Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: Make the Transition from Spreadsheets to Workforce Management

By Lori Kyker

Change can be difficult. Often, we resist change even when it will enhance our life or make it easier. We create justifications for our resistance, and over time the justifications become accepted reasons without further analysis. Technology is designed to make our jobs less tedious; however, many contact centers struggle with implementation or full deployment of software designed to automate the forecasting process. For example, many centers find it challenging to transition from using spreadsheets to utilizing a workforce management tool that not only streamlines processes but provides a strong return on investment.

There are four common reasons for reluctance to proceed with process automation:

Internal Productivity Metrics: Centers that have used spreadsheets exclusively may believe that their metrics cannot be integrated with a workforce management tool. While it is more comfortable to continue with something that is known versus trying something unknown, the truth might surprise you. Workforce management solutions are available that offer spreadsheet integration tools to open reports in Microsoft Excel using data from an Oracle database and allow reports to be created and automatically refreshed in the spreadsheet view.

Tools of this nature allow users to upload existing spreadsheets with the formatting already in place and create additional tabs with the background data needed to populate the report. These tabs can be linked to the final report tabs using formulas or VBA (visual basic for applications) scripts. The reports can be set to auto-update with a refresh rate selected by the administrator. Dynamic dates and rolled-up totals are available to help facilitate ease of use by reducing the additional functions that would need to be added to the workbook. Custom metrics – such as average sales, contacts per order, contacts per hour, and average wage – can be integrated into the workforce management system and displayed in the spreadsheet integration tool, rather than manually reporting on them from a separate external system.

Manual reporting processes can be streamlined by a workforce management solution, saving hours of labor to deliver multiple dashboards and reports. Real-time views of performance data allow for actionable results. Real-time KPIs ensure there is no delay in communication of information, and monitoring this data is critical to provide up-to-date feedback.

Once KPIs are delivered and acknowledged, agents can quickly change measured behavior. This is not true in a manual environment, where agents often do not receive their KPIs for weeks or even months later. By communicating real-time KPIs to agent desktops, productivity can be quickly improved, specifically for typical targets such as average hold time, adherence, contacts handled, and any other goal by which agents are measured.

Size of the Center: Size of the center is a consideration when investing in workforce management solutions. While Excel spreadsheets and Erlang calculators are less costly, experts maintain that these tools are ineffective for centers employing more than twenty-five agents, having widely fluctuating call volumes, or for centers with locations across different time zones. There is an increased chance of errors and decreased level of accuracy. Knowing the need to make changes quickly also becomes difficult, if not impossible.

Cost: Management is often conflicted about the value of workforce management software because of implementation and training costs, as well as the perceived return on investment versus benefits realized. Cost is a major consideration in acquisition of workforce management software, with most in-house installations exceeding six figures. One viable alternative to purchasing a full-blown platform is to consider a hosted system. A hosted solution offers many advantages over in-house models:

  • little or no capital investment
  • no risk of major systems failure
  • pay as you go and only for what you need
  • no interruption to business since upgrades can be performed during slow times
  • fast implementation
  • minimal need for in-house IT support
  • rapid adjustment to changing business conditions

In addition, users enjoy the same benefits as in-house installations, and they can experience those benefits before making a decision to purchase an in-house system.

Whether you choose a hosted system or an in-house installation, each choice pays for itself through better staff utilization, reduced administrative costs, and the ability to run “what if” scenarios before making costly changes. Forecasting can be performed for both multi-channel and multi-site environments. Real-time adherence options provide help to ensure that agents are in the right seat at the right time and performing assigned tasks. An unexpected benefit is greater agent empowerment, as workforce management software allows agents to have a degree of control over their schedules. This can have a direct impact on attrition rates, as well as a reduction in supervisory administrative tasks.

Management Buy-in: An additional issue faced by contact center personnel responsible for conveying to management the importance of automating the forecasting system can be the inability to define and articulate how workforce management can improve service levels and increase efficiency. The vernacular of a contact center may not be understood by those who do not work in that environment, and poor communication can result in the failure to justify the need for a workforce management system. An important point to remember is that people buy benefits, not features. Therefore, decision makers need to understand what will be gained by the purchase of a software solution and not simply presented with the features.

Conclusion: Workforce management software can be instrumental in improving a company’s bottom line through improved customer service. Busies and abandon rates are reduced, and target service levels are more easily achieved. An investment in workforce management software in today’s contact center environment is critical to remaining competitive and providing the service customers expect.

Whether you choose a hosted system or an in-house installation, making the right purchasing decision to meet your needs on the front end eliminates the need for future adjustments. Investigate before you buy, and talk to more than one vendor to ensure you are getting the right solution.

Lori Kyker is a senior consultant at Pipkins, Inc., founded in 1983, and a supplier of workforce management software and services to the contact center industry, providing sophisticated forecasting and scheduling technology for both the front and back office. For more information, visit

[From Connection Magazine December 2013]

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