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Workforce management applications have changed for the better

Donna Fluss explains how a big shift in WFM applications can help solve new contact center challenges.

After more than 30 years, there are now more workforce management (WFM) offerings available than ever before, and they vary greatly in their complexity, ease of use, functionality, accuracy and a great deal more.

Contact centers of all sizes can now find a WFM package that meets their needs, although they will still have to make trade-offs because the perfect contact center WFM system does not yet exist.

WFM tools are used by contact center managers to forecast inbound and outbound volumes and then schedule the right number of agents to respond to the interactions within a service level. These applications are among the most important productivity tools used in contact centers. For instance, my firm, DMG Consulting, encourages all multisite, multichannel contact centers that have more than 25 agents to use a WFM application.

Workforce management tools are also considered mission-critical in many operating environments because they are essential for effective agent management.  However the complexity of many of the earlier WFM tools caused the adoption of WFM to be slower than it should have been.

But this is finally starting to change due to a major shift in WFM applications.

Now that many WFM products are available in the cloud, they're a lot easier to acquire and implement. Just as importantly, contact center managers can try an application and, if they don't like it, easily cancel their contract and move on to something else. The cloud is helping to change the dynamics of the WFM IT sector because it has made this essential application more accessible and cost-effective for contact centers of all sizes.

Changing employee attitudes call for workforce management

Changes in the contact center workforce are also increasing the need for WFM solutions. As younger workers -- known as "Millennials," or members of Generation Y -- enter the contact center workforce, they are altering the well-established workplace structure.

Millennials are very different from Boomers or Generation X. They have different expectations of their employers and what they are willing to give of themselves to their jobs. They are highly protective of their work-life balance and are not willing to sacrifice their personal lives for their organization.

It was never a good idea to ask agents to constantly alter their schedules to meet the changing needs of the organization (unless they were a flex team), but this scenario was surprisingly common. In the past, employees made some effort to accommodate these requests -- but no more.

Millennials do not see the benefit of sacrificing personal commitments for companies that are not committed to them. As a result, WFM software has become a requirement that enables contact centers to find a balance between their need to optimize departmental performance and their staff's need to prioritize their personal lives.

This means that if you have not updated your WFM tools in the past three years, it's time to invest in a couple of really important modules.

This includes a scheduling functionality that allows the prioritizing of agent preferences over department optimization; self-service capabilities that allow agents to pick their own schedules, request vacation time and swap work hours; and the ability to approve the changes on an automated basis.

If you're satisfied with your current WFM system and vendor, then it makes sense to upgrade to a newer release that has these advanced features, if available. However, if a new and improved release is not available, or if upgrading is equivalent to installing a new solution, or if it's too expensive, then it's a good idea to take a fresh look at the market competitors.

WFM applications make memorable contributions

Although WFM tools are important productivity tools, they are also essential for providing an outstanding customer experience. Without them, contact center managers cannot know how many agents they need for responding to interactions on a timely basis (or within the service level).

In the past, these applications were so complex that it was not worth the effort to implement them unless you had hundreds of agents. The new generation of WFM tools, however, places a major emphasis on ease of use. So, if you haven't taken a look at these applications in the past three years, we strongly encourage you to do so now.

The right WFM package will reduce your operating costs and improve your service quality. It will greatly simplify managing the contact center while reducing staff attrition.

To learn more about the new generation of contact center WFM tools, see DMG's 2012 - 2013 Contact Center Workforce Management Market Report at www.dmgconsult.com.

Donna Fluss is the founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, the leading provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting.

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