By Claire Richardson, Verint Systems www.verint.com

The first and most important consideration is to understand just exactly what it is that you think you’re buying. There are still many people who initially think that Workforce Optimisation (WFO) is just another name for Workforce Management (WFM) — it is not and it is important that we recognise that Management and Optimisation are very different words!

WFM is simply an industry term for forecasting and scheduling. It simplifies and improves the accuracy of interaction demand forecasts, and with a good forecast in hand, allows organisations to create optimised schedules. With WFM it is the schedules that are optimised, not the workforce — and that makes a big difference.

Workforce optimisation[/b[, as defined by industry analysts, is the convergence of a range of previously disparate contact centre solutions. While WFM is part of workforce optimisation, WFO also embraces many other applications including call recording and quality monitoring, e-learning, performance management through scorecards, customer feedback management, integration across front-office, back-office and branch operations, and speech and data analytics.

[b]What contact centre functions can WFO address?

Standalone solutions such as Workforce Management, Quality Monitoring and Recording have always been very good at providing factual answers for contact centre managers. However, by adopting a WFO approach, and combining information from multiple functions and sources within your contact centre or back-office operations — organisations can quickly drill down from the “what” and start getting to the “why” answers that help them to make faster and better decisions.

By enabling functions such as WFM, Quality Monitoring, Speech Analytics and Performance Management to work together, Workforce Optimisation provides a closed-loop system for continuous performance improvement. Key contact centre functionality that WFO solutions can deliver include:

•Capturing customer interactions — either in their entirety, selectively, on demand, or randomly

•Analysing data from those interactions to understand business trends and the root cause of any problems

•Using actual data to establish realistic forecasts and performance goals

•Making sure that you've scheduled and deployed the right number of staff with the appropriate skills

•Collecting customer feedback to understand what is driving customer satisfaction and loyalty

•Measuring performance to identify execution issues

•Delivering targeted training to drive performance improvement

•Refining forecasts and performance goals around real time KPIs and the data you’ve collected

It’s when the data from a WFM application is effectively combined with outputs from quality monitoring, performance management and eLearning that real optimisation can start to happen. Organisations cannot just schedule and deploy the right number of staff, but those staff will start to have the right skills in place, and they’ll also be trained to handle the type of calls they’re likely to receive that day.

While many businesses start out by using a standard Excel spreadsheet to schedule their contact centre agent rosters, managing these documents invariably turns out to be a time-consuming and complex process that only scales so far. Organisations typically turn to a more WFO-oriented approach when they can see that their resource management team is getting stretched, and when there’s a clear business need to move planning from a reactive to a more proactive model.

proportion of a successful WFO approach should relate to technology?

Technology can make a lot of difference, but only if you take the time and effort to put in place the change management processes that will allow your WFO technology projects to succeed. In my experience it is always the high-performing organisations that understand this best, and who understand that about fifty percent of their overall WFO project time and costs need to be focused on people and process issues.

What kind of benefits should we be looking for?

Once implemented, the differences that WFO technology can make are significant. At its most basic it can involve using Workforce Management and Quality Monitoring tools to:

• Decrease average call handling times
• Improve agent quality scores
• Drive down the time it takes to answer calls
• Managed agent occupancy
• Enhance overall service levels

More advanced WFO solutions, however, can help businesses to further optimise their contact centre performance by using analytics designed to:

• Increase first call resolution
• Improve up-selling and cross-selling activities
• Rebalance work across contact centre, branch and back-office channels based on employee availability and skills
• Help to improve contact centre customer satisfaction
• Enhance overall service levels

Adopt a phased WFO approach for optimum results?

Given the clear benefits that effective Workforce Optimisation solutions can unlock, it’s hardly surprising that organisations are often impatient to accelerate their projects. To rush into a major WFO implementation is to underestimate the complexity of the task that WFO has to help organisations achieve.

Of course raising quality scores by half a percent, or improving call connection times by a few seconds can help, but today’s business conditions demand that we make a further shift from pure operational excellence to a more integrated, WFO-enabled environment that encourages greater customer intimacy. A phased implementation approach will help organisations to achieve more of the benefits that come from WFO integration, as well as understanding how WFO-enabled processes can also be used in other parts of the business such as the branch network or the back-office.

These type of initiatives usually require more than just technology. That’s why you should look to work with a WFO partner that supports its WFO technology and analytics offerings with strong consultancy skills in key areas such as customer management strategies, contact centre operations, and related business process management.

Why is it better to go for an integrated solution rather than standalone components?

Our experience suggests that there is a significant saving to be achieved by implementing contact centre solutions such as WFM, quality monitoring, recording and performance management as part of an integrated WFO approach. The collective benefit of working with a single vendor, more competitive support and maintenance, reduced upgrade costs, tighter integration and reduced internal IT requirements, typically result in savings of at least 50 per cent over the cost of implementing separate systems from different vendors.

The fact that previously disparate applications now reside on the same platform and share information is what makes everything different. You benefit from one graphical user interface (GUI), all the applications tend to act the same and can be controlled the same, so when you learn one GUI, you learn them all. Contrast this with having point solutions from disparate vendors — even if they are partners — invariably the GUIs and the databases aren’t standardised, and the upgrade cycles are never in sync.

How can you convince your financial director that buying WFO software is really worth it?

In terms of cost justification, call centre managers can concentrate on a number of specific areas such as increased agent utilisation, increased agent productivity and better first call resolution to quantify the largest payback areas of WFO implementations. Often incremental improvements - such as reduced idle time through more accurate forecasting, or increased up-selling through better coaching and training — can quickly be extrapolated to create the cost justification for WFO-related projects.

Clearly there are other potentially more significant goals - such as increasing customer retention or improving the customer experience — that resonate at board level and can be leveraged to support project cost justification for contact centre managers. Our Consultants regularly work with customers to help them develop their own company-specific WFO project ROI models based around the strategic business drivers that are most applicable for their organisation.

The combination of operational performance benefits and strategic goal realisation combine to provide financial directors with a compelling ROI justification, and ones that are particularly important giving current economic conditions.