After being in WFM for over 15 years I’ve come up with a few answers to “So what do you do?” If I want to sound complicated and shut down the conversation I reply, “I work in forecasting and analytics. Lots of number crunching.” When I want to sound helpful and maybe further the conversation I say, “I help contact centers be productive.”
And then when I want to be honest I will reply with “I predict the future for contact centers and then manage the chaos when I get it wrong.”
All of them are accurate, and that’s part of the reason why I thought it might be helpful to provide a “WFM 101”.
This discussion is aimed at providing an understanding of this critical topic for those outside of the contact center, newcomers to our world, and as a refresher for longtime professionals.
I am going to cover “What is workforce management (WFM), how is it different in contact centers, and why should contact center leaders care about it?”
So, open your notebooks (electronic or paper) and let’s jump in!
What is Workforce Management?
At its core, workforce management is establishing the number of resources needed to complete work. It’s often said that it is ensuring “the right people, at the right time, doing the right work.”
To accomplish this, we have three primary disciplines.
Forecasting. Forecasting lies at the heart of WFM. It aims to answer these key questions.
- How much work will be coming in?
- When will it come in?
- How long will it take to complete?
- How much non-work (shrinkage) do we need to account for?
Here’s how forecasting works. We take historical patterns, adjust for one-off events, seasonality, growth trends, etc., and then combine them with future understanding of marketing and growth plans. With all of this combined data we establish how many people we need to complete the estimated work.
It's important to differentiate WFM from human resource information systems (HRIS).
Scheduling. Once the staffing needs are established, the next step is scheduling.
WFM teams create schedules that align with anticipated demand, considering factors like employee preferences and availability.
We’ll also manage the schedules, adjusting for things like paid-time off, jury duty, bereavement, FMLA, etc.
Lastly, we may go after voluntary time off (VTO) and voluntary overtime (VOT) to cover the peaks and valleys of the volume.
Our goal in creating and managing the schedules is to perfectly align the required staff with the expected staff. As the volume and handle times of work increases/decreases, we want our planned staff to increase/decrease as well.
Real-Time Management. Other teams may forecast or schedule, but WFM combines those practices and adds a third function: real-time management.
We will monitor our forecasted volume, handle time, shrinkage, and schedules, and make adjustments on the fly to ensure we still meet service level agreements. We’ll then use those real-time observations and include them in our future forecasting and scheduling.
WFM teams inherently have full-cycle feedback loops built into their structures, constantly learning and adjusting their plans.
What’s the Difference between WFM and WFO?
WFM is a subset of tools and practices inside of WFO. If WFM focuses on the right people, at the right time, doing the right work, then quality management (QM) focuses on making sure that work is done to a certain standard and performance management (PM) ensures there’s visibility and movement towards the goals. Combined, all three disciplines make up workforce optimization (WFO). (See Figure 1.)
How is WFM Different in Contact Centers?
At this point you might be saying, “That sounds good and all, but I don’t think we need this team. Our finance team forecasts, our HR team handles scheduling, and our operations team manages people real-time.”
I understand your point. But let’s consider how WFM teams are different, especially in contact centers.
HRIS Versus WFM. It’s important to differentiate WFM from human resource information systems (HRIS). While HRIS may handle pay, attendance, and schedules, its focus is primarily on administrative functions. In contrast, WFM integrates forecasting capabilities to determine staffing needs accurately, going beyond mere schedule management.
Increased Complexity. Contact center WFM teams operate in complex environments. With multi-skill routing sets and omnichannel or multi-channel agents, accurately forecasting workloads become intricate.
WFM teams need to estimate the volume of work across various channels, such as text, email, tickets, SMS, chats, and voice, and allocate the appropriate number of resources accordingly. Unlike scheduling cashiers in a retail operation, contact center WFM tackles the complexities of diverse work types and interdependencies among queues.
Continuous Improvement Loop. As was already mentioned, WFM teams have the feedback and learning loop built into them.
The real-time team knows what to expect because of the forecasting and scheduling process. Those processes are improved by the feedback and observations of the real-time team. This ability to gain necessary insights almost instantaneously sets WFM teams apart from other processes and structures.
Why Should Contact Center Leaders Care about WFM?
So, we’ve covered what it is and how it’s different, but ultimately you’re likely asking, “Why should I care?” I’m so glad you asked!
Holistic Problem Solving. WFM teams act as a nexus, facilitating collaboration across various organizational functions.
We hear from HR, Finance, Operations, Marketing, Fulfillment, etc. all with their own priorities and considerations. We sit at the crossroads of all these teams and ultimately have to provide a solution that meets their needs.
We have to find a plan to provide training opportunities HR requires, at no additional overtime as finance requires, while considering the operational resources needed to lead the training. And all while working with the marketing team on when the ads can drop.
In fast-paced and complicated environments you need a team that can approach problems holistically. Considering all competing priorities while still moving forward toward strategic goals. This is fundamentally what WFM does.
Increase to Employee Experience (EX). Survey after survey has shown the importance of schedules to employees, especially schedule flexibility or autonomy. Employees want more than just knowledge of when they’re going to work, they want a voice in that decision.
Whether it’s preference-based scheduling, shift-bid scheduling, VTO, or VOT, WFM helps give employees a voice around their schedules. By prioritizing WFM, contact center leaders demonstrate their commitment to creating a positive work environment that values employees’ well-being and voices.
Data-Driven. WFM has long embraced a data-driven approach, making informed decisions based on both qualitative and quantitative data. We take in the voice of the employees, the pattern of the customer, and the art of predicting human behavior to establish our forecasting.
In a time when data-driven decision-making is increasingly crucial, WFM offers insights into leveraging data effectively. Contact center leaders can rely on WFM expertise to understand the limitations and possibilities of data-driven initiatives.
Cost-Effectiveness. One of the most obvious reasons you should be leveraging WFM is the cost-effective allocation of staffing resources. We help you understand your volume patterns and ensure the appropriate staff is at every interval.
By adjusting to the peaks and valleys of work, we minimize the use of overtime and the unnecessarily low utilization of staff. The alignment of staff to the volume ensures that the customer experience (CX) is consistent and at least acceptable, if not exceptional. Ultimately, maximizing labor hours and CX helps ensure the longevity of the organization.
The WFM Advantage
As contact center leaders, your role is pivotal in shaping the success of your organization. By understanding and embracing WFM teams, you gain a strategic advantage in optimizing your operations and delivering exceptional customer service.
WFM empowers you to break down silos and collaborate across teams, ensuring holistic problem-solving and alignment of priorities. By prioritizing EX and providing schedule flexibility, you foster a positive work environment that enhances productivity and satisfaction.
Moreover, by leveraging data-driven insights and cost-effective staffing, you drive operational efficiency and maximize customer satisfaction.
So, as you navigate the complex landscape of contact center leadership, remember that WFM is not just a support function: it is a key driver of organizational success, enabling you to create meaningful experiences for both your employees and your customers.
Embrace the power of WFM and unlock the full potential of your organization’s customer-centric journey!