Workforce management (WFM) solutions are the prime go-to tools for contact center managers to assure agent availability and provide an excellent customer experience (CX).
But these hard-working and dedicated professionals are facing multiple challenges like turnover and related job stress and the New Normal of hybrid and remote working. And in an environment where disruption is only a moment away.
We have reached out to several industry thought leaders for their insights and recommendations on these and other workforce issues faced by their contact center customers.
Here it is, with these professionals:
- Florian Garnier, Product Marketing Manager, Calabrio
- Daryl Gonos, CEO, CommunityWFM
- Baker Johnson, Chief Marketing Officer, UJET
- Dave Singer, Global Vice President of Go-to-Market Strategy, Verint
- Mitch Todd, Product Marketing Manager, NICE
In part 2 of this three-part series, we look at hybrid/remote working, blended agents, and agent availability. We also examine WFM data security.
Q. Contact centers appear to be settling down into a New Normal of remote/hybrid working. But does this environment - particularly hybrid on those days when agents and supervisors come into the office - make scheduling/applying WFM more complex?
The shift to remote/hybrid work can make scheduling and managing WFM more complex. The hybrid model of work can create scheduling challenges as contact centers need to balance the needs of both remote and in-office agents and supervisors.
For example, scheduling in-office staff to handle more complex or sensitive customer interactions while remote staff handles routine inquiries or technical support.
Additionally, remote agents may have different preferences for scheduling, such as flexible or “non-traditional” schedules, which can further complicate the scheduling process.
To address these challenges, contact centers need to adapt their WFM strategies to ensure that they are optimizing their resources and meeting their performance goals: while accommodating the needs of their remote and hybrid workforces.
This may also involve, in addition to utilizing a WFM solution that can label and optimize shifts based on their locations, investing more in remote collaboration tools and other technologies to ensure seamless communication and scheduling across different locations.
The adaptation may also involve implementing policies and practices that support the unique needs of remote and hybrid workers, such as flexible scheduling and remote training and development opportunities.
“...contact centers need to adapt their WFM strategies to ensure that they are optimizing their resources and meeting their performance goals: while accommodating the needs of their remote and hybrid workforces.” —Florian Garnier
Overall, while the shift to remote/hybrid work may make scheduling and applying WFM more complex, it also presents an opportunity for contact centers to optimize their operations and improve the employee and CX. And that is by investing in innovative technologies and workforce management practices.
Modern WFM software is unique in that it was built to make the lives of contact centers with remote/hybrid agents easier. Being able to schedule, adjust shifts, communicate directly with agents, approve time off, and so much more within a single WFM solution simplifies a lot of the complexities.
Instead of juggling systems for each of these listed items, an analyst can make a schedule adjustment in the WFM software and it automatically impacts other areas to remove redundancies and avoid confusion. The communication component in particular is key because it removes geographic barriers and lets an entire contact center stay connected from anywhere.
Definitely. Every dependent variable we add to the forecasting and scheduling model increases the complexity of the algorithms significantly: making the manual spreadsheet approach that much more likely to result in errors, conflicts, or anomalies.
It makes the problem more complex because there are more variables to consider, which drives the need for better tools to balance this increasingly complex problem.
Hybrid work shouldn’t make scheduling and applying WFM more complex if a contact center is using the right software.
A modern WFM solution can be used from anywhere by agents and supervisors. This type of software uses artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor peak volume times and schedule staffing levels accordingly. Agents can also self-schedule and swap shifts. This also eliminates any perceived favoritism since agents don’t have to manually ask their supervisors for time off.
It doesn’t matter whether agents are working from home or from the office. With this system, scheduling is seamless and flexible, maintaining the necessary staffing levels and empowering agents with more freedom.
Q. There has been a debate between universal blended inbound/outbound omnichannel agents and specialized agents. What is your and your customers’ take on this from a WFM perspective?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer that applies to all contact centers. The decision to implement universal blended agents versus specialized agents depends on various factors, including the size of the contact center, the nature of the interactions, and the level of customer demand.
From a WFM perspective, the advantages of universal blended agents include:
- Increased flexibility. Universal blended agents can handle a wider variety of interactions, enabling them to respond to customer demand more holistically and effectively.
- Improved CX. Universal blended agents can provide a more seamless and personalized experience to customers, regardless of the channel they use.
- Improved agent utilization. Universal blended agents can help contact centers to better utilize their agent resources, as agents can be trained to handle multiple types of interactions and channels.
On the other hand, there are also some (but more limited) advantages of specialized agents:
- Increased speed. Specialized agents can be trained to handle specific types of interactions, enabling them to respond more quickly and accurately.
- Improved quality. Specialized agents can be trained to provide more specialized support, resulting in higher quality interactions.
- Better agent engagement. Specialized agents may be more engaged in their work, as they can develop expertise in a specific area and feel more valued and fulfilled.
For a larger contact center, I would advocate that the cost gains (through occupancy gains via economy of scale) of having agents working in a combined queue will outweigh the benefits seen in having specialized agents.
The decision to implement universal blended agents or specialized agents depends on the specific needs and goals of each contact center. From a WFM perspective, it’s important to consider the impact on scheduling and training, along with the potential benefits and drawbacks of each approach in terms of efficiency, quality, agent engagement, and CX.
There is this idea that with enabling technologies, like knowledge management, companies can attain the “ultimate universal agent”: an agent that can do it all across all channels to deliver excellent CXs.
However, customers are starting to realize that providing a great experience in every channel would take an exceptionally talented employee. In practice, that is asking a lot of one person. The work needs to be shared across employee availability and skillset.
And it’s not an all-or-nothing either. We’re seeing organizations lean back into providing a blended environment of agents that handle voice, chat, and email, for example, but not expect one employee to be able to engage across all those channels simultaneously.
For example, email and social channels are more similar than voice. In this scenario, you could blend digital agents and still have a group of specialized voice agents.
Or there could be a blend in an agent’s schedule that, for instance, manages voice in the morning and digital in the afternoons. There are different ways to slice-and-dice blended versus specialized agents.
“...customers are starting to realize that providing a great experience in every channel would take an exceptionally talented employee. In practice, that is asking a lot of one person.”
Even if you have an agent that can do it all from a skills perspective, there are still challenges with asking one person to shift between writing an email, chatting with a customer on instant messenger, and talking on the phone, which can impact the quality of the service and experience. While technology can optimize for anything, balancing what humans can deliver is tricky.
Organizations must ask themselves even if technology can provide employees with the right tools to deliver customer service, will it be a great experience on every channel in a universal environment?
As the number of digital channels grows and customers prefer to interact via them, we’re seeing more omnichannel, blended work streams with agents working multiple different interactions at once. This is quickly becoming the new standard with contact centers needing multiskilled agents.
With this shift, it’s important that contact centers implement the right tools to assist agents and manage workloads and schedules.
This dynamic introduces a layer of complexity to the contact center environment. Customer interactions often span multiple agents and departments. For example, when processing a hotel booking, distinct agents might handle initial inquiries, booking requests, and issue resolutions.
As digital channels rise in prominence, the prevalence of omnichannel and blended work streams has grown, with agents simultaneously engaging across diverse platforms or tasks. Managing staffing requirements across contact centers, back-office teams, and digital departments has thus become more intricate.
“With this shift, it’s important that contact centers implement the right tools to assist agents and manage workloads and schedules.” —Mitch Todd
To navigate this complexity and ensure seamless customer service, leaders in all industries can employ strategic WFM tactics.
One significant approach involves transitioning from call- or work-item-based staffing to activity-based staffing. This shift entails examining not only the number of incoming work items but also the count that becomes active within specified intervals across the entire spectrum of communication channels.
“As digital channels rise in prominence, the prevalence of omnichannel and blended work streams has grown...”
This methodology ensures that skilled employees are available at the right times to perform necessary tasks, ultimately leading to efficient operations and superior customer support.
Q. What contact center employee needs that scheduling must increasingly account for and what effect do they have on ensuring agent availability?
Contact center scheduling must increasingly account for a variety of employees’ needs to ensure agent availability and support employee wellbeing. Some of the key needs that contact centers may need to consider when scheduling agents include:
- Child/eldercare. To accommodate agents’ responsibilities outside of work, such as caring for children or elderly family members, contact centers have increasingly needed to provide more flexible scheduling options, such as alternative work schedules or remote work arrangements.
- Disability. Contact centers must ensure that their scheduling practices are inclusive and accommodate the needs of agents with disabilities. This may include providing reasonable accommodation, such as flexible work arrangements or specialized equipment.
- Accounting for transportation or remote work arrangements has become increasingly important. Contact centers need to ensure that all agents have the same opportunities for success.
- Particular/unique skillsets. Some agents may have particular or unique skillsets that are in high demand, such as language proficiency or technical expertise.
Contact centers may need to adjust their scheduling practices to ensure that agents with these skillsets are available when needed. And they may need to provide additional training or support to ensure that they are able to handle more complex interactions.
“Contact center scheduling must increasingly account for a variety of employees' needs to ensure agent availability and support employee wellbeing.” —Florian Garnier
In general, contact centers that prioritize employee needs and wellbeing when scheduling agents are likely to see better agent retention and engagement, leading to improved performance and customer satisfaction.
By taking the time to understand the unique needs of their agents and implementing scheduling practices that support these needs, contact centers can create a more inclusive and supportive work environment that benefits both employees and customers.
What’s interesting is that agent planning and scheduling around certain employee-specific needs like childcare or eldercare became “easier” with the shift to gig and hybrid work. Employees can design their workday around their needs with flexible scheduling capabilities versus the traditional 9 to 5 shift.
Protecting Contact Center WFM Data
Criminals are seeking and probing for every opportunity to steal data and contact centers are no exception when it comes to these attacks.
So we asked “what are the problems, how they occur, and how prevalent and severe are the risks of unauthorized access to WFM systems? What steps can the industry and contact centers take and are taking to prevent security issues?”
“Data security is a critical issue for contact centers,” says Florian Garnier. “WFM systems can store and process sensitive data such as agent schedules, performance metrics, and, less commonly, some customer data. Unauthorized access to WFM systems can result in a range of negative outcomes, including data breaches and financial losses.
“Some of the common problems that can lead to unauthorized access to WFM systems include weak passwords, phishing attacks, social engineering, and software vulnerabilities. Hackers and other cybercriminals may exploit these vulnerabilities to gain access to contact center systems and steal or manipulate sensitive data.
“The risks of unauthorized access to WFM systems can be severe and prevalent, particularly in industries that handle sensitive information such as healthcare, financial services, and government. Data breaches can result in significant financial losses and damage to a company’s reputation and can also lead to legal and regulatory consequences.
“To prevent security issues in WFM systems, contact centers can take a range of steps, including:
- Implementing strong access controls. This includes requiring strong passwords, implementing multi-factor authentication, and limiting access to sensitive data to only authorized users.
- Regularly updating software and systems. This can help to prevent vulnerabilities from being exploited by hackers and other cybercriminals.
- Providing regular security awareness training. This can help to educate employees about the risks of phishing attacks, social engineering, and other security threats, and how to prevent them.
- Conducting regular security audits. This can help to identify potential vulnerabilities in WFM systems and other areas of the contact center and take steps to address them.
- Engaging third-party security experts. This can help to identify and address potential security risks in WFM systems and other areas of the contact center and provide additional expertise and resources for mitigating security threats.
“Overall, preventing security issues in WFM systems requires a comprehensive approach that includes a range of technical, operational, and organizational measures.
“By investing in strong security practices and staying vigilant for potential threats, contact centers can help to protect their sensitive data and ensure that they are able to provide high-quality customer service in a safe and secure environment.”
“In the realm of WFM - which is one part of the overall contact center technologies - the risk of a data breach would be the exposure of employees’ personal information, which must be avoided,” says Dave Singer. “The best way to alleviate this is by moving to the cloud, where you move into a more secure environment.
“Contrary to common belief, the cloud is generally more secure than on-premise systems, not less. When you move to the cloud, you get hardened, locked-down systems, regular penetration tests, and all the necessary certifications, background checks and evolving security organizations need to keep their data safe. This typically exceeds the security measures that customers put in place on-premise.”
“In the realm of WFM...the risk of a data breach would be the exposure of employees' personal information...”
“On-premise solutions can introduce vulnerabilities, making a shift to cloud-based platforms imperative,” says Mitch Todd. The transition to the cloud not only enhances accessibility but also centralizes data, eliminating data silos that could lead to security gaps.
“Cloud-based solutions offer a more secure environment through robust encryption, multi-factor authentication, and continuous monitoring. Centralizing data within a secure cloud platform enhances visibility and control, making it easier to identify and address potential threats.
“In a society where privacy stays at the top of everyone’s mind, implementing as many measures as possible to protect sensitive customer and employee information is essential, this extends to WFM systems that contain sensitive employee data.”