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HR: Why Workforce Management Must Incorporate Scenario Planning


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Multi-skilling has been a hot topic within the contact centre space for some time, as these environments are becoming increasingly complex by handling multi-lingual calls and supporting diverse clients, products, or services. Efficient workforce management dictates that agents in such environments should be cross-trained in multiple skilled activities, in order to increase agent utilisation and improve efficiencies, says Paul Bester, Workforce Optimisation Specialist of specialist contact centre solutions- and services provider, Ocular Technologies.

However, cross-training the entire agent population is often not realistic. But by using a workforce management system that can comprehend and support these multi-skilled agent environments, contact centre performance and profitability can improve, and contact centres can experience the benefits of cross-training some of their agents without having to go through the process with everyone.

At this stage, it is important to understand that there is a difference between an ACD (or dialler or media server) and a workforce planning tool. While some ACDs are able to intelligently route a diversity of calls to multi-skilled agents, to realise any advantage from this, a workforce management system must be in place to intelligently schedule agents to optimally meet routing and skills requirements. Moreover, a workforce management tool must be able to understand and model not only the current routing but also how contacts might be routed to agents in the future, and to model that future environment.

The optimal workforce management tool should allow companies to conduct long-term planning, implement that plan, and make quick intraday staffing adjustments. To do this, the solution must be able to pinpoint current intraday staffing needs as well as make suggestions on the number and types of agents that will be required to meet an organisation’s future goals.

One of the pitfalls of staffing a contact centre is that they generally have significant agent turnover. Therefore the key to successful workforce planning in this high-turnover environment isn’t to model the individual agent, as they may not be around tomorrow, but to rather model the types of agents required. In doing so, a workforce management tool can project the types of agents that are required to meet today and tomorrow’s contact workload.

A tool like Aspect Workforce Management approaches the multi-skill staff problem by dividing the types of contacts into forecast groups and the types of agents into staff groups. The routing logic that links these two groups together is called a routing set.

Tracking the positive contribution that the agents with a certain skill set in the staff groups make on target forecast groups enables analysts to prescribe specific cross-training to up-skill other staff members, effectively multi-skilling the agents. The workforce management tool can also accurately calculate the cost savings achievable through this partial cross-training and utilisation of skills-based routing.

Staff grouping not only allows analysts to define agents’ skills proficiency and set wage rates, but also gives them an overview of staffing levels and any gaps in staffing skill sets, thus pinpointing an optimal staffing solution.

On the other side of the equation, a contact forecast groups enables analysts to forecast the performance and the service levels required to satisfy each type of contact.

These staff groupings allow for easy “what if” experimentation and long range planning by modelling the types of agents and not the actual agents, allowing management to quickly draw more accurate conclusions, and determine the effect of adding or subtracting agents in a particular skill group. Because the effect of staffing changes can be quantified, most of the guesswork is eliminated.

Similarly, staff groups make planning for future staffing easier and more effective, as the groups act as a virtual stand-in that can be used in larger “what if” scenarios. Managers can analyse staffing skills and mixes, plan future hiring strategies, and training plans prepared in advance without having to create “dummy” agents on the system.

There are other approaches to modelling the multi-skill environment that take a less analytical approach, and simply simulate the routing of contacts to the specific, individual agents. In these systems, no staff groups are created and, although the service level anticipated for the contacts is adequate, the staffing information is insufficient to contribute to an analyst determining what needs to be done in a planning situation. Modelling based on individual agents can only tell the analyst that there is an anticipated service level problem; it is unable to evaluate the available scenarios and suggest an optimum solution. This can impact current day and near future planning (such as requesting overtime), intraday changes (someone who is unwell and has to go home), as well as long-term strategic planning (what skill set should I hire next quarter‘)

However, an advanced and analytical multi-skill scheduling system does have its shortcomings. An obvious one is the cost of purchasing the multi-skill, multi-channel contact centre technologies needed to route multi-channel contacts and manage multi-skilled agents. Companies must be certain to evaluate the ROI from the additional technology before making a decision.

Another drawback is the added complexity that is introduced into the workforce management planning when factoring in agent skills. Not only must managers develop and manage intricate skills-based routing sets, but companies must also be prepared to foster an adequate stream of capable agents with the skills necessary to handle the various types of contact forecast groups.

Finally, it is important to point out that a contact centre may already be deriving the maximum level of economies of scale with the current staffing configuration…using fewer agents with multiple skills does not always make it possible to handle more contacts with fewer agents.

Remember, according to the Workforce Management Software Market Report 2000 (Frost and Sullivan): “The overarching purpose of workforce management technology is to put the right staffing resources in the right places at the right times, to produce a quality customer interaction.”

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