly with the new technology and getting the most value from your investment. If you have any questions, please contact us and we are happy to share some of our best practices with you.

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Intra-day Workforce Management? It’s as Easy as “Drag and Drop”

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Wouldn't it be nice to check your contact center status and quickly review agent activities on a single color-coded dashboard? If you see green, you know everything is as it should be. If you see red, you know that action has to be taken, and you are then able to make real-time schedule changes that have an immediate impact on contact center performance. 

Thankfully, this isn’t one of those scenarios like “Wouldn’t it be nice if chocolate was good for you?” In this case such quick and easy status checks and schedule adjustments are certainly possible, with a technology solution like Monet WFM Live. 

When changes need to be made, the graphical schedule generated by Monet WFM Live allows managers to drag and drop breaks, lunches and other changes. The real-time updates provide an up-to-the-minute picture for agent surpluses and shortages throughout the day. 

In addition, reports, organized as easy to read charts, provide managers with the data necessary to create individualized shifts for a particular agent (based on exceptional skills, special needs or other variables), as well as extensive employee-level configuration options for non-call work assignment. 


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How to be a Proactive Workforce Management Analyst

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Proactive contact center managers focus on staying ahead of the curve. That means careful, strategic planning, calculating all of the variables and delivering accurate forecasts and schedules that are flexible enough to accommodate last minute changes.

Sounds like a challenge, but with Monet WFM, the process becomes easier, more precise and more flexible. Managers now have the capability to track intra-day trends for immediate adjustments, and for optimal schedule creation, which helps contact centers consistently meet service levels and control costs.

Here are a few additional tips that will help managers striving to become proactive.

  • Enter time off exceptions, meetings and training before the roster is generated to close gaps in roster assignments or shift placement; but if you must enter them afterward, the WFM system can automatically optimize them in a way that reduces manager overhead
  • Impromptu training sessions are easier to schedule with little to no impact by using the meeting planner function
  • Wider lunch and break windows are made possible by flexible shift profiles
  • Enter the maximum allowable time in the Exception Calendar/Time off Manager – this provides more visibility for agents and prevents schedulers from over-committing to time-off, which could impact contact center operation
These and other tips make staffing more efficient and more reliable through better results for agents, supervisors and administrators.

Can Monet help you get more from your WFM solution? Contact our Customer Success team and let’s talk.

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Workforce Management Software: Cloud or Hosted?

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As many companies have discovered in recent years, the Cloud model of delivery has numerous advantages over the traditional hosted or ASP models of the past. These offerings are often confused but, not addressing the fundamental differences, have a huge impact on your call center business.

The traditional hosted model is simply hosting a client server or web application on a server at the vendor’s or 3rd party data center. The vendor then provides an application that was not originally designed to be hosted, over the web, with a few changes, and delivers it to each customer via a single, dedicated server. It lacks a multi-tenant architecture and requires separate servers and installations for each customer. Much more costly and less scalable, it also requires support for multiple releases, which is very resource intensive. Typically, vendors who sell on-premise software may offer a hosted model for on-demand options and sometimes misleadingly call it SaaS or Cloud.

The Cloud-based model uses a totally new multi-tenant architecture that was designed to efficiently and securely deliver web-based applications at the lowest possible cost. It focuses on fast set up, low operating costs through shared services, highest security for web-based deployment and high performance and scalability through instant and seamless scaling of computer resources (also called “elastic cloud computing”). This ensures available computing capacity when you need it and only when you need it, at the lowest possible cost.

Both models are offered through subscriptions and often seem to be similar, but they are not. In previous blog post about the true cloud we list key questions you should ask vendors before making a decision.


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Is it Time for a Workforce Management Health Check?

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Does your workforce management system provide all the benefits you need at a reasonable price? If it doesn’t, it may be time to take a closer look at your solution, and if there is something that can be done to bring it back to optimum efficiency. In other words, perhaps it’s time for a check-up that will provide answers to these questions.

1. Are you using the latest version?
Each new WFM product adds additional capabilities, improves existing functionality, and corrects issues with previous versions. With traditional software, these upgrades can also be expensive, which is why many companies delay implementation. But call centers that get their workforce management in the cloud will always be on the most recent version, as it is automatically installed at no additional cost.

2. How do employees work with this system?
WFM is designed to make the agent’s job easier, but if personnel are not properly trained, or if the system is too complicated, your call center may not be getting the most out of its potential.

3. What are its ongoing costs?
For years, the only WFM solutions worth acquiring were those that also required hardware upgrades, ongoing IT support, and yearly (even monthly) costs for maintenance and operation. Call centers still in this situation must make a decision on maximizing their investment, or perhaps switching to the more economical option of WFM in the cloud.

4. How have our needs changed?
Call centers are still evolving into contact centers. Some may expand, some may contract based on other factors. It’s vital that WFM scales with the needs of the business.

5. Is it delivering as promised?
Call centers step up to a WFM solution to access real-time metrics and reports that impact forecasting, scheduling and day-to-day operation. Is the system providing the information you need to make better decisions?


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Is Your Workforce Management Software on the Most Current Version?

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Companies that make quality products are always striving to make them better, and that’s a good thing. But when the customers for these products have to spend a lot of time and money to get these enhancements implemented, that can put a strain on a company’s resources.


With traditional, on-premises workforce management (WFM) software, vendors always seem to be rolling out new versions, fixing bugs and upgrading features. But contact centers have to pay for these new versions, through maintenance fees, re-customization projects, re-integration projects, IT resources and sometimes hardware upgrades, and even if it’s a free fix to a problem, it can disrupt productivity and result in costly downtime.

As a result, many contact centers may not be working with the latest version of their software system, preferring to postpone another complex, costly upgrade.

Of course, if upgrades were free, automatically implement over night and did not disrupt the workday, there wouldn’t be any holdouts. And that is exactly how upgrades are delivered with Workforce Management in the cloud. When they are ready to deploy, it happens automatically, during the overnight hours, and without adding a penny to the monthly subscription fee paid by the contact center.

Those not in the cloud might say, “We’ll get there eventually.” But in the meantime, how much productivity may be sacrificed with a system that is out of date?

Also, consider the advantage to call center users when upgrades are introduced incrementally, so any new functionality is more easily digested and soon becomes routine. Contrast this with a call center that schedules major upgrades every 2 or 3 years, which often require a much steeper learning curve to get up to speed on the new system.

These are just a few of the many reasons cloud solutions are set to grow six times faster than all software in 2014, according to IDC. But if you shop around for cloud vendors, please make sure you don't fall for a WFM cloud pretender - click the link to learn more.  
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Workforce Management Software vs. Scheduling Spreadsheets

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“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

How often do you hear these words in an office, when managers would rather stay with what is familiar than change to something that will make their lives easier and their business run more efficiently?

Why else would so many contact centers still use spreadsheets for scheduling, rather than switch to an automated workforce management (WFM) solution? The advantages to doing so are many – and will be obvious from the first day with the new system in place:

  • Flexibility – Spreadsheets are fine for fixed schedules, but what happens when the schedule refuses to stay fixed (which, let’s face it, is most days)? With WFM, it’s easy to manage flexibility with start, end and break times. Result? Less idle agents, and better customer service.
  • Skill-based Call Routing – Customers appreciate when their calls are received by the agents most qualified to handle them. Inclusion of skills is handled automatically by WFM, so it’s easier to fill each shift with fewer agents, but with those who have the requisite specialties to handle every customer encounter. Spreadsheets can’t keep up.
  • Tracking Adherence – With a spreadsheet a few limited spot checks are possible, but WFM delivers real-time adherence monitoring and analysis. That results in lower shrinkage and improved service levels.
  • Exceptions – They happen every day, but they complicate the spreadsheet process to the point where most requests will be turned down. Agents at a call center with WFM will find their exception considerations handled more graciously. That means happier agents – and happier agents mean happier customers.
  • Saving Time – With WFM, managers can save as much as 25% off the time they devote to creating schedules with spreadsheets. That’s 2 hours from every 8-hour day.
Spreadsheets simply cannot compete. If you’re still using them, isn’t it time for a change? If you are still not convinced watch this video about a call center supervisor explaining the difference.
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5 Tips for Getting More out of Workforce Management Software

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Workforce management (WFM) software provides the best means of optimizing personnel resources through more accurate forecasting and scheduling. Here are 5 tips that can help call center managers get the most out of their workforce management system.

1. Include all Activities 
The more specific the plan, the better the chance of its success. That’s why it is imperative to include meetings, breaks, coaching sessions and all non-call activities into WFM calculations. To learn more about this, please read our whitepaper Seven Tips for more Effective Scheduling.

2. Continuous Learning
A WFM software vendor will provide initial training during installation. However, managers should request additional information based on the specific needs and objectives of the call center. With a quality system like Monet WFM, there will always be ways that the system can be further leveraged to achieve better results.

3. Think Outside the Box
The old adage about expecting the unexpected certainly applies to call centers, given the high turnover in agent personnel and the abundance of unforeseen factors that can throw a schedule into turmoil. While a manager cannot anticipate every possibility, use the WFM system to run “What if?” scenarios, analyze the results and then forecast, schedule and plan accordingly.

4. Work in Real-Time:
Customer communication happens in real-time, so the WFM system should also be used in real-time to its fullest potential (for adherence, alerts, dashboards, etc.) to ensure optimal performance. Now, when changes inevitably occur throughout the day, managers can respond more quickly. Fore more information, please download our whitepaper Strategies for Improved Agent Adherence.

5. Include Agents in Planning Process
Agent preferences should also be considered and incorporated whenever possible into forecasts and schedules. Many WFM systems, such as the one offered by Monet, also offer an easily accessible and streamlined procedure for shift swapping and bidding, that can motivate agents to better performance.

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Introducing Workforce Management to Agents

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As call center workforce management has evolved over the decades, its methods have become more refined, more specific and more advantageous. In doing so, however, it has also become more intrusive, at least from the perspective of some agents.


When it was all hard copy spreadsheets, or even after the advent of Excel spreadsheets, its tentacles seemed more distant. But with today’s workforce management software, it really seemed like “Big Brother” had finally arrived. It can generate fear and confusion, as well as concern over being controlled by a super-computer that will monitor what they are doing every moment of every shift.

This can pose a challenge to call center management when introducing this new technology into the workplace. How can the transition be eased into a system that will change the way schedules are created, shifts are assigned, exceptions are considered and hours are calculated?

Here are two approaches that might help.
  • The first focuses on reassurance. Whether this is done individually or collectively, let the agents know that the customer service goals of the call center have not changed – just the methods for helping to achieve them. Managers should be available to answer questions and address concerns. Most agent trepidation is rooted in a fear of the unknown – once the system is explained and demonstrated, many of these fears will subside.
  • Next, stress that the benefits of workforce management software are not limited to management. Now, it will be easier for agents to request shift swaps or days off, so they can better balance work with their personal lives. Walk them through the process until it becomes familiar.
Once agents have bought into the system as well, WFM software can deliver dramatic service improvements as well as agent motivation. If you have question or would like to learn from other call centers, please feel free to contact us - we are happy to share our experience in rolling out workforce management systems.
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How to Convince Management to Buy Workforce Management Software

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While the economy is steadily improving according to most measurements, companies are still taking a very cautious approach when it comes to new investment. That is one reason why some contact centers have hesitated when it comes to workforce management (WFM) software.

However, making the case for this purchase should not be difficult given the inherent benefits derived from its installation, not the least of which is a net cost savings within months, and a boost in efficiency that will also have a positive impact on the yearly budget.

Saying Goodbye to Spreadsheets
Workforce management software is used instead of spreadsheets for forecasting and scheduling. These critical tasks can now be performed more quickly and more accurately, with data that is automatically collected and organized, rather than having to be entered manually into a spreadsheet.

With Workforce Management solution contact centers realize a high ROI by:

  • Providing more accurate forecasting and scheduling to reduce agent understaffing and overstaffing
  • Improving agent schedule adherence to reduce shrinkage
  • Enhancing supervisor efficiency by spending more time coaching and allowing agents to use the software’s self-service scheduling features
  • Reducing overtime expenses of agents by monitoring intra-day statistics and anticipating when additional agent resources will be needed
  • Decreasing agent turnover by enabling agents to manage their own schedules and empowering them to improve performance by reviewing their individual metrics
Cutting Costs with the Cloud
Still, even with so many potential benefits, some companies simply cannot afford the significant upfront investment required by a traditional WFM solution. But with cloud-based WFM, these costs are dramatically reduced. Plus, there are no maintenance or upgrade costs later on, and no need to have an IT professional on the payroll to handle system installation or repairs. Instead, contact centers pay a monthly subscription cost, and pay only for the capacity and infrastructure they need.

How to get started
Here are a few simple steps to take to convince management that your call center can benefit from a WFM solution:
  1. Identify the key challenges you face in your call center. What takes up too much time? What processes are bleeding money? What is the most frustrating and easily fixable thing you can do right now to make more money for the organization?
  2. Gather and analyze the data that impacts your performance and demonstrate how automated WFM will improve your call center’s performance.
  3. Create a presentation for management that shows how you can transform the company’s call center strategy with a WFM solution.
When these facts and the actual numbers involved in acquiring cloud-based WFM are presented to management, there is a much better chance of approving the investment. For additional information, please check out our whitepaper How to calculate cost savings and ROI of Workforce Management Software.
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Workforce Management, Forecasting and Scheduling for Credit Unions

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Credit unions are typically not-for-profit organizations, however, to stay in business and deliver great financial services at low fees to their members they have to micromanage every investment, in both technology and personnel, while trying to maintain a sufficient level of customer service.

Inevitably, this leads to challenges, particularly at smaller credit union call centers. Where a larger contact center might be able to absorb the traffic if one agent unexpectedly calls in sick, that same scenario can significantly impact wait times at an organization with 50 agents. An unforeseen spike in call volume can result in similar struggles to keep up with desired service levels. Both, forecasting and scheduling is often more challenging in smaller call centers than in larger centers because the performance, adherence and absenteeism of every agent has more impact. In this situation, a more accurate forecast, a more flexible schedule and increased schedule adherence become even more important.

Every type of call center can benefit from workforce management solutions (WFM), but credit union call centers often don’t choose to invest in what is seen as a costly, top-tier solution to a nagging but still tolerable problem. The resources simply aren’t there to add the kind of technology that will make forecasting and scheduling more efficient – or is it?

Cloud-Delivered Efficiency from Monet

Monet’s cloud-delivered workforce management solution doesn’t require a substantial upfront IT investment, and delivers rapid improvements within months. We’ve worked with credit union call centers of all sizes and types that have discovered the benefits of WFM. The flexibility of the system makes it ideal for small or midsize call centers, and there’s no intimidating learning curve – Monet WFM Live is easy to set up and incorporate into every day business practices. And all these time saving, cost-saving benefits are available for one low monthly subscription fee.

Credit Union Success Story
Read this  case study and learn how a Texas based credit union call center boosted its service and saved money with Monet’s WFM Live.


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