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Successful workforce management initiative depends on educating contact center agents

Switching from a manual system to workforce management software at one call center left agents worried about their jobs. Communicating changes is a vital step.

The move from a manual, spreadsheet-based workforce management system to software can mean big returns when it comes to efficiencies and adherence. Just be sure to account for the contact center agents who are being managed.

That's a lesson from Monitronics International Inc., a Dallas-based residential alarm monitoring company that launched workforce management software from Melville, N.Y.-based Verint Systems Inc. earlier this year.

"Change is a challenge," said John Mejia, vice president of customer care. "We just started the implementation, and we're changing the culture of workforce management here by looking at real-time adherence."

Monitronics runs a 400-seat contact center at its Dallas headquarters. Agents take calls for customer service, technical support and dealer support. In addition, Monitronics' business requires outbound calls to check in on customers using the alarm service. When an alarm has been triggered -- either for burglary, fire or a medical condition -- for customers across North America, a system alerts the Monitronics call center. The company then has agents call out to its customers to check on them and coordinate with local emergency response if necessary. That means that it is vital to have the contact center appropriately staffed.

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For the past 14 years of its existence, Monitronics had been doing scheduling with manual processes and spreadsheets but decided late last year that it needed to automate the process.

"Obviously, you can only be so good at that when you're working off spreadsheets," Mejia said. "We were using a lot of people to do that, and we still weren't able to keep up."

Monitronics considered a number of vendors, including the IEX workforce monitoring system from NICE (which also runs its call recording software), but ultimately selected the Verint Witness product thanks partly to an intuitive graphical user interface that eased the training process, Mejia said.

Bringing in an automated system raised some concerns with agents in the call center, however.

"The first question I was asked was if this was to reduce people and save on operations costs," Mejia said. "That wasn't our intent. Our intent was to improve on productivity."

To date it has. Idle time was an area that Monitronics targeted early on.

"At one point, I had a total of 5,000 minutes, which is 80-plus hours of people sitting, waiting for a phone call," Mejia said. "I looked and saw the abandonment rate was 10-12%. Manually, you'd say I have to take shifts and move them to peak times by half-hour increments of when we abandoned the most calls. But by going into the workforce system, we put in all that trending of the last three years. Now we look at call volume a week or two in advance and make smaller adjustments on a daily basis."

Monitronics uploaded data in spreadsheets from its Avaya system dating back three years to analyze trends moving forward. The company has calculated that it will get an ROI within nine months, based on agent productivity, supervisor productivity and more efficient use of agents with accurate forecasting, and through more productive schedulers.

"I'm not as reactive as I was before," Mejia said. "Before, I was looking at idle-time minutes after the fact. [The new system has] improved our ability to use our agents a lot more efficiently."

Monitronics is also adapting scheduling based on performance.

Mejia had been through a couple of implementations of workforce management systems at other companies and knew that it was important to keep agents and managers apprised of the reasons for the project and up to date on its progress.

"Obviously, when you're looking at real-time adherence and telling them when the breaks are, there is some discomfort about trying to adapt to that," Mejia said. "You need to address issues as they come up initially, and a lot will."

Monitronics has a customer service agent group within the company, and that group and the CEO made sure to explain the program and that they weren't implementing workforce management to reduce staff.

The company also staggered the implementation to help agents adapt. It stressed the advantages to the agents. For example, agents can now access a Web-based portal to schedule their vacation time and get nearly instant approval. The old system required filling out request forms, submitting them and waiting for an answer. Also, the drop in abandon call rates has meant fewer customers calling in angry because they couldn't get through the last time. First-call resolution has gone up about 3% since the project began, Mejia said.

"You need to understand it is a culture change," he said, "and you do have to involve everyone to a certain degree and let them know exactly what you're doing."

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