Taking WFM out of the Phone age

Understanding the modern-day contact center requires new thinking, and as Workforce Management (WFM) professionals, we cannot stay stuck in the tar pit of our outdated mindsets. Plus, as new channels like social, chat, and the back-office become more critical in terms of agent forecasting, don’t count on your antiquated WFM software to get it right.

If you want to evolve your contact center beyond the quickly receding “phone age,” it is important to understand agent skill groupings and how they must figure into effective planning and staff efficiency.

Most staff planning (forecasting) tools provide “what-if analysis” capabilities that include three variables:

  1. Demand, as in how much work are we going to receive, and how is it going to arrive?
  2. What service level do we want to offer that demand?
  3. How much overhead (shrinkage = meetings, training, absenteeism, adherence violations) do we want to anticipate to make sure we get enough people in the queues to process the transactions within their targeted grade of service?

But did you know that modern workforce management tools offer a fourth and measurable variable?

The Impact of Skill Mix on Staffing Efficiency

In the example below, two algorithms are used to calculate headcount requirements: standard and skill-based. The standard algorithm uses a straight Erlang-C calculation that indicates the required hours and FTE’s based on a single skilled agent population.

Mathematically, Erlang-C terminates in a single queue and will overstate how many agents are required in a multi-skilled agent environment. Cross training the agents to be logged into multiple skills simultaneously creates larger group sizes, and these larger agent groups are able to process transactions much more efficiently than smaller groups. This is one of the significant advantages of deploying multi-skilled agent populations in your contact center.

WFM Agent Staffing

In comparison, the skill-based algorithm calculates the efficiency gain (reduced hours and FTE’s) based upon the mix of skills present within the WFM agent population when this staff plan is created. Analysts are now empowered to add/modify and change skills for multiple agents simultaneously and quickly evaluate if whether adding a particular skill to a group of agents would increase staffing efficiency.

WFM Cluster

In Qfiniti Workforce, this concept is driven by something called Clusters or common sets of skills. Using this concept, a quick skills-based “cluster analysis” reveals that there are only five common sets of skills, or skill clusters among the twelve scheduled activities on the site, as illustrated below:
WFM Clusters

Here’s my advice for all the WFM “Fred Flintstones” out there who are still stuck in the “phone age”:

  1. Recruiting: Clustering and using skill mix is important because of the imperative for a multi-skilled center to understand what skills agents should have and what skills should be considered when recruiting.
  2. Balance: There is often a tendency to create too many unique skill groups, resulting in smaller and smaller agent populations which can undermine the efficiency of larger group sizes and then create challenges relative to forecasting demand into smaller groups. This condition, in turn, places an unnecessary administrative burden on the center analysts. The right solution for your center is a likely balanced approach.
  3. New Thinking: Your WFM application should allow you to add skill mix into your forecasting model while providing the ability to quickly add/change agent’s skills and measure the potential efficiency gains. This balanced, ever-green approach will bring your contact center into the modern age of workforce management.

Roger Lee

Roger Lee, aka Dr. WFO, is an evangelist for Workforce Optimization and influences the strategic direction for our Qfiniti product suite. He brings 20+ years of industry experience managing contact centers, consulting and selling to contact centers. Roger's broad experience, coupled with an infectious passion for customer care, gives him a distinctive perspective that is always valuable. Roger advocates for balance, regularly touting the necessity for equal focus on people, process, and technology throughout all customer service initiatives.

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