Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Workforce Management - is it only for high end call centres?

Looking back at my posts I notice that I've written a lot on speech and self-service, a bit on CRM and a bit on e-mail. I've written nothing, though, on one of the major contact centre application areas of workforce management.

For those not familiar with it, workforce management is primarily about managing staffing levels so that they handle call volumes efficiently. What might appear a straightforward calculation becomes much more complex when call volumes peak and trough dramatically, calls can only be handled by agents with the right skills (in financial services, for example, this is a regulatory requirement) and the workforce (with these multiple skill types) might be spread across several sites and perhaps timezones.

For many call centres (especially the smaller ones that are the majority in Europe) the single largest workforce management tool is Microsoft Excel. This has great advantages in being familiar to most managers, relatively easy to use and a simple tool.

Once you get above 100 seats, or have a high degree of complexity in what your agents are skilled to do, I feel that workforce management tools become essential. As an example, a small stockbroker might have 100 seats. On Monday they need 70 or so of those seats to have trading skills to handle the call volume for market opening. Tuesday needs only 40 seats to have trading skills, but 50 seats need to be have qualified financial planning skills and 30 need to have trade settlement skills. Once you have multiple skilled agents (as in this example) it is good for the business, but it can quickly become very difficult to manage, especially where holiday planning and exceptional events need to be built into shift patterns.

The big players that I've worked with are Calabrio Work Force Management , Genesys Work Force Management and Aspect Workforce Management. What I find quite interesting is that the Aspect and Genesys offerings are traditionally pitched at the very high-end call centre, e.g. not the stockbroker in my example where a few agents handle a very complex possible set of interactions, but more the retail banking model where thousands of agents handle a smaller, though still complex set of interactions. Admittedly this high-end is Aspect and Genesys' heritage and where demand for management tools came from but I'm not sure it's the future, especially once multi-media traffic is added to the traditional voice traffic mix. I suspect that as Genesys has always positioned itself for highly complex call routing in very large centres there is a natural market for Genesys Work Force Management plugged into Genesys CTI. The problem for most European centres is that they are not large enough to need the Genesys scale of solution, but are too complex for a simple switch or a PBX and ACD.

One of the interesting things I've found in my work is that small call centres (especially in the B2B environment) can be highly complex and handling very large value transactions and are not just small call centres for small companies. As an example, I worked with a very large cosmetics firm who managed all their European wholesalers from a 70 seat call centre. That (small) call centre ran over 100 product lines, several $B of business a year and did so in six languages. In terms of European call centres, language is obviously a key agent skill and scheduling the right mix of languages is crucial before any other skill can be considered. It might have been a small call centre but it was highly complex.

One of the things I like about the Cisco Contact Centre Express is that it's restrictions are mostly around scale rather than function and there is the option to buy with built in Workforce Management. As an OEM from Calabrio it has a nice look and feel for the user and avoids a lot of the integration issues that happen for any call centre solution when a 3rd party workforce management application is used. There's a good overview here with some screen shots. Importantly, it addresses a call centre market segment (small but complex) that has traditionally been required to either take an over-engineered solution designed for larger customers or a simpler solution for small users that didn't meet their needs.

1 comment:

Paul said...

There is a Calabrio User Group on LinkedIn.

Here is the link: