WFM On A Budget
Updated: Feb 7
Most blog posts and articles about WFM usually talk about an ideal world scenario, where WFM is assumed to be integral to the thinking of the C-Suite of an organization. Unfortunately, the reality is that often this is not the case; WFM is sometimes not understood by people outside of planning, scheduling, real-time, forecasting, and the plethora of other areas of expertise that encompass the WFM smorgasbord of skills. This will be especially true once the world comes out the other side of the current crisis, and many businesses around the globe are going to be looking for efficiencies and belt-tightening.
Schedulers are often juggling plates for Real-Time, Forecasters are building budgets of multi-million spends, planners are trying to calculate attrition or come up with magic formulas to account for every possible shrinkage scenario.
So, if you find yourself in a situation where you have a limited budget or headcount for your WFM Function, what are the essential pieces of the jigsaw that you absolutely need to have in your squad, what can they do, and how can you best use the spread of skills at your disposal?
The first things you will need to know from your WFM Team are how many agents you will need, what you need them to do, and when you need them to do it.
This is usually the job of a Forecaster, someone who can analyze data and build a view of the workload you can expect as contacts to be handled on your various channels. The forecaster will require inputs from various parts of the business, so they'll need to be able to manage stakeholders and at the very least be able to source the correct data. Some excel skills will be essential, SQL (even Python) coding is becoming more commonly needed, and if you have a WFM Solution in place, they'll probably need experience with that too. Although they all carry out the same operations, the various WFM systems' look, feel, and functionality takes some getting used to.
A forecast comes in various guises too. Short, medium-, and long-term forecasting are all useful, but for different reasons, someone capable of building one should be competent enough to work with the other scenarios too.
The next thing you will need is someone to develop a schedule plan for the agents. You don’t want them all working when the fewest number of contacts are arriving. A Scheduler or Capacity Planner is the position you need to fill for this work.
Decide on your hours of operation and do some analysis on the expected pattern of call arrivals, identify the peaks and troughs and develop the schedule shell or rotation that is most appropriate. The difficulty is balancing agent needs and work-life balance with the business needs and budgetary constraints. The Capacity Planner will take the Forecastcenter and tell you the most efficient way to staff the contact centre to meet the demand, how many people you need to meet SLAs, and where to deploy them. The Capacity Planner will also let you know how your headcount performs against the requirements and advise when hiring is needed.
Depending on the size of your operation, you may get away with having one Scheduler, but the closer you get to an agent headcount of 250, or more, you might need to think about getting another. If you are planning to lean on your Scheduler for other WFM Functions, not specifically Scheduling, then take this into account too; the more FTE you have in your agent base, the more stretched your Scheduler will become, and eventually something will need to give if they are carrying out other tasks too.
This brings me to the final piece of the jigsaw for this overview. Real-Time. Once you have a forecast and a schedule/capacity plan built on that Forecast, you need to ensure that the agents are sticking to the schedule. This requires monitoring in real-time as the day progresses. The position to fill here is a Real-Time Analyst or Real-Time Manager. They can offer invaluable insights into how a schedule is performing, calculating unplanned shrinkage and integrating the performance of your agents, quality assessments, team huddles, and other off-call/chat/email activities. Allow your real-time person the freedom to get to know the team managers and agents; they will be the decision-makers for on-the-day requests for schedule changes, swaps, and ad-hoc meetings and will be responsible for your KPI performance on an interval, hourly and daily level.
Who to lean on?
If you don’t have a Forecaster, look to your Finance Department, they should have, at the very least, an annual plan broken out per month, which you can use to decipher a plan from the expected spend in the Contact area, you could translate this to the number of FTE the finance department is expecting to have to pay for each month and take it from there. It’s not ideal and will only be a ballpark number, but it’s somewhere to start. Beyond this, you will also need to lean on your Team Managers/Leaders to ensure agents come to work when they are supposed to be and adhere to the intra-day scheduled tasks.
Suppose your budget does cover a forecaster and nothing else. In that case, you can lean on them to create the schedules, but take advantage of your operations team to ensure the schedule meets demand and have them adjust accordingly, create a feedback loop, and continuously improve schedule building and adjustments.
If you can employ both a forecaster and a scheduler, you can have them collaborate and regularly engage with Operations to ensure a more holistic view of the running of your contact center, but you will still need to rely on the Team Managers to continually check and address any schedule deficiencies or non-adherence on the agent side.
When you can cover all three positions outlined above, you will be in an excellent position. Then, if you have the budget for more, you can begin to think about training some people to cover in those positions should someone move on or just to take some of the pressure off the people currently on the team.
A correctly functioning WFM set-up is vital to the success of any contact center. Still, in uncertain times it will be critical that you show the value of each position you propose to fill within your framework for achieving those goals.