Last month we provided a buying guide for call center software suites. A major component of call center software is workforce optimization (WFO), which continues to be a vibrant field of innovation. Therefore, this area deserves its own guide.
Most analysts use WFO as the over-arching name for anything and everything involving the call center workforce. This spans areas such as quality control performance monitoring, contact center workforce management , session recording, agent evaluation, agent coaching/performance, eLearning and analytics. Thus WFM encompasses managing, scheduling and attendance monitoring of the workforce to cope with business traffic.
“Workforce management applications are designed to automate the deployment of the workforce through workload planning, scheduling, time and attendance tracking, resource management, and rules and compliance management,” said Lisa Rowan, an analyst at IDC. “Increasingly, workforce management applications are being integrated into customer relationship management applications in a contact center environment.”
Some of the key features of WFM, Rowan says, are skills and certification tracking, shift/vacation bidding, workload planning, forecasting, scheduling, scheduling optimization, customer wait-time forecasts, coverage management and absence management.
Here's a roundup of some of the leading players in WFO:
Monet Software 's cloud-based Monet Live includes workforce management, call recording, quality management and performance management. Monet WFM, for example, tackles what Monet CEO Chuck Ciarlo calls "one of the key challenges for call centers," helping agents adhere to schedules, by developing schedules based on forecasting tools.
“[Call centers] know that increasing schedule adherence has a huge cost saving and efficiency potential. They need tools to better track all agent activities,” Ciarlo said.
Other modules include Monet Record for call recording, Monet Quality for quality assurance and Monet Metrics for performance management. All these features are available as part of Monet Live, which is priced on a per-user basis as a way of avoiding high upfront costs.
Ciarlo believes that companies like his that have developed their WFO platforms in the cloud from scratch enjoy an advantage over traditional call center vendors who are challenged with moving client-server technology over to the Web.
“Some are trying to offer their old technology as a ‘hosted’ solution, which does not provide the same advantages as real Web-based solutions,” he said.
At the same time, he believes some startups that use cloud technologies lack call center expertise. He characterizes Monet as a mid-sized company with deep WFO expertise built into its products.
He advised those interested in WFO to think about five areas: integration, metrics, total cost of ownership, and ease of implementation/ease of use.
Verint’s Impact 360 Workforce Optimization suite can operate in the contact center, back-office, branch and remote office. This WFO suite contains the following modules:
- Impact 360 Quality Monitoring, which captures, and evaluates customer interactions across mixed telephony environments;
- Impact 360 Workforce Management, which helps automate forecasting and scheduling and tracks adherence while providing performance management and eLearning capabilities;
- Impact 360 eLearning, which delivers timely, individualized training directly to agent desktops and assigns training at the most opportune time;
- Impact 360 Performance Management, which measures agent performance to identify strengths and weaknesses.
The software also includes Voice of the Customer (VoC) analytics for speech and text that let businesses mine customer interactions across multiple channels.
“Companies have moved beyond simple ‘do we have enough people’ approaches that measure average handle time to become more concerned with customer satisfaction metrics such as net provider scores -- taking into account the skill sets of organizations,” said Roger Woolley, Verint's vice president, Solutions Marketing
He emphasized the importance of looking beyond front-line agents and applying WFO to back-office processing divisions, due to the impact this can have on the overall customer experience.
“According to some industry reports, up to 60 percent of the sources for customer dissatisfaction can be traced to the back office,” said Woolley. “It’s important that this workforce be optimized for processes and skill sets as well.”
The Aspect workforce optimization platform delivers workforce planning, scheduling, quality and performance management, recording, surveying, coaching, eLearning and analytics. Modules include Workforce Management, Quality Management and Performance Management. The overall WFO suite is called Aspect Productive Workforce.
Aspect WFO modules can be implemented separately or together. Pricing is determined based on users for Aspect Quality Management and Aspect Performance Management, while Aspect Workforce Management is priced based on the number of employees/agents who are managed by the system. Users include agents, supervisors, quality analysts, business analysts and workforce planners.
“Aspect Workforce Management provides workforce planning, forecasting, scheduling, intra-day management, SLA monitoring and all the capabilities needed to manage a dispersed, multi-skilled workforce,” said Spence Mallder senior vice president and general manager of Workforce Optimization at Aspect. “In addition, it allows agents to manage their own schedules within a set of rules that ensure customer commitments are maintained.”
While emphasizing the direct benefits to the agent, Mallder added the software can reduce the number of employees required to service customers by up to 40 percent through improved forecasting and schedule optimization. Further, analytics play an important role within the Aspect suite in order to synthesize the data captured from interactions and link it to business results (revenue, customer retention, upsell/cross-sell).
“Analytics are moving from siloed environments and disciplines to an analytical approach that can present a single, actionable view into customers and the resources who serve them,” Mallder said.
Nice Workforce Optimization includes modules for interaction recording, quality monitoring, WFM, analytics, process optimization, customer feedback and performance management. The suite enables organizations to measure, manage and motivate frontline employees. In addition, a tool known as Nice IEX WFM WebStation Plus is a Web-based interface that provides employees with the ability to manage scheduling requests, access performance statistics and receive alerts for changes in scheduling.
“To achieve their goals, organizations are using more social media, mobile applications and analytics-based tools to gauge and improve employee performance,” said Erik Snider, a spokesperson for Nice. “We have also noticed that enterprises are trying to leverage Big Data from customer interactions in their contact center to derive deeper insight.”
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).