Five Guidelines for Selecting and Purchasing Workforce Management Tools

By Charles Ciarlo

There are a great many workforce management (WFM) tools on the market place. As you walk the aisles of any call center industry trade show, you will find half a dozen or more WFM vendors offering you a fine range of products and technologies. Based on years of experience in using, designing, and selling these tools here are five important points to aid in the selection process:

1. Understand and prioritize your business objectives: Watch out for sales presentations. Professionals who love talking about the latest bells and whistles of their products are selling to you. Many times, those new features sound fantastic! However, a survey of any IT department quickly reveals a whole lot of software is sitting unused on shelves, as well as the installation of suites for which only a tiny fraction of the features are ever utilized.

Take Microsoft Word, for example. Most of us use it all the time, yet the truth is we only utilize about five percent of its actual features and capabilities. It is the same with WFM. Perhaps, for example, you are being sold a suite that enables you to post schedule changes to a website. However, if your agents don’t have Web browsers at their desks, you can’t make use of that feature and will continue handing out printed schedules. Similarly, what if you are being sold on a WFM suite with multi-site functionality but all your agents are in one location. If you really don’t need that function, why pay more to have it?

The way to get around this problem is to set your business objectives from the outset. What do you really need right now? It must relate closely to solving a specific business situation. Lay out the business objectives carefully then even more carefully give each a level of priority. You may find it helpful to classify them as vital, desirable, and unnecessary.

2. Make sure the vendor can demonstrate how their solution will meet your objectives, operational needs, and specific future needs: Armed with your prioritized business needs, you can approach software selection with confidence. All you really want to buy is software that satisfies the vital items and that meets specific future needs you have identified. If you can obtain software for the same price, which includes the vital items and a few desirables, that may be the best option. If you have to pay more to obtain merely desirable functionality, why bother? Or worse, if a salesman puts on an Oscar-worthy performance extolling the virtues of features you have already labeled as unnecessary, you won’t be swayed by the interest of the moment. This kind of prioritization proves invaluable during the many vendor demos you will experience.

Don’t stop there, take things a stage further. Demand that each of the vendors on your short list actually demonstrate how their solution will meet your objectives and operational needs. This step should be visual, not oral (that is, you want to see it in front of your eyes, not hear yet another dose of vendor promises). The one that can demonstrate the fulfillment of your vital needs at the best price will be the best candidate.

3. Compare prices accurately: To compare prices accurately, ask vendors if their figures include ACD integration, real-time agent adherence, Web access for agents and supervisors, maintenance and support, and training. You’d be amazed how many variables there are in the purchasing of WFM. Price, of course, is a big variable. Some vendors offer for hundreds of thousands of dollars what others make available for much less.

But beyond cost, you also have to know what the price quoted is really buying. Some of the pertinent points to watch out for include:

  • How many seats are covered by the price quoted and how much is it per seat thereafter?
  • What modules are included in the basic price being quoted and how much does it cost for additional modules? The quotes you receive may include all key functions or you may find yourself having to fork out more money for modules that cover real-time adherence, Web-based portals, multi-media blending, and vacation planner.
  • Do I have to pay more for ACD connection, installation, training, and maintenance?
  • What additional costs may be incurred?

4. Seek solutions that can be remotely installed: The days are gone when software deployment must involve a team of five technicians being on site for weeks in order to install an application. Yet some WFM vendors still opt for this approach; this can greatly increase the total cost of ownership. While there are circumstances that merit or demand an onsite presence of more than a day or two, you can save a lot by keeping such visits to a minimum. That’s why it’s best to find a vendor that offers the option of remote deployment. Note that it is also possible to set up the ACD link remotely too.

5. Do your own ROI calculations: You will probably be handed ROI (Return on Investment) worksheets by the various vendors and some may include statistical “adjustments.” It’s easy to be impressed by these, but safer to stick to numbers you can trust – your own. So have your own numbers and see how the various tools and offerings work out under your own ROI model. Base any decision on your own numbers and your own long-term gain, not those of any vendor.

Charles Ciarlo is founder and CEO of Left Bank Solutions, a workforce management software vendor. Ciarlo’s aim is to put the art back into workforce management.

[From Connection Magazine March 2006]