JOHANNESBURG – April 07, 2016 – Mastering the art of workforce management (WFM) within the contact centre environment takes a combination of having the right number of skilled people and supporting resources in the right place at the right time, with the right tools to meet the desired service levels for an accurately forecasted workload. Although not easy, strategic workforce management at its most basic entails knowing where the talent resides, and how to allocate and flex that talent according to business demands. At its most complex, it involves great data, executive stakeholders and most importantly – bravery.

Both current and prospective employees should form part of a company’s strategic workforce mix, meaning that organisational cooperation and input from key areas such as HR, finance, legal, purchasing and ultimately ownership of workforce management technology is required when implementing strategic workforce management. Keeping the balance in WFM is a challenge, however it is a key exercise. Agents should be busy and optimise in efficiency; keeping the time callers have to wait to an acceptable minimum and achieving maximum Right Party Contact (RPC).

Although WFM is still viewed as an administrative role simply tracking staff shifts, call statistics and holidays, it is also important to have sufficient contact centre planning, by carefully balancing the demands of business activities, staff requirements and customers’ service level expectations with efficient staffing levels.  Therefore, it is advisable for workforce programme managers to consider theses steps when exploring workforce management for the contact centre, strategically:

  • Understanding and communicating the business objectives

Establish very clear objectives and targets aligned with the business strategy to create clarity around what the expectations are, and how they can be met and measured. These objectives should filter through to the agents and not just remain at top-level management. This is important as agents can feel more included and understand that their contribution is just as valuable.  This will help with defining future expectations around the talent management strategy, and what the pay-off is in terms of quality, cost, efficiency and risk as it applies to your talent ecosystem.

  • Constantly studying the labour market

A good understanding of the changing trends within the labour market will help you to better understand the length of time it will take to fill a vacancy, the salary you can expect to pay for it, and potential challenges to filling the role – all helping to drive your business strategy.

  • Evaluate your current talent and define future talent demands

As a workforce manager, a close observation of your talent pool will assist in determining how you can transition people into new roles. It will also give you insight into who will or will not fit into the organisation. Establishing business objectives and analysing current talent can help you identify those roles you will need to create, those you will need to phase out, and the optimal timing of that transition.

  • Identifying talent gaps

After analysing the internal talent inventory and understanding the roles necessary for executing the business strategy, you can identify gaps, determine a time frame for closing those gaps, and create specific tactics for closing gaps.

  • Considering how you will construct your strategic workforce plan

Finally, you will need to run scenarios in order to understand how the availability of these critical roles or segments impact the rest of your business plan. Then determine how your workforce plan will be impacted using the collected data.

Effective, strategic workforce management is crucial for the success of any contact centre as it ultimately reduces operating costs and increases profitability, and boosts staff morale, which has a direct impact on the improvement of customer service levels and brand loyalty. Its role is to promote evidence-based and analytical management style, balance operating costs and service levels and gauge the various staff skills. This impacts effectively on forecasting, managing redials and queues, compiling valuable integrated communication strategies, and have seamless recruitment processes and considerate staff working hours.

Although, very few contact centres today have managed to achieve a strategic workforce management programme that encompasses all levels of talent – be it team managers, agents, operational managers and divisional managers – they are making progress in knowing who is in their talent pool through vendor management systems, managed service programs and better visibility in general. Strategic workforce management is a natural next step as programmes mature and lay the framework for contact centres to leverage their most important resource — talent.