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Call center workforce management software the choice for PlumChoice

Managing 465 remote call center agents servicing 102 consumer technology products 365 days a year meant significant scheduling headaches for PlumChoice, but moving from Excel to workforce management (WFM) has made a huge difference.

Managing a workforce of 465 remote agents across the country, serving customers directly from the Web or via a variety of partners, left PlumChoice Inc.'s contact center managers swimming in Excel reports.

So, a month and a half ago, the Billerica, Mass.-based company deployed PerformanceEdge workforce management (WFM) from Aspect Software Inc. For J.D. Lucas, a telecommunications analyst with the company, replacing the previous system, which relied on manual input and Excel spreadsheets, freed up considerable time.

"We had to take all the data we collected and figure out formulas to figure out forecasting. It was difficult, to say the least," Lucas said. "We had a couple issues here and there, but for the most part it was very time-consuming. A lot of personnel resources were dedicated to staffing, there were issues with breaks and dynamic call volume."

PlumChoice provides remote technical support for personal computers, home audio-video systems and hardware such as printers, mp3 players, mobile devices and networking equipment. In fact, according to Richard Surace, senior vice president of operations, the company supports 17 hardware platforms.

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Customers seeking technical support help come to PlumChoice via its own website or via micro-sites the company operates for clients like big-box retail stores and other consumer technology vendors. For example, it's behind  

Still, an average interaction can run anywhere from 12 to 43 minutes.

"It gets difficult with that many agents on that many time requirements," Lucas said. "Some are 24/7, some are nine to midnight. Figuring out which teams to staff, what their current skill sets are, and figuring out scheduling was a nightmare."

PlumChoice is not alone. More companies are turning to workforce management software to manage their contact center staffing. In fact, recent research from Boston-based AMR Research Inc. suggests that manual workforce management processes are no longer effective once a contact center climbs above 60 agents. Contact center managers surveyed by the firm said that once there were more than 60 agents, managing the operation using Excel spreadsheets, ad hoc training and quality monitoring left them spending too much time juggling schedules and not enough time managing employees.

PlumChoice executives added that their commitment to remote agents has made its contact center operations simpler. They can recruit nationally, and agents are happier working from home.

"Remote is so much easier," said Jon Helin, director of operations. "The supervisors are also at home. By 2010, remote agents will be 50% to 60% of the market."

PlumChoice is also heavily invested in recording and quality monitoring. Because agents need access to a customer's home computer, the company records everything, including keystrokes, Surace said. The company uses Aspect for monitoring, call coaching and whispering.

PlumChoice's own measurements seem to demonstrate that the company's approach is working. It realizes a 90% first time fix (or first call resolution) and 95% customer satisfaction, Surace said. Every customer receives the option of completing a customer feedback form after a support call, asking them to give their net promoter score and answer three other questions. The company receives a better than 47% response rate, he added.

PlumChoice's goal, Surace said, is to help customers frustrated with multiple technology problems across multiple software, hardware and networking platforms, with each vendor blaming the other for any problems. Eventually that will extend across PCs to printers to mobile devices to Internet service providers to home audio-video equipment.

"It's about the user experience," Surace said. "You want to go on with your life.

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