The Workforce Management Balancing Act

Co-authored by Donna Fluss President, DMG Consulting LLC and Paul Chance, Senior Product Marketing Manager, NICE

Workforce management (WFM) solutions are the most important and impactful productivity tool in most contact centers, as they are intended to forecast the number of employees needed to handle the anticipated volume of incoming interactions, by channel, and schedule staff with the right skills to handle them. The concept is simple, but the practice is hard, due to conflicting priorities. The challenge is to find a balance between the company's need to optimize resources, which may require them to ask agents to work hours they may not want, and the necessity of giving agents their preferred schedules in order to retain them.

Anyone who manages a contact center knows that there are some scheduling practices that drive agent attrition. The top four are:

  1. Insisting that agents accept certain working hours when they have already indicated they are not available at those times
  2. Changing an agents' schedules too frequently
  3. Giving agents schedules that include weekends and graveyard shifts
  4. Not accommodating short-term or intermittent schedule changes needed to manage work/life balance (school semesters, child care issues, etc.). 

When agents are confronted with these situations, and it happens too often, a polite agent will accept the schedule and immediately look for a new job. A less polite agent will say "no thank you" and quit on the spot. Few employees today are going to change their life to accommodate a job, particularly if there are many similar positions that pay a similar wage.

Managers who appreciate the importance of employees' work/life balance have a much better chance of building a satisfied workforce, but still have to figure out how to staff their contact center cost effectively, even during the hours that people typically don't want to work. Contact center agents, like all employees, want to be treated fairly and with respect. Most employees, including Millennials, are willing to accept an inconvenience for a short period of time, if given advance notice, but they are not willing to change their life for a job. People can be motivated to take on additional responsibilities or hours by using salary arbitrage, first choice of vacation days or a guarantee of their ideal schedule for a year, for example. In other words, giving agent choices and options instead of placing demands on them is a great way to build an engaged and flexible workforce.

This is where the concept of adaptive real-time scheduling, also known as the "uberization" of WFM, fits in. This is a ​new WFM module that is helping to improve agent self-service and engagement by involving them in all aspects of scheduling and allowing them to change hours or shifts easily, all through mobile devices. Contact centers of all sizes will benefit from these solutions, particularly if they are delivered from the cloud. After decades of staffing practices that have failed, it's time to try a new approach. ​ 

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