Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Talking Workforce Management Trends with InVision Software

August 11, 2009

InVision Software offers workforce management solutions based on its platform InVision Enterprise WFM. Craig R. Shambaugh, vice president of sales at InVision Software North America, kindly responded to a series of questions that Technology Marketing Corporation posed to him on WFM trends and issues.

The online social networking phenomenon stands to radically change the way consumers interact with businesses – and the way businesses interact with each other. For one thing, people will have multiple channels through which they can do business with others – including phone, chat, SMS and e-mail – and in many cases they will be able to use these new channels on an “on-demand” basis. That means call centers have to be prepared to handle this mix of new channels – they must evolve to become true multichannel contact centers.

Patrick Barnard: Can you give some examples of how consumers might interact with businesses, by way of Web 2.0, in the future? Is there any research, any hard statistics, shedding light on how many customer contacts arriving in call centers today are generated by, or originate from social networking sites? Are there any studies measuring or predicting what the impact of Web 2.0 will be on the call center industry in the years to come?  Who is using these new channels – talk about the generational aspect of 2.0 and how call centers can prepare to deliver customer service to gen-Yers – it’s not just about keeping your existing customers but finding ways to attract new ones.

Craig R. Shambaugh:  As the younger generation becomes more important to business they are showing a preference to non traditional forms of communication such as blogs, chats and SMS, so logic follows that successful businesses will establish new communication channels that in turn need to be serviced and managed. There is some interesting market research from DMG Consulting that suggests depending upon the vertical market some verticals such as high technology and retail are already experiencing 2.0 with IM/Chat communications -- and that SMS is anticipated within the next several years. 

Other verticals will follow over the next four years. I have not seen any studies of what impact Web 2.0 will have on the call center industry in terms of volume but we can look at history and take lessons from the emergence of email and Web self-service as accepted forms of communication and the impact they have had on contact centers. The recognition by companies that the new channels are important to the market will drive need to have skilled employees with the proficiency to handle these new forms of communication.

PB: The advent of Web 2.0 – and the multiple new communications channels that come with it – has led to the coining of a new term, “call center 2.0.” Can you explain what “call center 2.0” is and what it means for businesses? What do companies need to do to prepare their call centers for this next stage in the evolution of the Internet?
CS: “Call Center 2.0” is a further expansion of Web 2.0 and the drive to more web based solutions needed to service the call center market. Today for instance, you may find hosted applications for many of the business applications required to operate a call center such as the ACD, WFM, and other applications needed to be successful.

PB: The introduction of these new communications channels means companies will have to train their agents to use them. What are some of the main differences of providing customer service by way of these new channels? What new skills will agents need or what adjustments will they have to make in order to deliver good customer service over each of these channels?
CS: Thinking about skills requires you to think about the form of communication. To respond to emails you may need somebody with not only good typing skills but good grammar and ability to free form responses to questions. The same may go for SMS – the ability to understand the abbreviations and protocol commonly used to communicate in a text session.

PB: Is it better to have agents who are trained to handle specific channels, so they become proficient at them, or is it better to cross-train agents to handle all channels, so that every agent is a “universal agent?” Are there some cases where it is better to have agents dedicated for each channel? What about cases where companies are using legacy applications that are more difficult or complicated to use – should technology proficiency and the age of the systems play a role in how agents are assigned to these new channels?

CS: I believe that multi-skilled employees and the ability to assign multi-activities to an employee throughout a shift will be the key to the successful call center of the future. Unfortunately, this requires new methodologies in WFM applications to correctly forecast and build schedules in this new environment. The reality is that each channel of communication has a different service level expectation that needs to be considered which in turn requires a channel unique algorithm for forecasting requirements and building schedules. 

PB: What are the challenges of scheduling agents in the new world of “call center 2.0?” Call center managers are under intense pressure to maximize agent efficiency -- schedule too many agents for a shift and employees will be sitting around without any contacts coming in -- schedule not enough agents and service levels will be impacted. How can managers ensure that they have the right mix of agents on hand for each shift, in order to handle each contact type, yet still maintain efficiency through proper staffing levels? What tools can they use to forecast the volume of phone calls, Web chats and emails arriving in their centers each day? Are manual systems such as spreadsheets still a viable option?

CS: The need within the “call center 2.0” has never been greater than now and in the future to deploy state of the art workforce management software. WFM software allows the multi-channel environment combined with the multi-skilled/multi-activity employee to be effectively scheduled and monitored to allow a constant adjustment to meet the changing customer demand. Intra-day re-forecasting allows the management team to meet unexpected changes yet maximize employee efficiency. Manually systems are not integrated enough to allow the quick response needed in today’s fast paced environment.

PB: In addition to the fact that call centers must now evolve to become multichannel contact centers, many companies have multiple centers that dispersed across different locations. How can companies ensure that they are meeting service goals for all contact types, across multiple, geographically-dispersed centers?

CS: The ability to handle the “virtual call center” spread across multiple locations in geographically-dispersed centers is key to a good workforce management application. The application needs to be both central and local in nature to allow the need for a “corporate view” to be satisfied yet local enough to allow input and control for daily activities.
This topic will also be explored in detail in the upcoming free webinar, “Building a Multi-Channel Contact Center in the Era of Social Networking,” sponsored by InVision Software and ContactCenterSolutions. The event, scheduled for this Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009, at 2 p.m. Eastern, will focus on benefits and challenges of contact centers in the Web 2.0 era and will present best practices for forecasting and scheduling in a multi-channel contact center.
The event is being co-hosted by leading industry analyst Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting, and Craig Shambaugh, vice president of sales at InVision Software North America. Together they will discuss the importance of these new emerging channels and the year they are expected to become essential to leading verticals such as financial services, retailing, telecommunications, high-tech, travel, government and education.

The webinar will also cover the impact of social networking on contact center operations – as well as best practices for forecasting and scheduling in a multi-channel contact center. Attendees will learn how to do multi-activity scheduling in a multi-channel environment and how to involve and empower agents improving their work/life balance in the era of social networking.
To learn more, or to register for this free webinar, click here.

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Patrick Barnard is a contributing writer for ContactCenterSolutions. To read more of Patrick’s articles, please visit his columnist page.