It’s a brave new world for contact centers in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. In May of 2021, Saddletree Research conducted a survey in which researchers found that 97% of North American contact centers have some or all of their workforce working remotely. As global COVID-19 cases are still prevalent, it is likely that a similar trend is occurring in contact centers internationally. These contact centers should have flexible software that can accommodate the needs of the business as well as the needs of the individual agents.
Our customers are telling us that agents are more productive at home than in a centralized contact center. With agents largely working out of their houses, there’s an entirely different dynamic with new priorities for both contact center managers and agents. While traditional workforce management systems will continue to function in this new environment, most will not perform optimally because they were not designed with the flexibility to accommodate the new priorities of the work-from-home virtual contact center and work-from-home agents. The key features below are examples of what will be necessary to support the priorities of the “new normal” for contact centers:
Highly Flexible Scheduling
When agents worked in a centralized contact center, often distant from their homes, there was no option for them to take the kids to school or fix lunch for a live-in grandparent. Working out of the house puts those personal activities within reach — if only they could flex their schedules a bit. Alvaria surveyed over 500 agents recently and found that remote agents are significantly more interested in a flexible work schedule than on-site agents. In the new normal, workforce management systems must be able to support much more flexible agent scheduling than has been necessary traditionally if management wants to ensure high employee job satisfaction of their remote agents.
Maximum Insights for Adherence Alarms
With agents at home, the supervisor loses all the visual cues that enable him or her to understand whether agents are coming in late, leaving early, taking long lunches or any other variance from their official schedule. Adherence alarms are important real-time indicators of deviations from planned activity or schedule. In the new normal, every real-time alarm takes on new importance since it’s the supervisor’s lifeline to keeping employees on-task intra-day. In the new normal, workforce management systems must preserve as much information as possible about the deviations that caused the alarm to better understand whether an event warrants counseling. For example, WFM should save not only the duration in an alarm state but also the time that the agent was out of adherence.
Modern and Intuitive User Interface
With agents working out of the house, they are much more disconnected from their peers. If an agent doesn’t understand how to submit a shift bid, they could lean over and ask a neighbor or a floor supervisor in the traditional contact center. At home, they are largely on their own to solve problems. In the new normal, the importance of a friendly and intuitive WFM user interface becomes paramount, especially for new agents. In Alvaria’s survey, over 85% of remote agents said it was important or very important to have software with a modern desktop to make the agent’s job easier.
As mentioned above, real-time adherence alerts have become the supervisor’s life-line for keeping employees on-task intra-day, but it’s also essential that supervisors and workforce planners be able to look across a span of time to understand trends and recurring patterns of adherence problems. For example, a supervisor would want to know if every Friday afternoon, an employee leaves 40 minutes before the end of his or her shift. That behavior may be tolerable on occasion, but a recurring pattern is worthy of a discussion. In the new normal without visual cues, a robust workforce management system must enable a simple but insightful analysis of historical adherence and productivity events.
True Omnichannel Forecasting and Scheduling
In the post-COVID-19 era, the historical balance of call volumes and agent supply has been upset. With many customers working (or not working) from home, traditional timings of call volume peaks have changed, and new types of service requests have been created. One solution to this problem is to push customers to less real-time channels such as email and chat, but that requires that the WFM solution be able to schedule appropriately skilled agents across channels. In the new normal, workforce management must be able to optimally forecast and schedule the right agents in both voice and digital channel. This is a barrier for many WFM systems that were developed to address primarily voice calls.
Practically overnight, our fundamental assumptions about the agent working environment have changed. Agents are still getting accustomed to both working alone and the challenges of balancing work and personal life from their homes. Workforce planners are reassessing target service levels, acceptable average handle times and adherence tolerances. This new normal can be a “win-win” for agents and for management, but only if the workforce management system has the right features to support this brave new world.