Don’t let the words “small” or “medium” fool you. Competently running a small to medium-sized business (SMB) is a daunting task. While the scale of your operations might be negligible when compared to a large corporation, all of the same core business functions must still be managed, but with the added challenge of a smaller workforce and less financial resources at your disposal. What’s true in the macro sense for a SMB as a whole also rings true for these companies’ customer contact centers.
Keeping your contact center operation inhouse comes with a number of challenges that may not be readily apparent and can be difficult to overcome for a SMB focused on its own core offerings. Before the first call can be answered, you need to determine how many agents you need and when they need to be scheduled. Once they start taking calls even more questions arise. Is the call center performing well? Are customers happy? Are agents providing the type of service you want? If not, how do you go about correcting the issues? Simply having a mastery of your company’s products and services is not going to help address these concerns.
It’s these types of scenarios which birthed the industry of quality management (QM), workforce management (WFM) and later the all-encompassing workforce optimization (WFO). These products and services work to ease the burden of contact center administration by providing an integrated set of technology and infrastructure solutions to the needs of a SMB when providing in-house customer service and support to their customers. In addition, WFO software provides myriad reporting and analysis tools to give decision makers the data they need to make the most informed business decisions they possibly can.
Why Do Businesses Choose WFO Software?
Far and away, the top reasons most SMBs choose to go the WFO route are for customer experience and efficiency gains. The phrase “customer experience” encompasses all of the complexities associated with customer interactions. Great customer experiences lead to increased customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. On the other hand, the consequences of creating just one poor customer experience can quickly spiral out of control, even more so in the age of social media and online reviews.
WFO suites are able to prevent or address a number of the issues that lead to poor customer interactions. Whether it’s a lack of agent preparation preventing regular first-call resolutions, understaffing that causes long wait times before calls are answered, or even non-adherence to compliance measures, WFO software can help you discover and resolve these issues before they become pandemics.
With so many factors contributing to success in contact centers—and with performance data coming in from so many teams and systems—it can be a daunting task to identify improvement opportunities or find the root causes of performance concerns. Even then, identifying issues is only the first step. Once they are identified, it can take a great deal of cooperation and teamwork from different teams to implement a successful long-term solution. For SMBs, working with limited resources and staff can increase the difficulty of resolving these concerns.
The Integrated WFO Software Suite
One option SMBs have for their contact center infrastructure is to select and manage multiple business relationships with individual providers for each of the services and functions that their contact center might need, and then lean heavily on internal IT teams to figure out how to integrate all those services to work together. While it’s certainly possible to do so, why would you want to add all of that unneeded complexity? The goal is to make management of the contact center easier, not to shift the burdens to other internal teams. This is the allure of an integrated WFO software suite.
Cable companies in the late ’90s began to offer bundles of cable TV, Internet and home phone service. These bundles were marketed with the promise of one simple bill that is also discounted for bundling and the ease of having one customer service and support team for all of the services. This is very analogous to opting for an integrated WFO software package. You don’t have to choose individual service providers for forecasting and scheduling, call recording, time clock management, coaching and training, and reporting solution—and then deal with a way to figure out how to make their products work together on your own. A modern WFO suite will provide a single solution to all of those business needs with built-in integration to minimize the difficulties of setup.
The integrated WFO solution also adds value after you’re up and running by providing a unified platform for managing the contact center. There’s no need to re-enter the same information over and over, into every system. Simply enter the information one time, and it’s populated into all of your designated systems for all of your departments. This results in less resources being required to manage infrastructure and consequently allowing those same resources to focus on important production and operational tasks. Because everyone is accessing and using the same interfaces, there is improved synergy and understanding between different teams when collaborating. Standardized reporting means it’s easier to get everyone on the management on the same page and share insights.
An important area where WFO software can give you an edge is automated forecasting and scheduling abilities.
Having a completely integrated software suite also frees up your internal IT teams so they can spend time addressing other important issues. When all of your systems are designed to communicate and work together, there is minimal need to waste time figuring out compatibility issues. Maintenance and upgrades—especially with cloud-based WFO solutions—are typically included and can eliminate heavy IT resource burden as well. WFO suites are also designed to be highly versatile and scalable, so they can grow with you as your business needs evolve over time.
Forecasting and Schedules: No More Guesswork!
An important area where WFO software can give you an edge is automated forecasting and scheduling abilities. Using highly complex algorithms, WFO products can create accurate call forecasting based on historical models and other inputs. Accurate forecasting is critical in managing and even reducing production costs. Having your center full of underutilized agents is expensive. Having a great WFO product will allow you to schedule the optimal number of agents for any given time, running at higher utilization rates, and achieving better service levels.
Manually creating agent schedules and individually accommodating schedule requests can be a tall order. Scheduling is another headache for which WFO software can be a bottle of ibuprofen. Using the integrated forecasting models, input from agent requests, and any customizable business rules you predefine, the software will automatically generate optimized schedules. This can greatly improve agent morale and long-term retention rates while reducing attrition and call-outs. The best part however, may be its ability to adapt to changes on the fly, enabling you to quickly react and respond to changes as they occur. Having the right number of the correct agents available to handle the volume of incoming customer interactions is a critical first step toward a high performing contact center.
Reporting and Analysis: What Does the Data Show?
Despite data being a hot topic in the business world for a few years now, it is still a vastly underutilized commodity in the majority of companies. This is particularly true for SMBs who aren’t always sure how to understand or leverage it. This makes the reporting and analysis tools that WFO software brings to the table a real game-changer. WFO products come with many standard reports and visualizations that can provide deeper insight and understanding of your performance. In addition, the software is often highly customizable to allow creation of custom reports for the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are most important to your own organizational goals.
Even more beneficial is the ability to access live, real-time data about the current happenings of your contact center. Being integrated with all of your systems means you’ll always be able to access a top-down view of current performance across all facets of the contact center. When you always know what’s going on—right here, right now—you can quickly identify and respond to performance concerns before they escalate into larger issues.
Quality and Performance Optimization
With the reporting and analysis tools to highlight your successes and shortcomings, the next logical part of integrated WFO suites to discuss is how to overcome those shortcomings when you find them. In addition to high-level reporting that gives you a broad overview of your contact center’s performance, WFO software gives you the power to identify and address issues at the individual customer interaction level. Integrated tools like speech analysis give you the power to identify and learn from trends—like why your customers are calling—without relying on call dispositions that don’t always tell the whole story.
Other tools like agent desktop and voice recording let you identify and share improvement opportunities with agents, supervisors and management. This greatly improves the ability of supervisors to coach agents on these issues and gain the critical buy-in that can motivate agents to be the best they can be. When outstanding performances are found, entire customer interactions can be captured and utilized for training or recognition purposes. Understanding the full scope of interactions can also ensure compliance and adherence to industry specific regulations and disclosures.
WFO performance management software also includes the capability to utilize these recordings for agent evaluations. In addition to customized templates that can be fit to the type of interaction being scored, the integrated nature of the WFO product makes those evaluations easily sharable. In most cases, they can even be sent directly to agent or supervisor desktops for immediate review. Wondering if the coaching was received is a worry of the past as agents can electronically sign-off on understanding after coaching. The ability to receive coaching and instruction on the fly at their workstation means less time spent off the phones, and more time in production making or taking calls.
WFO Can Be the Competitive Advantage for a SMB
As you can see, optimizing your contact center doesn’t have to be a daunting task; with the right workforce optimization suite, you can function with many of the same tools that a large corporation might use. Considering the smaller size of support staff, WFO software can potentially have a greater impact on the SMB than it does on their larger counterparts. The benefits of sophistication, applied to a smaller staff, enables the team to operate with the latest technology and produce enterpriselevel efficiencies. Cloud deployment allows you to acquire these solutions with drastically reduced hardware expenditures and manageable operating expenses. And, as your SMB grows, your WFO solution can grow, too—incrementally, without massive scale upgrades, and at pace with your operational requirements.
Patrick Russell, Product Marketing Manager at inContact, has over 13 years’ experience in the customer/ client relationship industry.