Successful contact centers are reaping the rewards of having a strong workforce planning model.

Workforce planning has always been an important contact center function. A properly designed workforce planning model ensures that organizations have just the right number of agents on board - neither too many nor too few. A finely tuned agent staffing plan ensures customers are well cared for and labor costs are controlled.

Workforce planning in call centers can be a complex task, often executed by a handful of specially trained analysts who actually understand the workforce planning model. However, modern workforce management solutions have simplified the process so that it no longer requires data scientists to execute it. Automation has made workforce planning accessible to all contact center staff by eliminating the need for human judgment and intervention.

Although technology has streamlined the mechanics of workforce planning, there are other variables that still make it a complicated task. We're dealing with people, after all, which adds a measure of unpredictability to the process. Agent and customer expectations and behaviors keep workforce planners on their toes.

As an example, the volatility of the current labor market can throw a monkey wrench into even the strongest staffing plans. Additionally, customer preferences for certain support channels can shift in an instant, which can impact the types of agents companies hire.

These examples point to the need for a flexible workforce planning model that can easily accommodate different business scenarios. And because a staffing model impacts the customer experience and business strategy, having a strong one is more important than ever.

This article will provide some characteristics of "strong" models, discuss the many benefits of having a solid workforce planning model, and provide some tips for making your model even stronger.

What is a workforce planning model?

Let's start by focusing on workforce planning. The primary goal of workforce planning is ensuring an organization has the right people in the right positions at the right time. For a contact center, this means having the right number of agents with the right skills to handle anticipated volume and contact types.

At a more macro level, workforce planning needs to be driven by long-term business strategy. The strategy dictates what types of skills employees will need to help the organization meet its business objectives. Comparing this with current skills helps companies identify gaps in skillsets that need to be addressed.

A workforce planning model is a tool that facilitates workforce planning. Contact centers are very familiar with these models and rely on them to make informed decisions about hiring, scheduling, and training. Technology solutions that run the models range from Excel spreadsheets to sophisticated, AI-powered workforce management software.

Characteristics of a strong workforce planning model

To strengthen their workforce planning models, contact centers should ensure the models have the following characteristics.

  • Aligned with the business strategy. As mentioned, strategy should drive workforce planning. For example, if the company has a goal to shift 60% of their customer service interactions to digital channels within the next three years, contact centers need to incorporate that into their staffing models.
  • Evaluates current vs future needs. Continuing with the example, digital agents need to be able to communicate well in writing, which is a different skill from communicating verbally. When they do the gap analysis of future vs current skills, workforce planners will likely recommend hiring more digitally savvy agents and fewer phone agents.
  • Ability to run different scenarios. The workforce planning model needs to be flexible enough to easily run different scenarios. For example, if the business changes its timeline for digital support adoption or sets a more aggressive goal, the model should easily accommodate that.
  • Regularly reviewed and updated. Creating a workforce planning model isn't a one-time activity - the model needs regular care and feeding to account for changes in forecasted trends. For example, if customers are adopting self-service more rapidly than predicted, the model might need to be updated to reflect a need for fewer agents.

6 benefits of having a strong workforce planning model

Organizations that consistently focus on making their models as strong as possible can expect to realize the following benefits.

Benefit 1 - Aligns the workforce with business goals

This benefit can't be overstated. The ability to achieve business goals is heavily dependent on having the right talent in place. By using a top-down process in which the business strategy drives the staffing model, companies increase the likelihood of achieving their strategic objectives.

Benefit 2 - Optimizes labor costs and service levels

Contact centers are constantly performing a balancing act between labor costs and service levels, between understaffing and overstaffing. A strong workforce planning model can make this balancing act easier and more successful by ensuring contact centers have the right number of agents with the right skills. This, in turn, optimizes CX-related KPIs such as wait times, abandon rates, and first contact resolutions.

Benefit 3 - Encourages employee development

When employees understand their role in helping the business reach its strategic goals, it often increases employee engagement. Engaged agents will put forth more effort, which can include learning new skills. Workforce planning should include a road map for retooling agents, especially ones who are motivated to broaden their skillsets.

Benefit 4 - Improves the agent experience

Being optimally staffed also has positive implications for the agent experience. It means agents will be steadily busy rather than overwhelmed by too many interactions or bored because there isn't enough work. Additionally, because a good workforce planning model factors in skills, an agent is much less likely to be asked to handle contact types they aren't qualified to address. In times of labor shortages and high agent attrition rates, creating a better employee experience is essential.

Benefit 5 - Creates a more efficient employee recruitment process

Due to high agent churn, contact centers typically keep recruiters very busy. A strong staffing model can help streamline the recruitment process by better defining how many new agents are needed and what kinds of skills they should have. When recruiters have this information, they can zero in on the right candidates and eliminate any process inefficiencies.

Benefit 6 - Improves business agility

Successful businesses are able to quickly react to disruptions and minimize their impacts. A strong, flexible workforce planning model allows organizations to quickly adjust staffing when things don't go according to plan. This level of business agility could mean the difference between survival and obsolescence.

Tips for strengthening your contact center's workforce planning model

To maximize the benefits of workforce planning, the model and the process need to be well-designed and agile. Below are some suggestions and best practices for creating a solid workforce planning model.

  • Make it a cross-functional activity. Workforce planning shouldn't be done in a vacuum. In addition to WFM teams, functions such as training and recruiting should be involved to provide input and understand their roles and assigned tasks.
  • Find an executive sponsor. Because workforce planning should be aligned to business strategy, the process should include executive input. Having an executive sponsor will help ensure teams are up to date on strategy changes and that the workforce planning process receives the attention it deserves.
  • Schedule regular reviews. Changes to business strategies and performance, customer behavior, and external conditions create a need to regularly review the workforce planning model. Formally scheduling these reviews on people's calendars several weeks or months out will ensure these reviews happen. Try booking an entire year's worth of reviews all at once.
  • Bake plenty of relevant factors into your model. A workforce planning model that contains a wealth of relevant variables will help ensure it's accurate and that you can run the scenarios you need for planning. Examples of these variables might include:
    • Sales forecasts by product lines
    • Customer service volume forecasts
    • The forecasted mix of agent-assisted vs self-service volume
    • Forecasted volumes by channel
    • Criticality of roles
    • Competition
    • Talent demographics
    • Agent attrition rates
  • Use flexible, AI-powered technology to run your model. Spreadsheets aren’t the right tools for running complex workforce planning models - they require smart solutions that are specifically built for workforce planning. Tools such as NICE WFM Enhanced Strategic Planner (ESP) leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to facilitate more accurate long-term planning. Capabilities include:
    • Automatically evaluates dozens of forecasting algorithms and determines the model with the greatest accuracy
    • Adapts to changing data patterns
    • Advanced interactive visualization
    • “What-if” planning
    • Reverse problem-solve for performance metrics

A strong workforce planning model on a modern platform can help organizations reap the powerful rewards of good, proactive staffing management. Businesses, customers, and employees all win with a flexible, strategy-driven workforce planning process.

To learn how NICE WFM Enhanced Strategic Planner can help your contact center better manage its workforce in a disruptive business environment, download "How to Plan in a Rapidly Changing Environment."

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