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Call center brings it together with WFO

A customer of both Blue Pumpkin and Witness before the merger, Asurion is reaping the rewards of workforce optimization, and it's not just about technology.

When Witness Systems Inc. and Blue Pumpkin merged in 2005, executives touted the promise of combined quality monitoring and workforce management tools, now known as workforce optimization (WFO), and though one of their mutual customers saw the promise, some skepticism remained.

"There was talk about workforce optimization before the merger, but we had not really gone down the path much," said Loren Dennis, director of workforce management for Asurion Corp., a Nashville, Tenn.-based provider of services for cell phone customers. "Truth be told, it made us nervous. We had seen what happened with workforce management companies that went through mergers."

Now, however, Asurion is seeing the benefits of WFO, though the company hasn't yet deployed all the functionality available from Witness's Impact 360 product. It's not necessarily the technology that's making it work either, according to Dennis.

"Workforce optimization is more around a process deployment than a technology deployment," he said. "The technology piece is extremely beneficial, but it's not completely required."

What WFO has done is bring together multiple departments within the organization's three call centers and roughly 18,000 associates. Asurion provides such services as roadside assistance and lost cell phone insurance. Dennis said that departments within the organization that typically didn't talk to one another now come up with common goals, policies and practices so individuals can work together. @24994

For example, call center managers in charge of the workforce historically had goals around forecasting accuracy, agent's adherence to schedule, and the percentage of time agents spent on the phone. Those goals remain, but now that Asurion has brought together workforce management and quality monitoring, those managers now take into consideration the needs of managers in charge of training as well.

"HR needs a certain amount of time to recruit, floor managers need time to work with and develop teams -- all of those can be at odds with workforce goals we used to have," Dennis said. "Our No. 1 goal now is customer satisfaction. We started talking with departments and, instead of looking at them as enemies, we started looking [at them] as partners."

Now, managers from the floor, HR and workforce meet weekly to go over satisfaction and service levels and to determine strategy.

The WFO system has also had an impact on reporting. Quality monitoring is used to score agents based on a balanced scorecard developed by management. Agents used to be awarded the prime shifts based on their tenure. Now, their performance with customers and satisfaction levels are part of the equation.

"Now, when you give someone a low score, it's not just impacting the quality number, it impacts the bonus and the shift, which in a lot of cases is more important than bonuses at the end of the quarter or month," Dennis said. "Since then, our floor and CSR's are much more focused on the quality of calls."

WFO brings benefits, risks

Asurion has not upgraded to Impact 360 7.7, Witness Systems' second release of its combined product, because it wants to make sure all the bugs are worked out, Dennis said. Although much of the work done around WFO has been process centered, there are some real advantages to having a unified system. Maintenance has been simpler thanks to the fact that Asurion has a single platform to worry about. When something goes wrong, there's only one company to call and one license to worry about. Dennis does caution that a unified platform creates an additional sense of urgency if something goes down. In the past, if there were issues with the quality monitoring tool, the IT department could take a little time to fix it. The same applies to adherences, which aren't mission critical.

"When you start putting all those eggs in one basket, it becomes a higher priority if something goes down," Dennis said.

The combined system also offers the advantage of allowing managers to see call center operations from one system, listening to calls and monitoring adherence without having to switch applications.

"Having a common database where -- when you enter an employee once and it's in the quality, reporting, workforce and e-learning systems and you only have to do it once -- is important," Dennis said. "There is a huge problem in all the contact centers I've ever worked in that you never have the same data."

Merger mania

Consolidation has marked the WFO market for the last couple years, leaving some confusion for call center technology buyers. Consolidation is also leaving its mark on Asurion, which is merging with a competitor in the market, Lockline.

The two operations use almost entirely different technology. Asurion uses Witness, Lockline uses Aspect. Asurion uses Outlook, Lockline uses Lotus.

"The only thing we have in common is Avaya switches," Dennis said. "We're going to go through the whole process of combining technology, and the workforce optimization is definitely a piece. We'll look at contracts -- which can be stopped and which can't. Not only is it a determination between raw dollars and cents, there's also a lot of emotion. Everyone is very happy with the technology."

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