If you’ve been in the contact centre space for more than a few hours, you’ve likely heard some version of the unofficial motto “Connecting the right interaction, to the right agent, at the right time.” For the workforce management team, we know that means we need to accurately forecast the interactions, schedule the agents, and real time manage the environment. These elements are the basics of WFM, but for some of us we’re wondering what else there is. What does it take to get to the next level of WFM?

We could look at “right interaction” and go after a stronger phone menu or IVR options. We can better define the interactions as they come into our contact centre and route them appropriately. Or we could focus on “right time”, concentrating on our forecast accuracy and schedule adherence. Making sure we know exactly when the interactions are coming in and what our agents are doing. All of this would clearly help our organisations and provide a benefit, but I believe they miss the mark when we’re looking to take WFM to the next level. Clearly this leaves one last thing to focus on “the right agent”.

How we understand our agents often comes from our KPIs and their metrics. We define our agents as “top producers” or “needs coaching”. We see them through the lens of the organisation, and we understand which agent should get which interaction based upon the impact on the bottom line. This is a fine place to start but it oversimplifies our agents. When we only view our agents from a productivity, performance, and customer experience perspective we miss out on the information that helps our WFM team become best in breed.

To get to the next level of WFM we should be considering the lives, families, needs, and hobbies of the agents as we forecast, schedule, and real time monitor. We should graduate from simply looking at net staffing when approving/denying PTO and begin to consider why someone needs the time off. This isn’t an argument for favouritism or valuing someone’s family reunion over someone else’s yoga class. This is an argument for an understanding that our agent’s ability to perform at work is directly tied to their lives outside of work.

Maybe you understand this, but you still find yourself having to choose who gets time off. In the end, you still feel like you’re picking person X over person Y because they have a better reason. One way to avoid this is by leveraging your WFM platform to give the agents any time off they want if they are willing to pay the cost. Your time off shrinkage could include time off that doesn’t cost the agent anything, time off that costs them X credits from an internal currency, and another bucket that costs them X times 3 credits. The higher your shrinkage goes the higher the cost. This allows you to get out of the business of approving a reunion over a yoga class and instead empowers the agents to decide if their activity is worth the cost.

The key to this working though, is you must have a program that allows them to earn as well as redeem this internal currency. You could consider allowing the agents to earn credits when they sign up for voluntary overtime or voluntary time off. As they build these banks of credits they are then empowered to decide if going to the yoga class is worth 4 credits, when it took 4 VTO hours to earn those credits. When we understand an agent’s performance is tied to their lives outside of work, we need to build policies and leverage technology that empowers them to make more choices.

Changing how we understand “the right agent” should also impact how we build our schedules. Simply because our WFM system wants to build a bunch of part time or split shift schedules doesn’t mean it’s ideal for your environment. We all know that we must balance the agent desires with the business desires. However, we base our agent desires on assumption “everyone wants Mon-Fri 8am-5pm”, but do they really? One way to make sure you are taking the agent’s needs into consideration is to ask them what they need or want.

Pulse surveys are a great way to get that feedback. Small surveys done on a regular basis can help you capture the voice of the employee and respond to them before the small issues become big ones. Sometimes that will mean adjusting if we provide three 12 hour shifts or possibly more split shifts. We cannot build schedules that meet business and agent needs if we don’t even know what the agents need.

Lastly, as WFM professionals we need to be willing to step up and help other leaders in our organisation see agents more complexly. We sit at the crossroads of many teams in our organisations. Interfacing with marketing, operations, human resources, finance, and technology. If we are going to elevate our WFM team by seeing agents as more than just numbers, we will have to make sure others in the organisation are doing the same. We will have to influence those we interact with to understand the agents are bringing their lives into work and their work into their lives. It may require a significant mindset shift for some of our organisations but moving from basic to next level is rarely easy, even though it’s always worth it.

Next level WFM must move from an oversimplification of our agents and begin to seem them complexly. It sees the lives, needs, and communities of our agents and brings them into consideration when we’re forecasting, scheduling, and real time monitoring. This doesn’t mean we let the agents do whatever they want, whenever they want, but it does mean that we lean into a fuller understanding of our workforce and embrace the fact that they are more than “top producers” or “needs coaching”.

Dan Smitley