Workforce Optimization for Small Call Centers

By Drew Robb

Until recently, workforce optimization was very much the province of mid-sized and large contact centers. Packages cost $100,000 plus and 100 agents or more were required to make them viable. In the past year, analysts revised that number down to about 60 seats. Below that number, they said, manual processes were manageable for forecasting and scheduling.

Interestingly, small contact center managers disagree. Orange County Credit Union (OCCU), for example, has 25 FTEs (full time equivalents) in its inbound call center. Using spreadsheets and manual methods resulted in inefficiency and poor service.

“We were making decisions on staffing levels and agent schedules with our blindfolds on,” said Randy Stolp, Assistant Vice President of Telephone Services at OCCU. “When we understaffed, we failed to meet our service level agreements, and when we overstaffed, we reduced our profitability.”

As OCCU and scores of other small contact centers have discovered, manual processes become unwieldy and inefficient when there are more than 20 agents. With less than 20 agents, it may be possible to get by using spreadsheets to schedule agents and managers walking the floor can monitor the quality of customer service. However, once the call center is over 20 agents, these manual processes fall apart, forcing users to turn to workforce optimization technology for help.

It seems that all workforce management vendors want to talk about their solutions for the call center. They agree that workforce optimization is a necessity for organizations of twenty of more seats. That’s why they are scrambling to meet this new demand. Most are now offering, or are gearing up to offer, products below the six-figure price zone – and in some cases, below $20,000. Envision, for example, has a workforce management application available for about $50,000 for 100 seats. According to a company spokesman, 50 seats is not cost-effective right now as it costs much the same as the 100-seat version. However, the company plans to have a smaller package on the market for 50 seats within a couple of months.

IEX is around $30,000 for 50 seats, with more to pay for additional modules such as adherence, Web-based portals, multi-media blending, and vacation planner. GMT says its pricing for 50 seats works out slightly above the $30,000 range; a module for real-time control costs extra. Symon said that 50 seats cost $55,000; this includes ACD connection, agent browsers, real time adherence, installation, and one year’s maintenance.

Pipkins offers a hosted solution – the application is on a server hosted by Pipkins and the call center pays a monthly fee. This is a good option for highly seasonal traffic where a 20-seat center call center needs to go up to 100 reps for short periods as users only get charged for usage, not licenses. Once call centers get to 100 users or so, it is probably more cost-effective to buy a system. Fifty seats on subscription costs $600 to $700 per month hosted, while to purchase a 50-seat system costs about $75,000.

Probably the least costly of all the offerings is Left Bank Solutions Monet Workforce Management System. For less than $20,000, small contact centers can purchase the entire suite. Maintenance, additional modules, and ACD connection are all included in the price of Monet. Further, it scales up to several hundred seats, at an additional cost of $150 to $200 per seat.

Orange County Credit Union, for example, purchased the product for $17,000 dollars. According to OCCU’s Stolp, that figure included the call center suite, a customized version to manage scheduling and forecasting in OCCU’s seven branches, all the custom coding, installation and one year’s maintenance. Next year, the cost will be $2200 for maintenance, he says.

“We expect to save, at a minimum, the equivalent of one FTE, or $25,000 within the first year after implementing Monet,” said Stolp. “Monet has eliminated the guesswork from our profitability analyses and scheduling, and can help us improve our service levels by at least five percent.”

Drew Robb, a freelance writer, specializes in technology and engineering issues.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2005]