Creating an Effective Contact Center Workforce Management Strategy

Contact centers have undergone enormous transformations over the past decades — moving from boiler rooms where agents handled interactions on a first in/first out basis to hives of activity that involve voice, chat, social network, email and other modes of interaction with customers. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is also being used to route calls to the correct agent. Contact center managers are forced to catch up and acclimatize to technological, social, economic and cultural changes. Those who’ve created a workforce management strategy to address these changes are thriving.

In addition to technological changes, culture has transformed dramatically. The cycle of social memes has been reduced and the speed of communication has increased from the daily paper read on the ride to work, to the blog post, to Facebook and Instagram posts, and now to Tweets or Snapchat messages.

The attitude toward work has also shifted. It’s gone from the goal of those finishing school to part of a bigger picture for younger individuals, complemented by their friends, family, hobbies, interests and charitable work. Thirty years ago, employees were expected to work with a single company — or maybe two to three — over the course of their careers. However, those entering the workforce today could hold a dozen or more jobs, including working double shifts as part of the gig economy.

In areas where unemployment is at record low levels or the job market is extremely competitive, it’s a challenge to attract, onboard and retain talent. It’s not uncommon for hiring managers to not hear back from applicants — or even new hires shortly after they begin on the job.

While having the right people to handle calls is critical, it also can be a maze to navigate mandatory training and scheduling preferences of employees — and then deploy agents based on their strengths. As a contact center manager, you need a create an effective workforce management strategy to overcome these challenges. And that starts with assessing your workforce in several key areas:

  • Preferences for when they want to work
  • Types of interactions they’re strong at
  • Areas where they’re knowledgeable
  • Preference for focused work vs. multitasking work
  • Long-term goals for work

And you must balance these elements with:

  • Call or interaction volumes
  • Business goals around sales
  • Inbound vs. outbound queues
  • Goals around Net Promoter Scores (NPS)
  • Other KPIs, such as average hold time and first call resolution
  • Costs of running the contact center

Finding a balance means continuous improvement of metrics over time, so you need to know numbers and track them. This enables you to set a baseline for whether any changes to the workforce management lead to improvements.

Working the Culture

Contact centers can attract employees from all walks of life and all generations. And typically, an employee from one age group might exhibit different preferences and strengths from another. Consider individual preferences — not the generation they belong to — when planning your workforce.

There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Shift

All shifts have distinct benefits. A certain time might be a better fit for an employee’s schedule, offer a reduced call load, see better customer temperaments or receive specific call topics based. When schedule employees, list out these differences so they can understand the benefits. In addition, be transparent into the business needs and why an employee’s first choice for a specific schedule,  might not be compatible with those needs. This gives employees a sense of participation in the workplace and could potentially lead to better motivation and engagement.

Play to Your Employees’ Strengths

Your workforce management strategy should assess employees’ strengths as well as different call topics and channels used. If these lead to better NPS and sales numbers, it could make sense to start employees in these roles. Then you can canvass if employees would rather have a more diverse set of interactions or hone their skills further within a given channel or specific topics (support, sales, customer retention, etc.). Having a more refined set of preferences, beyond just time, also leads to more engaged employees. Then, set up training based on these preferences.

Don’t fear the potential backlash of soliciting employees for input; asking for preferences and then assigning an employee something other than their preference could diminish engagement or worse, foster resentment. Some contact centers try to automate this task with services like time bidding, where employees either get an hourly bonus, longer breaks or more paid time off if they work less-desirable shifts or queues.

A more extreme strategy is pushing shift organization or management to employees. In his book, The Seven-Day Weekend, Ricardo Selmer talks about allowing employees to schedule their own shifts — as long as the scheduling meets the company’s needs. In his company’s case, this led to more empowered employees who not only acted with more autonomy, but also stayed with the company longer. Part of this effect was that employees self-organized into shift groups and kept each other motivated. Employees also felt a sense of belonging.

Use Proper WFM Tools

Because there are a number of factors when managing who, when and how employees serve customers, consider implementing two types of tools.

The first set of tools can help you understand how their calls are handled today — and who they’ll need in the short-term to maintain KPIs. The second set of tools assist in planning how many people to on-board based on shrinkage or seasonal trends in interaction volume. You can extend this information to determine how many applicants and interviewees you need to maintain the contact center’s performance.

Ultimately, a more organized workforce leads to happier, more motivated employees — and that creates happier customers.

Read this ebook to learn how to avoid agent burnout and turn your customer service agents into customer experience heroes.