Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Understanding Workforce Optimization

I read an article today about workforce optimization, WFO, and was struck by the author’s viewpoint.  Seems she saw WFO encompassing the hiring process in addition to the more traditional performance management and scheduling elements.  This viewpoint, yes, it is valid, is a bit different from the WFO definitions from sources such as Gartner or DMG.  To be honest, I think all of them get it right but none of them has the complete picture.  In fact, the WFO descriptions are beginning to sound a lot like the story of the 6 blind men trying to describe an elephant.

Optimizing a workforce is not a product category as much as it a strategy; a very high level strategy.  In my experience, understanding WFO starts with understanding the 4 pillars that make up the strategy:  Segmentation, Routing, Skills, & Schedules. 

To understand how these 4 pillars intersect one another, let’s walk through a typical interaction. 

An existing customer picks up the phone and dials Acme Widgets about an order not yet received.  Once the caller is identified, the routing engine is engaged to perform a number of tasks.  Looking at the contact history in the CRM system, the customer’s preferences and contact history are retrieved.  In short, the customer gets segmented by the routing engine. 

The routing engine then goes about locating a suitable resource for the customer.  Among the many decision criteria available to the router is a list of skills or attributes about each and every agent.  That list of skills mimics the customer segmentation model and is part of WFO. 

The job of the router is to find the most appropriate match between agent and customer.  Notice I did not say “best available” agent.  Once that agent is located, the call is delivered to the agent and the customer engagement occurs. 

So how did the list of skills come about?  How often are the skill values verified?  How do you know they align with the customer segmentation model?  What about the availability of the agents?  Are you able to forecast volumes at the site level or can you forecast at the activity level?  Can you forecast at the customer segment level?  What role does segmentation play in the overall forecasting model?  Does the scheduling model built on your forecasting model take into account agent skills?  Can your scheduling model dynamically adjust staffing assignments or is it static once published? 

These are all valid WFO questions though sadly, they are too frequently seen as a routing question or a WFM question or a training question.  The fact of the matter is that how you assign, measure and track agent skills has an impact on both WFM and interaction routing.  Performance management tools, KPIs from the ACD and the variety of subjective feedback mechanisms have an impact on the skills measurement process which then has an impact on routing.  A change to the customer segmentation model is not just a change of marketing as it has implications that effect routing strategies and agent skills.  When you affect skills you affect agent training and WFM….and the list goes on.

WFO seems just like the elephant until you step back far enough to see what is really there.  It is very clear to me why WFO is a relatively new category within the contact center market.  Until the various modules in the call center were integrated, it was very hard to really see an elephant not to mention that virtually every company was organizationally structured to reinforce the 4 pillars as being separate services with largely independent objectives. 

Today, the software in the contact center is largely integrated, lots of it is hosted and there really is no reason for the pillars to be silos.  It is time to take that large step back, look at the customer experience process from a much broader perspective and architect the various customer service processes knowing that there is a ripple effect that needs to be embraced.

The agents, the clerks in the stores, the staff at the airport check-in desk and anyone else who comes in contact with customers are the most valuable resources in a business.  WFO is about optimizing their skills and talents and applying those in ways that exceed the customer expectation.  Accomplish that and you will have optimized the workforce.

I’d like to hear your thoughts about WFO.  Please reply to this posting and let me know if your organization operates with the 4 pillars as silos or are they connected through more than a handful of software APIs.

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