WFM Industry Secrets
The WFM industry has been hiding some very big secrets for the past 30 years. Once you learn those secrets, the challenges faced by call centers will suddenly make a lot of sense.
You can tell a great deal about what’s wrong with the WFM industry by the practices WFM vendors are preaching. Examples are easy to find in the articles they write. These article recommend strong adherence policies as the path to improve call center service levels and productivity.
These articles tell us that good adherence is critical to good service levels.
There are strong condemnations of:
– improper adherence goal
– no adherence goal
– or adjusting the schedule to match the actual work performed.
If you are to believe what is written, faltering on adherence goals will lower service levels. However, there is very little truth behind this statement.
The truth about the WFM industry is that higher adherence does not help any call center to keep pace with the demands of callers. Adherence does not reduce wait times nor does it improve service levels. Adherence actually does the reverse. It ensures that the call center limits itself to answering only as many calls as have been forecasted by WFM.
Those forecasts are essentially a three week old misconception of how many calls to expect. Adhering rigidly to a schedule is like driving a car based on what was seen out the window three weeks ago. It’s obviously better to steer using the more timely information that is visible as you drive. So why steer a call center by adhering to three week old predictions?
The WFM schedule is based on the forecast. In most cases, the forecast is an average of the past three weeks of call handling capacity (plus abandons). So high conformance to the schedule is actually conforming to a three week old capacity average. Why should agents and supervisors be discouraged from adjusting to the real activity of the day? What is the benefit of encouraging call centers and their agents to answer the same number of calls in each 15 minute interval as was predicted by the WFM forecast?
Adherence Limits Call Center Capacity for the Purpose of Illusion
Adherence targets ensure that calls are only answered at the rate that the forecast anticipated calls. That will result in high forecast accuracy according to the narrow definition of forecast accuracy that is employed by most WFM solutions. Be aware that most WFM solutions have no concept of how many calls are actually offered each interval. WFM solutions claim to perform offered call forecasting – but they don’t. They actually perform forecasting using answered plus abandoned calls.
The Biggest WFM Secret Has Been Hiding in Plain Sight
Calls arrive in the queue at the rate they are offered. Calls leave the queue at the rate they are answered and abandoned. Answered plus abandoned is not equal to offered. They are actually opposites (to the extent that arriving and leaving are also opposites). This one of the core reasons WFM has always limited your success. It has no idea what demand you are facing — so it forecasts based on your capacity.
Offered calls is a function of callers wanting to be answered. Answered plus abandoned data is limited by a call center’s capacity to answer calls which is in turn limited by its adherence to a schedule. That’s why high adherence produces high forecast accuracy. However, it’s not really forecast accuracy, it’s just an illusion of accuracy.
For thirty years the core function of WFM software has been to
1) Count calls at the rate they can be answered
2) Forecast that calls will arrive at the average rate they were answered in the past
3) Compel agents to adhere to the schedule so that calls can only be answered at the forecasted rate
4) Report an illusory forecast accuracy that ignores any meaningful indicators of demand, wait times, frustration and lost revenue
In short, the primary function of WFM software has always been to manipulate call center data in a way that ignores evolving customer needs, then manipulate call center capacity to create a false impression of accuracy and success.
Service Level Miscalculation
The mis-directions of adherence and forecast accuracy would be more transparent if service levels dropped immediately as a result of implementing WFM. However, many WFM solutions have been kind enough to provide you with daily service level reports that include another form of data manipulation. Consequently, WFM can report that your service levels are far more favorable than you might find if you went directly to your ACD reports.
Many WFM solutions calculate daily service levels as an average of the service level for each interval (without weighting the data for interval call volumes). Thus an interval with 50 calls and a 100% service level gets the same weight as an interval with 500 calls and a 50% service levels. The real service level across those intervals is 54%. The un-weighted service level is 75%.
This is very often the reason that daily service levels appear to jump, the moment a call center adopts a commercial WFM solution. The un-weighted service level is entirely fake and always over-reported. Consequently, call centers see large phantom increases to daily service levels. Phantom improvements to service levels mask serious problems with real service levels, long wait times, customer complaints and the inability of WFM forecasts to respond to any form of growth or change.
High adherence targets actually enhance the phantom service level effect because agents and supervisors are discouraged from responding to real time conditions. When the schedule puts too many agents on the phone, the logical thing to do would be to take some breaks early. Adhering to the schedule reduces productivity but it ensures overstaffing in enough intervals to support high phantom service level effects.
Typically, the most distressed call centers are the ones that are facing strong growth at the same time as they rely heavily on metrics like adherence and forecast accuracy. These measures of success are pure subterfuge. Sadly, most call center managers don’t realize it. Their performance management standard practices have been handed to them by WFM vendors. Consequently, a strong focus on adherence and forecast accuracy has become second nature. Good people, use bad practices, because they want to follow the established standards.
House of Cards
Indeed, without schedule adherence most WFM solutions will quickly fall into disarray. If customers adhere to the schedule, the forecast always comes true and the next forecast always looks like the one before. By cementing forecasts and schedules into unchanging patterns, adherence brings an artificial stability to WFM solutions. This stability makes the WFM solution appear to be working no matter how much the real demand for services have changed. That’s a big problem for growing call centers. Increasing demand and frozen capacity translates into long wait times and the rapid loss of newly acquired customers.
With or Without Adherence
But what happens when call centers stop adhering to the schedule. Does the call center suddenly morph into patterns that satisfy the growing demand?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. The adherence game was created for a reason. You see interval forecast are inherently unstable. As soon as call centers stop adhering to the schedule, the next forecast starts chasing call counts that change frantically from one interval to the next. Adherence stabilizes future call counts around the historical average of answered calls (plus abandons). Without strong adherence, the entire forecasting/scheduling system rapidly decays into chaos. The forecast starts to jump up and down like a pogo stick. The pogo stick patterns are unwise or impossible to schedule to.
It’s not just the illusions that fall apart. If you schedule to a pogo-forecast, you start toggling between far too many and far too few agents on the phone from one interval to the next. Productivity is lost when too many agents are scheduled. Customers are lost when the agents are too few. Some customers are answered instantly during overstaffing. Other customers wait for an eternity during understaffing.
You don’t need to look far to see results like these. Just call your airline or cellular, internet or cable provider. They all use market leading WFM solutions, focus on adherence and forecast accuracy. Their wait times are outrageous and they never improve.
So if you adhere, the illusion of forecast accuracy is preserved but your forecasts can never respond appropriately to growth or change. If you stop adhering everything stops working.
The good news is that there is no longer any reason for call centers to suffer though the harmful effects of the 30 year old WFM secrets.
Even the most distressed call center with the worst wait times, most dissatisfied callers and most fatigued agents can heal themselves overnight just by switching to the one solution that takes a truly modern approach to planning and performance measurement.
Yes. It’s a grand claim but it’s exactly what happens every time a call center switches to Wisdom WFO. And if by some chance it does not happen for you, there is no cost, no lengthy contract and no investment in equipment or software purchase.
Wisdom WFO is fundamentally different from every other WFM solution on the market. You might even call it the UN-WFM solution. The four core differences are as follows:
1) Forecasting is completely real and calculated using second-by-second analysis of network level call details. Interval based forecasts are a thing of the past. Wisdom WFO uses SCO forecasts. SCO is short for system capacity optimization. These forecasts understand the fine nuances of every call and how many agents are needed each interval to sustain a small queue across intervals. SCO forecasts precisely engineer a brief wait time experience for every caller. You get phenomenal improvements to productivity because the queue is never empty. Wait times typically drop 60% to 70% because every caller waits only briefly. These improvements are exactly what you should expect the moment you leave behind forecasts that alter your data to trick you into thinking its always accurate. SCO forecasts are based on the most amazing technology to be found — the truth.
2) Adherence is real and useful. Wisdom WFO provides meaningful measurement of adherence. Agents are allowed to finish their calls and take their break at the appropriate time. Supervisors see a clean, fair representation of how agents are following the guidance of the schedule. The schedule is designed with an understanding of how calls do flow across intervals so adherence enables agents to stay on the phone with callers across intervals and into planned break times. If the queue is empty, or if a call ends close to a break, agents can start their breaks early without penalty. Call centers become more productive. Callers are better serviced. Agents participate in a logical and stress free adherence model.
With Wisdom WFO, call centers are free to undertake healthy variations to the schedule in order to respond to real time demands of callers. Those deviations from the schedule do not corrupt future forecasts because SCO forecasts are based on measurements of historical demand that are completely independent from a call center’s capacity to answer calls. If you are using another WFM solution, you have never experienced this freedom to be productive. It’s awesome.
3) Flawless integration of phone and off phone work. The classic WFM solution tells you to scale your forecast by the percentage of off-phone or outbound work. Then you schedule to an inflated forecast. It does not work. With Wisdom WFO, your SCO forecast remains un-alienated by off-phone workloads. Instead, Wisdom WFO borrows exactly the right number of resources from off-phone groups as is needed to help your inbound phone group satisfy its SCO forecast. The result is perfect coordination between inbound, outbound and paper processing resources. Labor productivity, and service levels will hit levels that you never thought were possible. The effect is instant, the very first day your agents are timed according to a truly modern forecast and schedule.
4) Real multi-channel. Wisdom WFO plans for chat, email and other channels in a manner that you will not find elsewhere. If you need an email forecast Wisdom WFO provides an SCO forecast for email that intricately understands long service levels, carry over effects and any length of handle time. The email forecast is derived from the detailed transactional records of any email response solution. The scheduling engine then coordinates email staff to not only meet email service levels but also to make specific contributions to inbound phone requirements.
The classic WFM solution tells you it is ok to plan for chat with an interval forecast using 30 minute intervals. It’s not. For proof of the inadequacy, just try contacting your internet service provider via chat. Wisdom WFO precisely understands chat concurrency, long handle times and long service levels. The SCO chat forecast is determined from the detailed transactional records of any chat response solution.
Easy to change
While Wisdom WFO may be the opposite of every other WFM solution on the market, the differences make it easier to use. The forecast is automatic. The schedule is automatic. Agents easily conform to the spirit of the schedule so monitoring is straight forward and performance measurement is fair. The user interfaces are very simple because once you start working with a real plan, based on real data, getting real results becomes easy.
Getting real results the easy way is so much better than getting fake results the hard way.
We invite you to explore Wisdom WFO and the real results that you never thought were possible.