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Workforce management: Contact center savior?

If you're not using workforce management software, experts at the ICCM conference said your contact center probably isn't running as efficiently as it could be.

CHICAGO -- Depending on whom you talk to, workforce management tools might revolutionize your contact center or save it from being outsourced.

Either way, applying new workforce management capabilities promises big things, according to two presenters at the International Call Center Management conference.

Workforce management software automates scheduling in the contact center by evaluating call volume patterns, setting employee shifts and tracking customer service reps' performance.

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"The impact of agent self-service is changing our world like never before," said Daryl Gonos, senior partner with The Workforce Management Group Inc. in Delray Beach, Fla. "It's going to do for workforce managers what ATMs did for banking."

Tools that allow the agents themselves to access and adjust their schedules based on organizational rules lead to big savings, he said.

"Think about how many times an agent walks up and says 'how much sick time do I have?'" Gonos asked a room full of nodding heads.

By his estimation, workforce management tools can cut in half the time that a contact center manager has to spend on scheduling.

Advances in technology provide a compelling case, Gonos said. Agents who handle their own requests for shift swaps and days off or measure vacation accrual through a Web browser free up management from paperwork. Managers can then spend the time analyzing their contact center's operation. Advanced systems allow organizations to build in their own rules for regularly scheduled breaks or required overtime, he said.

Workforce management tools also create standards and processes that may not have been in place or previously had been loosely enforced. For example, with a workforce management system, a supervisor cannot give a different answer to an employee asking for sick time than another.

Additionally, the tools create an audit trail of work, increase agents' morale by giving them more control and help rein in IT budgets, Gonos said. These systems are seldom plagued by user adoption issues. After all, he said, just about everyone knows how to search the Internet.

Also, contact centers do need to keep in mind potential security risks. They usually roll out workforce management self-service capabilities in kiosks located within the call center. The critical piece of deploying workforce management tools is to make sure business processes are established and transferred to the tool. Gonos suggested a 45-day pilot period in which a small group of users test the system.

Meanwhile, Bill Durr, chief evangelist for Blue Pumpkin Software Co., in Sunnyvale, Calif., said workforce management can save a center from being outsourced.

"It's a tactical center, if you don't do it better someone else will," he said. "You must become more efficient or you're outsourced. It's simply not enough to put people in the right seat to meet demand. You need to put the people in the right seat at the right time with the right skills."

Durr added that workforce management generates better reports than standard Automated Call Distribution tools, which direct inquiries to specific agents. Workforce management reports can easily identify problem areas such as agent downtime. Management can also identify agents who may need additional training, as well as those who are exceeding expectations.

"People who do this week in and week out mystify me," Durr said. "What is it that keeps them performing? But if you don't start recognizing and rewarding this behavior, they will stop doing it."

All of which sounded great to Gary Tisor, a business development consultant for Blue Cross of California in Thousand Oaks, Calif., a user of workforce management technology from Aspect Communications Corp., in San Jose, Calif. Taking advantage of all these possibilities still remains a ways off, however. For now, Tisor is trying to just get multiple systems integrated.

"That's one of my main struggles," he said. "For now, we're using [workforce management] for forecasting and lunch breaks. We've basically revamped all the systems. This stuff [such as reporting and agent self-service] is for later, but we're very interested in it."

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