Workforce Optimization for the Small to Midsized Contact Center

By Maggie Klenke

One of the most critical elements of running a call center is making the most of personnel resources. This includes hiring the best people, getting the “just right” number of staff in place each half hour, maximizing schedule adherence, and tracking and communicating performance numbers. These workforce optimization (WFO) functions are even more critical in a small to medium-sized center given the higher percentage of impact on service and cost that just one person can make. Unfortunately, many smaller centers assume they’re not a candidate for WFO solutions.

Why Workforce Optimization? The contact center is all about people and processes – the callers, the agents who handle the calls, and the supervisors who manage them. Let’s look at the contact center from the perspective of people and what they want.

  • Callers typically expect the call center to respect their time, solve their problems, handle their inquiries, and treat them as valued assets.
  • Agents want to be treated with respect and with the understanding that they have a life outside of the center. They expect to be provided with the tools and training needed to do a good job, including timely feedback on their performance and ways to improve.
  • Supervisors (and frankly, all levels of management) want a trouble-free day, optional solutions to problems that do develop, easy access to information on how things are going, and a clear indication when it is time for intervention.
  • Executive management wants clients who will recommend the company to their friends, employees who stay with the company, continued growth, and maximized net profitability.

While some of these desires may seem to be in conflict with one another, they must be effectively balanced to ensure the best results. The processes and technologies of WFO can significantly contribute to ensuring that all of the stakeholders get what they want. Some tools that help to deliver WFO include:

  • Workforce Management (WFM) helps to plan for the right number of people with the right skills in the right place at the right time to quickly respond to customer contacts.
  • Quality Monitoring (QM) tools help supervisors to identify training and coaching needs to improve agent performance. This helps agents develop and grow with continuous feedback and improves the customer experience.
  • Agent Desktop Tools give agents all the information they need to help the caller quickly and with quality. These include information about who the caller is, interactions that have taken place in the Interactive Voice Response system (IVR) prior to the customer coming to the agent, account data, key performance indicators (KPIs), and all the tools needed to do a good job.
  • Supervisor Desktop Tools: These tools ensure that the supervisor/manager has the information needed to measure performance, such as reports in real time and historical analysis. They also provide the tools needed to impact behavior such as alerts and coaching/training needs.

Taken together, WFM and agent desktop tools give frontline staff access to scheduling information so they can be more responsible for their own adherence to the plan. This integration also supports an agent’s ability to request shift trades, vacations, and other time off. Combining the QM systems with supervisory desktop tools enables the supervisor to access complete information on agent performance in order to identify training and coaching needs as well as performance excellence to be rewarded.

What Does WFO Deliver? What are some of the potential benefits of implementing a WFO strategy? At the highest level, senior management will better understand contact center metrics reported to them when they can be tied to goals such as revenue and client and employee retention. Callers will have more positive and consistent experiences including shorter wait times and higher first call resolution rates. Agents will take more responsibility for their schedules and behaviors when information is readily available and feedback is consistent.

Additionally, marketing needs to know if campaigns are effective and how prospects are reacting to offerings. Product management needs to know what clients like about current offerings and what features should be on the priority list for future developments.

Obstacles and Options for Smaller Centers: Traditionally, the challenges for smaller organizations with tighter budgets have been significant. The capabilities needed required multiple separate systems, often from separate vendors, including workforce management, quality monitoring, CTI-driven tools, and customized integrations among these systems and others. This was expensive and complex to implement, had long learning curves for the staff, was difficult to support and even to get the integrations working, and the return on investment was not obvious. And even if the ROI was identified, coming up with the resources to handle the implementations and manage the systems ongoing often proved difficult as well.

Today, the options available for small to midsized centers are much more viable. Packaged solutions are available that combine individual capabilities into integrated capabilities in order to meet multiple needs. They combine applications that already work together so no new integrations are needed, which reduces the time required to implement, the cost, and the risks of project failure. The applications come in building blocks so that a center can select those capabilities needed now, knowing they can add the others later without major challenges. The systems are scalable so that they can grow from only a few agents to very many without a “forklift upgrade,” significant retraining, or even downtime as the operation grows. They are typically a lot easier to deploy, administer, and use than ever before.

Newer tools for smaller centers, such as those that are Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)-enabled, are making unified IT environments more affordable. Many smaller centers have multiple locations with just a few people servicing customers in each location, but VoIP technologies make it viable to unify them into a single operation on an affordable basis. That makes it possible to more effectively manage, resulting in operational excellence and standardization of processes and customer experiences.

Summary: Small to midsized centers can utilize tools that will help them maximize their operations and ensure success. With these planning and management tools in hand, these smaller centers can focus on delivering value to clients and their callers, maximizing net profitability, employee retention, and market share. It is not just about efficiency – it’s all about effectiveness.

Maggie Klenke is a founding partner of the Call Center School, a Nashville, Tennessee-based consulting and education company. The company provides a wide range of educational offerings for call center professionals, including traditional classroom courses, Web-based seminars, and self-paced e-learning programs at the manager, supervisor, and frontline staff level. Klenke is the author of Business School Essentials for Call Center Managers, as well as other call center management books. She can be contacted at or 615-812-8411.

[From Connection Magazine March 2008]