WFM Grows Up

Share:
Customer Service
Customer Service
How three companies effectively use workforce management in their contact centers.

Addison Lee Delivers Productivity and Service

By Mila D'Antonio

It's a never-ending struggle heightened by the bad economy: How do contact center managers increase agent productivity while ensuring that those agents work at optimal levels for the customer?

Addison Lee created its efficiency gains by staffing its contact center to match spikes in call volume. According to Chris De Souza, call centre operations manager at the London-based minicab service, call volume is influenced by factors like weather, local events, and times of the year. For example, last winter on a single snowy day, call volume spiked from the typical 10,000 calls in one day to 42,000-and adding agents in a timely manner was practically impossible.

De Souza says that until a couple of years ago the company relied on an ineffective method of managing the influx of calls: rushing to make sure all the seats in the contact center were filled when it started to get busy.

The company needed a way to better match staff to expected call volume. Addison Lee's call center management had built spreadsheets and used simple math to determine average call duration. Management then calculated how many agents it needed for expected spikes. "You couldn't factor in holidays or sick days. It became a laborious task," De Souza says. "One of my people spent half his time dealing with holiday requests."

In early 2008 De Souza investigated deploying a solution that would automate staffing requests while analyzing and forecasting increases in call volume. Today Addison Lee uses Verint's Impact 360 Workforce Optimization to analyze call patterns and match agent staffing levels to call flows. "We can much better predict when and where the calls will come in," De Souza says.

In addition, the company's 300 agents can use the system to request holidays, and it automatically responds. "[Agents] don't have to wait four days to process [a request]," De Souza says. "They feel more empoweredand they don't have to badger management. It's schoolyard politics. People feel more grown up about the situation."

The forecasting component is also helping the company better plan for increases in business. For example, in the early summer local transportation chiefs went on strike and transportation was virtually nonexistent. "London grounded to a halt, effectively," De Souza says. With the knowledge from past strikes that daily call figures would spike to around 20,000, De Souza and his department ran several scenarios using the WFM forecast tool to gauge possible workforce needs during the strike. The predictive asset was, De Souza says, "spot on," and the improved staff planning allowed the company to comfortably maintain service levels. Answer time increased to only nine seconds, up from the typical one second.

Addison Lee's 70 at-home agents benefit as well. The company used to manage them by telephone. "It was very inefficient," De Souza says. Now they all have the same tool on their desktops and can see the same information as the in-house agents. The tool also helps with adherence. In the past agents used to take breaks at incorrect times, which would throw the whole scheduling system out of balance. "We're not only interested in when people are taking calls, but also when they shouldn't be taking calls," De Souza says.

For De Souza, the benefits of the workforce management tools quickly became obvious. Agents used to take 20 calls per hour, now they take 26 calls. In addition, proper scheduling has allowed the company to reduce headcount by 80 agents and save 1.5 million ($2.47 million) since deploying the solution.

Now De Souza is in the process of implementing live scorecards through the workforce management tool to give agents real-time feedback about their performance; salaries will be determined by how well agents perform based on monthly reviews that include call duration, call quality, and adherence.

The company is also considering whether to use the tool to automate the processing of salaries. Currently, if an agent is absent or works overtime, a team manager must manually enter the information. If he forgets to enter the data, agents are underpaid or overpaid.

De Souza plans to keep pushing the envelope with workforce management, saying the possibilities for increased efficiency and productivity are endless. "It's only as limited as your imagination.

"Part of the deal in doing a cross-media campaign is people get hit in the medium of their choice," Rose says. "With Elixia, all three components, [direct mail, email, and PURLs], were made relevant to the recipient. This is the type of [technology] that for many people opens up a whole set of business opportunities."

Fiserv Improves Its Own Financial Results ompetitive pressures compelled Fiserv to reexamine its service quality. One area of opportunity executives uncovered was agent productivity, specifically, scheduling the appropriate number of agents to match expected call volume.

"Historically, we haven't had a way to measure how well we're doing that," says Jason Hogan, director of operations at Fiserv, a financial services technology provider. "We could identify what some of the gaps were, but our [question] was that if we are utilizing our existing staff, can we provide additional activities to service that customer even better than we have been?" he says.

Effectively identifying those gaps required technology, so about a year ago Fiserv deployed IEX TotalView workforce management software from NICE Systems. Today Fiserv management has an at-a-glance view of agents' activities and schedules. "It allows us to do forecasting and call prediction[and] to decide how to optimize offline activities," Hogan says.

It also allows Fiserv to increase its use of at-home agents by optimizing such offline activities as meetings, coaching, refresher training, breaks, vacation time, and cross-training for skills development.

According to Hogan, having efficient schedules benefits the budget in several ways. The most immediate savings for Fiserv relates to overtime. Fiserv has reduced the overtime usually needed during peak intervals by aligning agent staffing levels with the company's call volume peaks and valleys. "With overtime being at a higher pay rate, we see immediate savings there," Hogan says.

Increasing schedule efficiency also reduces the number of agents required to meet service level goals. This gives agents time to focus on offline activities like cross-training. "When we cross-train our agents to handle multiple call types, it increases our agent utilization by allowing us to leverage [agents] to take calls from other channels and business units during slow times of the day or week," Hogan says. "Also, by proactively planning to leverage these agents, reduces the business' need to staff for every expected peak and thus reduces overall headcount requirements."

WTH Navigates Complex Workforce Management

By Jeremy Nedelka

The complexity of call center routing varies by industry and enterprise. But few routing strategies are more intricate than that of World Travel Holdings (WTH), which owns 10 travel brands, including Cruises.com and Rooms.com.

To maximize its distributed workforce, comprising of both in-house and at-home sales and service agents who specialize in various product types, WTH uses an equally complex workforce management solution. Approximately 85 percent of WTH's agents deal with sales; 40 percent work at home. "Essentially we need to get the most out of people's expertise," says Jeff Smith, vice president of sales and general manager at WTH. "We sell a complex product-travel-with long talk times and a consultative sales process."

The company's call center operation is set up as one virtual entity across multiple locations. WTH's skills structure means that the company has to schedule agents based on not only their availability and which brand they sell, but also whether they handle less complex or very complex (and therefore more expensive) products. "Ensuring that we're staffed appropriately so that we can minimize overflow to a secondary agent is very important," Smith says. "I don't think we're unique in wanting the right person to answer the right call every time."

Last year WTH partnered with GMT, a workforce management solutions provider, to track, forecast, and schedule agents based on desired service levels.

According to Smith, the key metric when implementing the workforce management solution was call abandonment. "To my knowledge not a single abandoned call has bought a cruise from us yet," he says. Improved scheduling based on forecast needs has reduced abandonment by 25 percent over the past year. Similarly, cost per transaction has declined 13 percent, and revenue per hour has increased 15 percent.

Improving scheduling has also reduced attrition by 18 percent over the past year. This is because agents are more involved in determining their hours. Rather than use a bid system in which WTH sets shift times, agents enter their availability into the system (through the employee time center) and it creates schedules that balance preference and need. Managers can also adjust the number of agents as demand changes.

One of the reasons the workforce management solution works so well in WTH's call center environment, Smith says, is because the system helps WTH conform to its travel partners' regulations. "We can access agent adherence throughout the day, complete with reporting, to ensure we're in compliance."

Since deploying workforce management there has been a 4 percent improvement in the company's service level (80 percent of calls are answered in 30 seconds or less). "In the end, if you take care of your associates, they will end up taking care of those customers," he says. "This takes us one step closer, from good to great."

Fiserv Improves Its Own Financial Results

By Jennifer Munsey

Competitive pressures compelled Fiserv to reexamine its service quality. One area of opportunity executives uncovered was agent productivity, specifically, scheduling the appropriate number of agents to match expected call volume.

"Historically, we haven't had a way to measure how well we're doing that," says Jason Hogan, director of operations at Fiserv, a financial services technology provider. "We could identify what some of the gaps were, but our [question] was that if we are utilizing our existing staff, can we provide additional activities to service that customer even better than we have been?" he says.

Effectively identifying those gaps required technology, so about 10 years ago Fiserv deployed IEX TotalView workforce management software from NICE Systems. Today Fiserv management has an at-a-glance view of agents' activities and schedules. "It allows us to do forecasting and call prediction[and] to decide how to optimize offline activities," Hogan says.

It also allows Fiserv to optimize such activities as meetings, coaching, refresher training, breaks, vacation time, and cross-training for skills development.

According to Hogan, having efficient schedules benefits the budget in several ways. The most immediate savings for Fiserv relates to overtime. Fiserv has reduced the overtime usually needed during peak intervals by aligning agent staffing levels with the company's call volume peaks and valleys. "With overtime being at a higher pay rate, we see immediate savings there," Hogan says.

Increasing schedule efficiency also reduces the number of agents required to meet service level goals. This gives agents time to focus on offline activities like cross-training. "When we cross-train our agents to handle multiple call types, it increases our agent utilization by allowing us to leverage [agents] to take calls from other channels and business units during slow times of the day or week," Hogan says. "Also, by proactively planning to leverage these agents, reduces the business' need to staff for every expected peak and thus reduces overall headcount requirements."

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION