Can a Flexible Workplace Still Get Things Done?

With a WFM solution, responsive scheduling and service-level achievement can combine with ease

Many contact center leaders will often feel like Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde. Inhabiting one persona, managers strive to make employees happy, adapting to their needs and requests. But then operations feel out of control or metrics drop. In comes another persona, the one focused on Just Getting Things Done, Already!

The oscillation can seem endless. One moment you’re obsessing about workforce engagement, an hour later about service levels. Is this a case of “never the twain shall meet”?

It doesn’t have to be! The right tools can help unify the call center’s split personality and foster an environment that is both employee- and customer-centric.

The Scheduling Problem

Usually, the real issue boils down to scheduling. The employee-friendly manager accepts that agents have lives and, well, stuff happens. A spouse’s job changes. The kids get sick. Or an employee has an opportunity to take a master photography class they’ve always dreamed of, but only if they can switch Saturday with someone.

On the other hand, the metrics-focused manager is trying to do right by the business by maximizing schedule adherence. If this is the right group of agents to have on shift, the manager will try to enforce it. And if breaks are set for 15-minute increments starting at 2 PM, they’ll do their best to make it happen.

We know these two mindsets should reinforce each other. Every contact center wants happy employees who enjoy work/life balance and arrive refreshed each day. Only they can deliver the customer experience that will drive growth and success. A profitable enterprise can then, in turn, reinvest in those employees.

So why do these objectives usually seem to be in competition? Can you say spreadsheet?

The Role of WFM Software

Before we get too down on spreadsheets, let’s acknowledge that they are ideal for many purposes, as accountants will attest. But they’re not the best answer for schedules.

For a long time, contact centers didn’t have other scheduling options. They needed somewhere to do their ARIMA and TES forecasts (auto-regressive integrated moving average and triple exponential smoothing, if you want to flashback to the acronyms). And from those forecasts, schedules were built.

It’s just that spreadsheets aren’t particularly flexible. Use all the macros you want, but it’s still tough to change one agent’s shift and have the right adjustments instantly appear.

WFM software, in contrast, can handle the Murphy’s Law of the contact center. If something can happen, it will—an unforeseen training need will come to light, an employee will call off sick or a marketing email will be sent earlier than expected. With WFM software, though, it’s easy to deal with the unexpected.

With a few clicks, the new reality can be reflected in the system, and the WFM solution will then draw on historical data from the ACS and even CRM integrations (e.g., Salesforce) to create the best-fit, optimal response. New agent shifts, break times, etc., are automatically generated, and the harried on-the-floor manager is back in control.

Agent-Driven Scheduling

WFM software ratchets down managers’ stress levels, but it can also bring a greater sense of self-determination to agents. The best systems allow for managers to establish schedules and then empower employees to sign up for shifts that work for them. “Opting in,” even for something as simple a Friday on the job, can lead to higher morale.

Even if managers take a determinative role by scheduling individual agents, such systems can still help manage the endless array of adjustments. Agents can use the WFM tools to request shift changes, and managers can approve the swaps and revise the shift with minimal effort. The WFM software will perform detailed analysis to “re-optimize” based on agent skills, targeted metrics, and so on.

Suddenly, the challenging fluidity of the call center environment feels less like losing control and more like, well, the everyday.

Harness Flexibility with Engagement

High-quality workforce management software brings two competing interests—employees’ preferences and the company’s targets—into better balance. Still, most contact center leaders find that offering more job flexibility works best as part of an overarching employee engagement strategy. When agents feel a sense of commitment to their positions, in addition to their personal interests, they make more considerate use of expanded scheduling options.

For an in-depth look at how to improve workforce engagement, check out our white paper The Complete Contact Center Guide to Employee Engagement for SMBs. It offers pages full of ideas for fostering workforce engagement, any one of which is worth the time it takes to download.