In today’s digital world, the old ways of managing a contact centre workforce no longer suffice. With customers demanding—and receiving—multiple ways to interact with their service providers, contact centres have started to rethink the concept of what work is and how it is assigned.

But even as contact centres embrace digital channels for customer service, many of them have responded with a siloed approach, organising contact centre operations into separate teams—one team that works the phone, another that works chats, another that focuses solely on Facebook, and so on—but continuing to calculate staffing requirements much like they did with a single channel. 

In this evolving environment, traditional workforce management (WFM) processes are creating silos of inaccurate data that get in the way of the organisation’s ability to forecast, plan, and manage their contact centre teams effectively. Here’s what you need to know to break down data silos and ensure that your workforce management processes are digital-ready.

The nature of work has changed 

The pandemic transformed employee and consumer behaviors across generations, making newly tech-savvy Gen Xand Boomers just as likely as their younger counterparts to use asynchronous channels like chat or text at work. This comfort with digital communications spilled over into their personal lives as well. Older generations are following suit of Gen Z, switching from phonecalls to social media and other asynchronous channels to reach out to companies. 

At the same time, employees of all ages who became accustomed to working remotely during  the pandemic era now expect to continue to work on a hybrid model. And this comes with the expectation to manage their work-life balance. This has amped up the pressure on contact centres to find ways to offer schedule flexibility while meeting evolving customer expectations for service.

Digital has broken long-standing workforce management paradigms 

The WFM paradigms that worked just fine in the phone-centric world of customer service are now creating silos of inaccurate data in today’s digital world. With nearly three-quarters (72%) of organisations’ customer interactions now digital, organisations must rethink long-standing assumptions. Especially those that have long guided how they forecast, plan, and manage their contact centre teams effectively. 

Among the changes affecting WFM: 

  • Work items can no longer be assumed to be synchronous. The proliferation of digital channels is increasing the volume of long asynchronous interactions. Work items like Facebook posts or messaging can span several intervals, with a lag between an outgoing response and an incoming one; when WFM platforms assume synchronous, immediate resolution, it’s hard to plan effectively. 
  • Average handle time (AHT) is often longer than the planning interval. Traditional WFM solutions operate well when AHT is shorter than the planning interval. But things break down very quickly when that’s not the case. For example, when it takes three hours to complete a work item, but the planning interval is 15 minutes. Traditional WFM solutions don’t know how to handle the extra time and often force it all into a single interval, skewing staffing requirements.
  • Work items are no longer processed by a single employee. Traditional WFM solutions fail to account for work started by one agent is later queued and resumed by another employee. For example with asynchronous deferrable work like email.
  • Employees are overworked at one time. Multiple concurrency affects data, and all of its interpretative calculations. This has an impact on scheduling and intraday management. 

How workforce management must adapt 

Relying on yesterday’s workforce management paradigms creates silos of inaccurate data in an increasingly digital world. By embracing a new way of thinking about workforce management, you can position your organisation to unlock new data insights. This’ll ensure that you’re delivering the service your customers expect. 

Here’s how to ensure that your WFM processes are digital-ready: 

Stop waiting until a contact has ended to report activity

Most platforms wait until a work item is completed before reporting any data out to the end user. But when work is asynchronous in nature, or is continuous but spans multiple intervals, it forces a siloing of omnichannel operations from the contact centre and the back office. This is because the data needs of each are so different. 

Start reporting when activity occurs, and report when a contact becomes active again. This will allow WFM teams to plan and forecast based on patterns of interval-specific activity. Not just the number of contacts and the interval in which a contact ends. 

Normalise work planning and scheduling to the smallest planning interval

Take longer asynchronous work, standardise the time it takes to handle an interaction, and use this standard time per interaction to forecast call volume and schedule agents. Doing so will give you greater insight into service-level performance. 

  • Deconstruct contacts that span intervals into activity-based work history. Ensure that the amount of agent time that is applied to the contact is reported in the interval in which it occurred. This will require dividing contacts into the amount of time (activity of a contact) and number of contacts that were worked in each interval. This allows you to determine accurate interval staffing requirements, with forecasts, staffing requirements, and schedules driven by patterns of interval-specific activity.
  • Ensure that schedules cover both work item-based and activity-based staffing requirements. Workforce management is in the midst of a transition from being call- or work-item-based to being activity-based. By looking at not only how many work items are being received but also how many work items become active each interval, you can translate every work item into the activity required to complete it. This gives you the ability to generate activity-based staffing requirements. 

The nature of work in the contact centre has changed, and there’s no going back. To ensure digital readiness, contact centres must abandon outdated approaches to WFM to break down data silos and deliver the experience customers expect in today’s digital world. 

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