Applying WFM to Outbound Telephony
Updated: Feb 7, 2022
Many articles and case studies are published about the benefits of a sound Workforce Management solution in all contact center types, including outbound contact centers and with the improvements in technology and the shift from 'calls' to 'interactions', this has made it easier for systems to adapt and easily classify the contact/lead on the dialler as an interaction, which allows the WFM software to forecast for it.
However, in my experience, there is often a misguided approach of trying to implement WFM based on an 'inbound template', by simply stating outbound calls as 'incoming workload' and trying to forecast in this manner.
The reality is, the outbound call volumes are only a reflection of agent behavior - it is a view of what they did, and by using this as the baseline for the forecast, staffing requirements become skewed, workload volumes don't match, and schedules are not aligned - staff then reject the WFM plan, and the implementation fails.
To overcome these challenges, the WFM team must understand that each campaign, each channel, each product type must be treated as its own with its own unique workload and its own handle times and find the best way possible to improve the productivity of the contact center which does not necessarily mean 'provide schedules'.
Here's how I applied WFM in an outbound environment:
First, understand the business - create a map of each department, their campaigns, their product, and their customer type (target market).
Second, understand the call flow - conduct time studies to segment each step of the call, how long it takes for the agent to navigate the system based on the product they are selling, and any wrap-up or admin work required afterward.
Third, understand the campaign/marketing plan - get sight of the marketing strategies, campaign rules (how many times are contacts/leads recycled, etc.), campaign lifecycle, business sales targets, and the average revenue per closed sale.
Fourth, analyze the current workforce stats - the total talk time, calls per agent, conversions, closings, time usage and management, productivity, occupancy, and utilization stats.
By understanding the various product and customer types, we can apply a specific handle time to specific teams in the outbound contact center, an example: selling an 'add-on' benefit to existing customers. These calls will be shorter than those of the actual product being sold, so taking an AHT for the entire department may not work. Instead, it will have to be broken down by team or 'product type'. Another example is the customer type; if your target market is individuals above the age of 60, they will spend more time on the phone as they feel more comfortable 'speaking to a human' compared to the younger generation that prefers online electronic interaction.
The time studies point out some crucial factors, the most important one being that you absolutely cannot use a total AHT when calculating staffing. Whether its cold data or hot data, an outbound agent's AHT will not be accurate as some customers would want a call back at a different time, are driving at that moment, or get halfway through the call and realize they don't have all the information available to complete the sale. To determine the correct staffing, each call segment should be categorized and matched back to the performance of the type of campaign being run - therefore it is vital to understand the marketing plan.
Knowing exactly how the department is set up will reveal overflow or multi-skilling opportunities between the teams. It will reveal if a ring-fenced team is actually causing your business harm by being either over or understaffed, and depending on the 'best time to sell' data, you can use your resources on multiple campaigns throughout the day.
Putting all these together highlighted two vital statistics for me: 1) The percentage gap between how many sales can be produced and how many are actually produced, 2) Why there is a gap, and what can I focus on to close that gap.
In my case study, I found the overall opportunity to increase performance was 12%, which increased the potential number of sales by 9% - an additional 38 sales per day! The increase in performance was an amount of 'workable time' that was being lost due to a number of things, like processes, structure, design of the department, lack of skilling options, etc., which all came to light while analyzing after collecting all the data. Each identified problem had an impact on 'workable time', and by resolving the ones we could, it increased the 'workable time' which increased productivity, as well as helped put an accurate staffing cost to each campaign - business now had sight of the cost of generating the contact/lead and the amount of time spent working that lead, related back to a staffing cost.
For me, WFM in an outbound contact center is focused around WFM Analytics - knowing the true output capacity of the contact center with the performance of the campaigns being run and matching the two in a way that focuses on the business goals.