Contact centers are facing significant challenges, but also opportunities in 2024 and going forward, all of which are based on having the people they need to engage with customers, facilitated by workforce management (WFM) systems.
- Challenges like attrition, amidst the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasting shrinking labor force growth, staying in touch with employees when the all-too-frequent disasters strike, and strict budgets.
- Opportunities like building strong revenue-growing customer relationships by giving customers excellent customer experiences (CXs) with the service they need and expect, with powerful new and largely artificial intellligence (AI)-driven automation handling less complex contacts.
We have reached out to several WFM industry thought leaders for their insights and recommendations for this three-part roundtable on the workforce issues that managers are having to cope with.
- Florian Garnier, Product Marketing Manager, Calabrio
- Daryl Gonos, CEO, CommunityWFM
- Baker Johnson, Chief Marketing Officer, UJET
- Tricia Manning, Director and Dave Singer, Global Vice President of Go-to-Market Strategy, at Verint
- Mitch Todd, Product Marketing Manager, NICE
In Part 3 and the conclusion of this three-part series, we discuss staffing issue impacts, new methods and technologies, and business continuity. And we will wrap it up with their recommendations.
Q. Have the workforce issues like staff attraction and retention impacted contact center quality and if so, how, and how can they be best handled?
Retention can lead to staffing shortages: and companies can’t deliver a consistent CX without consistency in staffing levels.
Agent stress is a powder keg and can impact everything from agent satisfaction and engagement to the customer interaction those stressed agents handle. Stress drivers include a lack of work-life balance, complex customer issues, and a rise in phone calls.
In general, contact centers that prioritize employee needs and well-being when scheduling agents are likely to see better agent retention and engagement, leading to improved performance and customer satisfaction.
Agents aren’t running away from the rise in complex customer problems, but they need modern technologies that allow them to meet these demands. Companies can address this head on by investing in AI-driven and automated tools to help agents prioritize high-level service and interactions.
In addition, contact centers will need to invest in training and development to ensure that their agents and WFM systems can effectively leverage these tools.
Staff attrition and retention continue to be a challenge in the contact center. Anytime you have agent attrition and hiring challenges, quality can be greatly impacted.
Higher customer expectations, combined with less budget and resources, means the capacity gap in staffing is expanding. Staff attrition and retention puts more strain on the existing agents, too. Unhappy, frustrated agents are not great contributors to achieving high quality customer interaction scores or to delivering a great CX.
Implementing AI-powered solutions and specialized bots can augment your existing team as well as help support new agents in training. Ultimately, this can result in improved employee performance and engagement, better adherence to compliance guidelines, and improved CX and satisfaction. Bottom line? Better quality.
Helping agents feel confident in their skills to help customers resolve issues ultimately helps with job satisfaction and increases retention. For example, AI can automate reviewing and scoring interactions, which frees time for quality analysts and managers to spend time on higher-value tasks like coaching agents or hiring and training.
One of the important things to know is that AI in the contact center is all about augmenting and assisting the workforce. It is NOT about building generalized bots to replace humans. Nor is it about implementing AI for the sake of AI.
Instead, we’re talking about specialized bots that do one thing very well so they can make agents more effective at whatever task they’re already doing. When you do that without increasing budget and resources, that gap closes because each agent is working more efficiently and effectively and can deliver a better CX.
“Helping agents feel confident in their skills to help customers resolve issues, ultimately helps with job satisfaction and increases retention.” —Tricia Manning
The surge in digital channels and heightened customer expectations has given rise to challenges related to staff attraction and retention, subsequently impacting service quality.
The demand to manage an array of digital interactions has led to agent burnout and retention issues, often compromising the quality of customer interactions.
To effectively address these challenges, contact centers are embracing innovative strategies that focus on revitalizing the workforce and optimizing service quality.
One pivotal approach is the integration of AI and automation. By harnessing AI-powered technologies, contact centers can offload routine tasks from agents, alleviating their workloads and minimizing the risk of burnout.
Automation streamlines processes, enabling agents to focus on more complex interactions that require human expertise, ultimately elevating the quality-of-service delivery. Automation rules can also support agent fairness with scheduling.
Moreover, continuous coaching and development initiatives are instrumental in empowering and retaining agents.
“The surge in digital channels and heightened customer expectations has given rise to challenges related to staff attraction and retention...” —Mitch Todd
By investing in ongoing training and skill enhancement programs, contact centers can bolster agents’ capabilities. This not only enhances their job satisfaction but also equips them with the skills needed to provide high-quality customer interactions.
Embracing AI, automation, targeted coaching, and optimizing digital channel experiences are key steps toward ensuring high-quality interactions and maintaining a workforce that is empowered, engaged, and capable of delivering exceptional service.
Q. What new methods and technologies do you see being applied to but alternatively affecting contact center application and use of WFM and why?
There are several new methods and technologies that are being applied to contact center application and use of WFM, and they are having a significant impact on the industry.
Chatbots and Conversational AI are increasingly used to automate routine interactions with customers, such as answering common questions or providing basic support. This can free up agents to focus on more complex interactions and can also provide valuable data for WFM systems to help optimize agent schedules and improve CXs.
“...I see augmented reality tools that could be used to support agents in providing technical support and troubleshooting...”
We have seen a slight uptick in the use of video chat as a way for customers to interact with agents, particularly for complex technical support or troubleshooting. Video chat can provide more personalized support and enable agents to better understand customer needs, but it also requires specialized skills and scheduling considerations to ensure that agents are available when needed.
Workforce analytics tools are also becoming more sophisticated, leveraging AI and machine learning to analyze data from multiple sources, including WFM systems, CRM systems, and customer feedback.
These technologies can help contact centers to identify trends and patterns in customer behavior, optimize agent schedules, and improve overall performance. Having quality management, WFM, and reporting running on a single unified platform allows organizations to run analytics engines across the suite of products and provide contact centers with much greater insights than ever before.
In the future, I see augmented reality tools that could be used to support agents in providing technical support and troubleshooting, particularly in industries such as manufacturing and healthcare. These tools can provide agents with real-time access to information and instructions, enabling them to resolve issues more quickly and effectively.
Overall, these new methods and technologies are transforming the contact center industry and are enabling contact centers to provide more personalized and efficient customer service. However, they also require specialized skills and expertise to implement and optimize.
Contact centers will need to invest in training and development to ensure that their agents and WFM systems can effectively leverage these tools.
One of the more innovative features now found in WFM software is how it can be leveraged to make intraday adjustments through AI recommendations.
For example, the intraday planning (IDP) report is used by a WFM analyst so they can monitor how today is performing compared to what was initially forecasted.
The AI will look at many factors – contact volume, historical trends, channel performance, and more – and then provide real-time recommendations to a WFM analyst if they should staff up, staff down, or stick with the schedule as-is for the rest of the day.
“One of the more innovative features now found in WFM software is how it can be leveraged to make intraday adjustments...”
It’s all about AI right now that’s driving contact centers’ application and use of WFM. We’re seeing AI evolve to provide predictive forecasting based on external data. For example, you can combine weather and call volume forecasting so organizations can schedule and staff its agents accordingly.
ChatGPT is an example of Generative AI, but this type of AI is not directly relevant to forecasting or scheduling. However, we are seeing open AI-type models, like ChatGPT, being used to auto-generate call summary notes, which reduces a vast amount of after-call work.
In this scenario, agents need less time between calls to type notes. This type of AI can also take “well-handled” interactions and auto-generate knowledge articles or job aids that help get new employees up to speed faster with best practices. In this way, Generative AI can help companies develop the employee-facing tools and support materials they need to onboard and keep them current.
“It's all about AI right now that's driving contact centers' application and use of WFM.” —Dave Singer
The infusion of AI into WFM will create more personalized agent experiences. Whereas before supervisors didn’t have the time to take into account agent’s preferences like which shifts and tasks they prefer, now they can. AI can easily take individual preferences into account while still ensuring that business needs are being met.
We also continue to see more customers turning to video chat for interactions. The COVID-19 pandemic played a large role in this, with industries like healthcare beginning to offer virtual appointments and remote work becoming popular.
Video will only increase in popularity and is another new channel that agents will need to adapt to and add to their workflows. As the number of digital channels grows, it is very important that organizations have a modern WFM solution to manage workflows and schedules accordingly.
Q. What are your recommendations to contact centers in buying, deciding on, setting up, and using WFM systems? Discuss also if you wish, training supervisors and managers on WFM, particularly those who are working remotely, and continuing education.
Before buying a WFM system, it’s important to identify your specific needs and goals. This includes factors such as the size of your contact center, the types of interactions you handle, your staffing requirements, and your reporting and analytics needs.
Once you have identified your needs, carefully evaluate vendors and solutions that meet those needs. This includes researching vendors, reading reviews, and comparing features and pricing. Don’t solely rely on the marketing on the vendors’ websites.
After drawing a short list of WFM finalists, involve stakeholders such as supervisors, managers, and agents in the decision-making process for selecting a WFM system. This can help to ensure that the system meets the needs of all users and is adopted successfully.
Once you have selected a WFM system, it’s important to implement it effectively. This includes configuring the system to meet your specific needs, training users on how to use the system, and testing the system thoroughly before going live.
Once the system is live, it’s important to continuously monitor and optimize it to ensure that it is meeting your needs and goals. This includes regularly reviewing reports and analytics, identifying areas for improvement, and making adjustments to the system as needed.
In terms of training supervisors and managers on WFM, it’s important to provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to effectively manage and optimize the system. This includes training on how to use the system, interpret reports and analytics, and make data-driven decisions.
With many supervisors and managers working remotely, it’s also very important to provide virtual training and support to ensure that they have the resources they need to succeed.
Continuing education is also important to ensure that supervisors and managers stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices in WFM. This can include attending industry conferences and webinars, participating in online training courses, and engaging with other WFM professionals through networking and community forums.
By investing in ongoing education and training, contact centers can ensure that their supervisors and managers have the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in managing their WFM systems effectively.
A WFM system is essential to contact center operations. Take the time to ensure you choose the right provider and do a full evaluation of each solution you are considering.
Don’t fall in love with a single feature or salesperson. Instead, look more long-term and understand what your day-to-day experience using the software will look like.
- How much training will you receive?
- What is the industry reputation of the support team?
- Do updates typically have a lot of bugs and issues?
These post-sale factors are rarely discussed during the decision-making process but, when properly addressed before a buying decision is made, can have a major difference in being happy with a purchase.
I would say the sooner you implement, the better. This technology transforms operational efficiency. Managing forecasts, staffing, and seasonality is complex. The right platform can equip leaders to be more agile, make faster decisions, and proactively manage their workforces to meet unexpected demand changes.
Cloud based solutions are highly flexible and make onboarding simple, so the risk is very low. It only takes weeks to get these solutions implemented and they can scale regardless of whether you have two agents or 20,000.
“The right platform can equip leaders to be more agile, make faster decisions, and proactively manage their workforces to meet unexpected demand changes.” —Baker Johnson
There are four important things to keep in mind when you’re considering a WFM solution:
- Open system. It’s important to ensure you’re selecting an open WFM system to interface with any current communication platform and whatever you plan to buy tomorrow because communication modalities change and your company likely has multiples, too.
- AI and automation workflows. Your WFM system must be infused with AI and automation workflows so that you know if your accuracy increases over time. It also reduces the manual effort required by both employees and managers to provide the flexible installed services as needed.
- Best-of-breed capabilities. We know that organizations need to handle hybrid and gig work, so your WFM must have best-of-breed capabilities to support changes in workplace needs, such as working remotely or working shorter shifts.
- Enterprise scope. The walls of the contact center are becoming more and more translucent. Work is now shared across the entire organization. People in the back office communicate with customers. Your WFM platform must have enterprise scope capabilities to be able to handle a “One Workforce” approach to customer service.
Regarding training, you want to avoid missteps in your WFM practice impacting your customer experience. You can have the best technology with the best capabilities, but if people don’t know how to push the buttons, it doesn’t work. It is best to have robust ongoing education and enablement.
Generally, people buy the platform, put it in the hands of its employees, and life is grand. Six months later, half your team has moved on and there’s no backfill or refresh training.
You need ongoing enablement and training on the technology, so it’s important to make sure what you’re buying offers self-service, eLearning, and self-guidance application support. And as teams change, it’s important to have a “how-to” plan for onboarding employees efficiently and quickly.
A bicycle is much easier to use in the space shuttle, but it won’t take you to orbit. Likewise, your WFM system should be easy to use, but not overly simple. Don’t over-focus on making it easy at the cost of capability. It is best to have a robust solution.
“...it's essential to assess the scalability and adaptability of the chosen WFM solution to accommodate evolving business needs.” —Mitch Todd
There are several things contact centers should consider.
- During the purchasing phase, it’s essential to assess the scalability and adaptability of the chosen WFM solution to accommodate evolving business needs.
- Decisions should be guided by a comprehensive understanding of the organization’s unique requirements, ensuring alignment between the chosen system’s capabilities and the contact center’s operational goals.
- When setting up a WFM system, meticulous data integration and configuration are paramount. Establish seamless communication channels between the WFM system and other relevant platforms to ensure accurate forecasting and scheduling.
- Additionally, prioritize developing a system with rich reporting capabilities and an automated rules engine that automatically triggers actions based on the business rules. This will free up your supervisors while ensuring your staffing requirements are met.
Disasters and Workforces
Disasters appear to be occurring more often, and with greater severity and suddenness. So we asked our panelists whether their clients are seeing this, and how are they planning and responding in their WFM systems?
Florian Garner says “Contact centers are seeing an increase in the frequency and severity of disasters, including natural disasters, cyberattacks, and pandemics. As a result, they are taking steps to plan and respond to these events in their WFM systems.
“One key strategy that contact centers are using is to implement more flexible scheduling and work arrangements, such as remote work or alternative work schedules, that can enable agents to continue working during and after a disaster.
“These methods require robust WFM systems that can support remote collaboration and communication, as well as tools for forecasting and scheduling agents based on their availability and location.
“Overall, contact centers are recognizing the importance of disaster preparedness and resilience in their WFM systems.” —Florian Garnier
“The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a significant impact on WFM forecasting and planning, as it has led to unprecedented levels of disruption and uncertainty in the workforce.
“Contact centers have had to rapidly adapt their forecasting and scheduling strategies to account for changing customer demand and agent availability, and to implement new technologies and processes to support remote work and social distancing.
“For example, contact centers have had to implement new forecasting models that account for changes in customer behavior and preferences during the pandemic, such as an increase in online shopping and a greater demand for technical support. They have also had to adjust their staffing plans to account for fluctuations in agent availability, such as increased absenteeism due to illness or caring for family members.
“Overall, contact centers are recognizing the importance of disaster preparedness and resilience in their WFM systems. By investing in flexible scheduling and remote work arrangements, as well as robust forecasting and planning tools, they can better prepare for and respond to unexpected events while continuing to provide high-quality customer service.”
Dave Singer says “WFM solutions enable companies to avoid operational downtime while providing great customer support and experiences in the face of any event that would impact its employees’ ability to work.
“WFM solutions make forecasting and planning more effortless in the face of both disasters that would affect its employees getting to the office and ramping up capacity when disasters impact its customers, which would drive a spike in inbound volume.
“In addition, companies are no longer bound by the number of seats in its contact center. With the right tools and capabilities, instead, companies can leverage people inside and outside the physical contact center building.
“For example, if you’re in Chicago and anticipating an ice storm, organizations can plan ahead and schedule those employees to work remotely that day instead of coming into the office.
“WFM solutions enable companies to avoid operational downtime while providing great customer support and experiences in the face of any event...” —Dave Singer
“Or, in the case of an unexpected event, self-service options allow employees to receive an alert and opt to sign in for an extra shift or overtime, so companies can quickly and efficiently staff up to support the sudden influx of inbound contacts.”
Mitch Todd says “Modern WFM systems incorporate the full WFM lifecycle, from long-term strategic planning with unlimited what-if planning simulations, to intelligent intraday automation.
“By incorporating long-term planning and intelligent automation, contact centers can be better equipped for various situations. By having the engine automatically send real-time alerts, contact centers can adjust their staffing easily and adapt to any situation.
“Market conditions affect staffing and the ability to predict staffing needs. Rapid changes in the economy and workforce require more effective long-term planning.
“Planning tools must take into account employees working from home and hybrid schedules. Changing variables, such as large increases or decreases in volumes, site closures, and leaps in shrinkage or attrition, can change plan parameters to create a multitude of long-term plans.
“An AI-powered employee engagement management solution monitors and adjusts staffing as schedule and activity adherence change.
“The solution automatically pinpoints opportunities to match staffing with demand after schedules are published. It fills schedule gaps based on business needs and agent preferences.
“The solution analyzes net staffing opportunities to identify near-term overstaffing and understaffing. Net staffing improves when the solution automatically offers agents shift and interval change requests. Agents receive changes via automated push notifications to mobile, web, and email.
“The solution also provides actionable real-time alerts to management, WFM staff, intraday analysts, supervisors, and employees.”