The literal heart of the contact center is its people, namely the contact center agents. They are the ones who enable the customer relationships and in doing so obtain on their employers’ behalf the maximum value from these individuals and organizations. Yet they are the most expensive element: labor represents some 70 percent of operating costs, and meeting their needs accounts for most of the capital expenses.
Therefore managing agents and optimizing agent performance: including scheduling, quality management (QM) and analyzing interactions are keys to contact center and by extension corporate success. Deploying workforce management (WFM), which is focused on scheduling, and workforce optimization (WFO)—which encompasses WFM plus recording, QM and analytics solutions—help make these outcomes happen. Therefore it is critical for organizations to buy the right WFM/WFO products for their particular needs.
Keith Dawson (News - Alert) is principal analyst, Information & Communication TechnologiesFrost & Sullivan. He is a leading contact center authority including having been editor and editorial director of Call Center Magazine. He is also the author of several books including the now-classic Call Center Handbook. TMCnet recently interviewed Keith on buying WFM/WFO solutions.
TMCnet: What the top three elements that contact centers should look for when assessing WFM/WFO solutions, and suppliers?KD: Since the core technologies in WFO have been around for so long (and are very well understood), they are effectively commoditized – in other words, there aren’t that many feature/function differences to be found among various workforce management software systems. With that in mind, there are a couple of things that contact center should be looking at.
First, vendors are often distinguishing themselves based on their services offerings. This can be very important to contact centers, especially as the WFM tools merge into broad based WFO suites. Making sure that a vendor offers a true collaboration and partnership with the center is a big plus, rather than just dropping off the software and leaving you alone until the next upgrade cycle.
Second, I think it's important that WFM be considered in conjunction with the rest of the optimization environment. WFM used to be purchased as a solo product, but increasingly it’s tied closely to the call recording, the switching fabric, the quality system and various pieces of analytic software. It's important to make sure that the vendor you're working either provides a roadmap for tying all those pieces together internally, or has a strong multi-vendor ecosystem established to allow you to integrate existing and future optimization tools together.
Third, WFM may be mature and well-understood, but it still has to evolve to cope with the increasing complexity of the contact center environment. Contact centers looking at new WFM deployments should press their potential vendors on how their tools are going to cope with multi-site, multi-skill, multi-channel situations and ask hard questions about whether their WFM can grow with them as their centers grow in complexity.
TMCnet: When selecting WFO tools should a center go for best-of-breed or all-in-one suites? Discuss the benefits and challenges of both options? What types of uses/situations do each work best in?
KD: There are benefits on both sides of that argument. Niche providers of WFM have generally kept pace with the suite vendors on a feature basis; they have also generally recognized the need to create "virtual suites" or ecosystems of connected vendors that ensure that if you purchase a niche vendor's WFM you're not cut off from integrating that WFM with someone else's call recording or QM. But there is no getting away from the fact that the majority of deployments of WFM are solidly in the hands of the suite vendors.
I don't really see the decision of suite versus niche vendor as one where there's a strong situational use case behind the decision. Instead, it has a lot more to do with who the incumbent vendors are; what the experience level of the internal cc operations managers is like; and sometimes price. It also matters what other systems are being replaced at the same time – if you're putting in new QM at the same time, you're more likely to look to a suite vendor for some sort of overall package.
One thing to note is that WFM tends to be one of the more "sticky" applications – people in centers who learn on one system very often like to retain their experience with that system, and often take it with them when they leave to go to new jobs. There's comparatively less replacement of one WFM with another than there is, say, in call recording. TMCnet: Hosted/SaaS (News - Alert) WFO is emerging as a third choice. Compare this with best-of-breed and suites. For which needs is this method most suitable? Not as suitable?
KD: Yes, hosting has become an important deployment method for some contact center infrastructure segments, especially routing and CRM. But the area of workforce optimization has lagged in this respect. Some vendors are testing the waters with systems that move call recording, analytics and workforce management into the cloud.
A clear majority of respondents are not presently using hosting in any form as a way of deploying their technology infrastructures. The most popular reason for choosing hosting is the beneficial cost structure it delivers: no capital investment and a pay-as-you-go approach to expenses.
It may make sense, at first, to hybridize the technology environment, keeping some core systems on premises, but adding new modules through SaaS. We are not yet at the point where (for the entire package of optimization tools) those criteria stack up neatly and equally between the premises/hosted deployment modes, but we are at the point where centers should be considering hosting in some scenarios based on price, flexibility needed, and the need to provision for dispersed agents.