Balancing Enterprise and Agent Scheduling Needs

In an era where the largest population of employees is pushing an agenda of work/life balance and fairness, contact center managers are struggling to reconcile their scheduling requirements and the needs of their staff. This challenge has gotten the better of contact centers for more than 4 decades. I put it this way because managers can assign whatever schedules they want, but when agents are not happy, they can and will quit. So, while managers often say they have the upper hand in the relationship, this is simply not the case.

Something has to change if contact centers want to retain their employees and achieve the important milestone of being perceived as employers of choice. A new generation of workforce management (WFM) software, which DMG refers to as NewGen WFM (or the "Uberization" of workforce management) finally makes it possible to address the scheduling challenge in a manner that can satisfy both enterprises and their employees.​

​As seen in the figure below, there are five components of this concept:​

  1. Organizations will need to collect transaction volumes, just as they do today. There will be no change in this process.
  2. Using the transaction volumes and any other analysis needed, the WFM administrator will forecast staffing needs. (Keep in mind that this step is much harder than in the past because most contact centers are omni-channel.) This step will be practically the same as it has been for decades.
  3. This is where the process becomes innovative. Once schedule requirements are known, organizations will communicate with their employees about the hours that need to be filled. This is a major departure from what is done today – companies will no longer offer fixed shifts and instead will give their agents great flexibility in selecting the times they want to work, even non-consecutive hours. Employees will "bid" on the hours that they want to work, which is a true game-changer. This means that companies with hard-to-fill shifts can attract the resources needed by increasing the hourly rate (or salary) u​ntil enough people are willing to pick up the hours.
  4. Agents will be allowed to swap hours and days, as long as they have the right skill sets to fill each other's slots. This will motivate agents to pick up additional skills, as it will give them greater schedule flexibility. Very importantly, while management can be involved in this process and can ask to review and approve schedule changes, companies that want to realize the benefits of NewGen WFM will allow the system to do what it's good at – fully automate the process based on pre-defined set of rules, which should get smarter over time as machine learning algorithms are inserted into the process. (Machine learning has not yet entered this world, but DMG expects it to get there in the next few years.)
  5. The last step is an even larger change for organizations, as it requires a new and vastly improved intraday management capability, which DMG refers to as adaptive real-time scheduling. (This will be the topic of a separate blog titled Automating Intraday Management.) The new intraday management modules will be "hyper aware" and "always on." In real time, they will constantly re-optimize the schedule and automate the process of addressing over- and under-staffing.

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Source: DMG Consulting LLC

For the NewGen WFM and adaptive real-time scheduling processes to work, agents will need to be mobile-enabled and responsive to scheduling and change requests. Companies will also need to have a larger pool of fully trained agents to pull from when needed, but the concepts align closely with those of the sharing economy, which people around the world find compelling, even if not perfect. WFM is the most important productivity tool in contact centers, but for it to live up to its promise, it needs to be re-imagined (as does much of what happens in contact centers) as part of the digital transformation.

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