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Workforce Management: More Important Than Ever


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Workforce management (WFM) has been in existence for a while. Many businesses still employ legacy systems to forecast and schedule agents relying on outdated static systems to manage the post-sale customer experience and cost efficiency. To learn more about WFM in today’s contact center with remote agents, I interviewed Todd Cotharin, COO for CommunityWFM, a WFM software group.
Here is an edited version of our conversation.
GA: How has WFM evolved?
TC: WFM software is much more than creating a schedule. It’s about enabling ways to efficiently collaborate with agents to build one that works for both agents, and the business. Happy agents often lead to happy customers, and the days of dictating rigid schedules to them are a thing of the past. Instead, agents can now pick up or drop shifts directly via a mobile app in real-time. The job of a WFM professional in 2020 is more about leveraging data and information to ensure agent productivity and efficiency remains at a high level.
GA: How has WFM changed when remote agents are in use?
TC: With so many businesses now employing remote agents as part of their workforce, one advantage of this type of work is the ability to work split shifts. If working at the office is the only option, these aren’t practical due to logistics, such as driving back and forth to the office more than once a day. However, when working from home, WFM schedulers can offer agents flexibility by allowing them to allocate their hours in smaller shifts. This also helps the organization to staff up for peak hours during the day.
The other key areas are adherence and attendance. With a feature called automated schedule attendance monitor (ASAM), analysts and supervisors can see exactly when an agent clocks into the system and seamlessly track attendance and on-time arrival. This, along with an integrated communications platform, lets the WFM team keep an efficient track of agent activity and productivity.
GA: Has Work From Home (WFH) affected agent productivity?
TC: Many recent studies have reported that agent productivity can improve when working from home. A Stanford University study found that WFH employees had improved retention, decreased sick time, and personal time off (PTO) used, and worked a full shift, with fewer breaks. Eliminating the daily commute gives agents more personal time and produces less stress.
GA: What are the challenges remote agents encounter working from home?
TC: One is technical issues with either the hardware or the Internet. For example, if a computer problem occurs in the office, IT is right there to solve it. However, working remotely, you can encounter downtime and lose productivity if it cannot be resolved quickly or requires a third-party solution. With most software becoming hosted in the cloud, the WFM application is usually not an issue.
On a personal level, agents can feel more isolated and distanced from their supervisors and co-workers. Without the team environment and constant communication, they may wonder about the business’s performance, how other employees are doing, and how to stay involved with on-going training.
GA: How do you address those challenges?
TC: With the increased use of video conferencing through solutions like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and GoToMeeting, managers can and should have constant communications with their employees. In addition to discussing work-related activities, managers are getting creative with different ways to keep their teams excited and motivated by conducting happy hours and playing games. As the number of WFH agents increases, managers will be challenged to continue to find ways to engage with their employees.
GA: Are there motivational issues for the WFH agents?
TC: It varies from agent to agent. Some agents who thrive on group recognition for outstanding work may not get the same feeling in a remote setting. There can also be a hesitancy to ask questions because some agents may think it is more of an inconvenience to send an email to a supervisor instead of walking over to their desk. Every business and agent group is different, and the key here is to establish clear remote agent communication plans that work for everyone involved.
GA: How do you address this problem?
TC: One way is to determine who gets to work from home and make it performance-based. Agents are motivated to be top performers so that they “can” work from home. Most agents will like the option of avoiding commuting traffic, saving money on gas, or the relaxed WFH dress code.
GA: Would you recommend some best practices for the contact center supervisors?
TC: Rely heavily on your technology solutions to help you make better decisions. If you’re suddenly managing a remote team, you’re not having those valuable hallway conversations anymore about how your agents are really feeling about a customer or their work environment. Take these conversations online and reach out just to check-in. Not every second you talk needs to be because of a direct work task.
The main area to focus on in many cases should be adherence monitoring, especially for agents who are working remotely for the first time. Some agents jump right in and work remotely very well from the start, while others are more easily distracted. Within WFM software, you can see exactly how long of a lunch an agent is taking, so you can nicely remind them about adherence if their breaks are becoming too long.
GA: Does WFH change the workflow?
TC: For many teams, it hasn’t changed the workflow because up until the pandemic, about twenty percent of the agent workforce was already working remotely. With cloud-based technology, most agents can work from anywhere with a good Internet connection to log in and do their job.
For businesses that mostly have large contact centers scheduling daily huddle sessions and classroom training will be a challenge. Those organizations will have to leverage video conferencing to collaborate with employees in a meaningful way. Monitoring adherence and attendance is critical so that you can provide the right customer experience and avoid long hold times. Those core metrics do not change.