Niagara Falls attracts 30 million tourists every year, but few visitors draw as much attention as Nik Wallenda did. In 2012, he became the first person to make the 1,800-foot trek from one side to another – on a tightrope. A member of the legendary Flying Wallenda family of acrobats and funambulists, he has perfected the physics of balance, positioning his center of mass and increasing his rotational inertia. In his line of work, a single misstep, a poorly timed twitch or an underestimated distance can be fatal.
Even with their feet on the ground, managers often feel that balancing the demands of the contact center is nearly as challenging as walking a tightrope. The slightest shifts in traffic, employee availability or call type can easily upset the processes managers spend hours preparing. Adjusting to these challenges and keeping the operation steady can determine the survival of the organization.
One of the most effective ways to counter this instability is by developing multi-skilled employees. Contact centers around the world recognize the importance of this practice, and 86 percent of managers believe that a multi-skill staffing model is best for their organizations. Multi-skilled employees offer distinct advantages in several areas:
- Increased employee engagement – Employees who perform the same repetitive task every day are more likely to become bored and disengaged, and they are in risk of quitting. Training employees in multiple skills allows them to exercise their minds and manage a mix of tasks, keeping them sharp, attentive and engaged.
- Optimized KPIs – Employees who specialize in specific skills or areas can handle calls more quickly and leave customers more satisfied.
- Scheduling flexibility – When employees can handle a diverse array of customer functions, they may be able to cover extra shifts in case of absent teammates, attrition or traffic increases.
- Enhanced back office – Large back-office teams support front-line customer contacts, but management often ignores the workforce management potential in these employees. Multi-skilled back-office employees can increase efficiency and even rotate or support agents when needed.
Despite this enthusiasm for training employees to specialize in multiple types of calls, media channels and demographics, few organizations are accessing the full power offered by this capability. Many organizations use skill-based routing but make little or no effort to optimize scheduling based on employee skills: 31 percent rely solely on bidding to set schedules.
The difficulty lies in the inherent complexity of scheduling multi-skilled employees. A center may employ the sharpest Excel experts in the world, but no amount of Erlang functions can do the job of scheduling via spreadsheet.
Employees with multiple skills can handle a range of calls, emails, messages and even social media connections, but they are by definition specialized. At times this is valuable: Having someone who speaks a language or is familiar with the technical details of a specific product can save your organization money and time. Rather than training an entire staff with these skills, managers can bring on a smaller group and then use them as generalists when their unique qualifications are not required.
Yet this can also be limiting: Fewer employees able to handle that situation puts the team at risk if there is high traffic in that area or if multiple employees are unavailable to work. Moreover, handling different calls types may take different amounts of time; that is, an agent may require 4 minutes to handle call type A, but only 3 minutes and 10 seconds to handle call type B. Scheduling based on these variations requires advanced algorithms, and determining where an agent will add the most value adds another level of complexity.
The only real way to accomplish this is through modern, complex workforce management technology. Today’s WFM solutions can track and process millions of data points and translate them into insights that optimize efficiency and reflect the reality of a workforce’s capabilities. Forecasting and predictions reach unprecedented accuracy and make scheduling easier than ever. In addition, they empower employees to self-schedule but automatically limit their bidding options to hours that fit with the center’s needs. It serves everyone by empowering and engaging employees and increasing ROI for the organization.
These abilities will only continue to expand as the powers of data science grow, and with every development, balancing today’s complex contact center becomes a little bit easier. In an environment in which most managers already recognize the importance of multi-skilled workers, there’s no reason not to lift it to its fullest potential.