What is contact centre WFO (workforce optimisation)?

By Mike BanbrookSeptember 1, 2023

What if someone told you that businesses have a lot in common with the human body – you'd probably wonder where they were going. But just like how our bodies are made up of many different biological systems all working together to enable us to function every day, businesses too are comprised of different functions and core processes that are designed to yield commercial output.

As human beings, we might aim to improve the efficiency of our bodily systems and processes by engaging in a fitness regime, but in business, we call this workforce optimisation.

Employee efficiency is at the core of workforce optimisation, which means companies must continuously evaluate and streamline their processes in a way that ensures workforces are empowered to always perform at their best.

Workforce optimisation: what it is and what are the objectives?

The goal of workforce optimisation is to ultimately drive revenue and build a more competitive organisation by improving the productivity and efficiency of employees. While in every organisation there will be opportunities to improve the efficiency and productivity of staff by eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy which hampers progress, much of what it takes to optimise the workforce is rooted in technology.

A workforce optimisation strategy led by technology can enable businesses to solve problems faster, improve compliance mechanisms, and speed up everyday tasks and processes through automation. Tech-enabled workforce optimisation also helps companies to meet customer expectations in a more accurate and timely manner – such as having access to reporting and analytics tools and gaining greater visibility over key data. In the contact centre industry, studies have shown almost a third (30%) of contact centre leaders don't believe they have the tools to help agents deliver excellent customer experiences.

Today, workforce optimisation shouldn't be considered a ‘nice to have’ technique for optimising costs or simply delivering an uplift to the bottom line. Instead, it should be thought of as a ‘must have’ part of your business strategy to survive in a competitive landscape where efficiency can make the difference between success and failure.

Nowhere is this more important than in contact centre environments which play a huge role in customer experiences, satisfaction, and retention. After all, consumers today place so much value on their experiences with brands that they’re always ready and willing to move around in a market awash with choice, even if it means paying more.

The importance of workforce optimisation in the contact centre

The performance and productivity of a contact centre often come down to how well it manages the two key variables of call volumes and average handling times which, in turn, impacts customers’ experiences and the costs of operating. For example, extended waiting times caused by high call volumes and agents taking too long to resolve queries can have a direct effect on your customer satisfaction rating. Having effective deflection strategies, automated QA processes, digital shit and optimised staffing levels can make all the difference.

While high call volumes and extended average handling times will also increase the costs of running your contact centre, team morale and productivity are also negatively impacted when agents struggle under the pressure of heavy workloads. In fact, best practice businesses have around 70%+ engaged employees to ensure a sustained competitive advantage.

Failing to deliver calls to the right outcome the first time is another huge factor that can negatively affect the productivity of your contact centre as well as the experiences your customers have. Not only does this result in the contact centre receiving multiple calls in relation to the same query – unnecessarily increasing call volumes for agents – your customers will also become increasingly frustrated at their inability to access the help or information they need.

Why the IVR is at the heart of workforce optimisation

Unsurprisingly, workforce optimisation in the contact centre usually starts with the IVR system. The capability of your IVR system when it comes to recognising exactly what customers are calling about and helping to deliver resolutions in the fastest time can save your contact centre costs and your customers’ time – improving their overall experiences.

The global cloud contact centre market is anticipated to grow at a 15.3% compound annual growth rate (CAGR), reaching $7.4 billion by 2026. A cloud-based IVR solution like Oration by Convai has the capability to offer resolutions automatically without involving agents at all. This gives agents more time to focus on complex queries and lowering costs while customers benefit from more convenient ways to receive information and support. Targeted banners designed for any number of common queries and shifting conversations to live chat or SMS are just some of the ways Oration can automate interactions to increase your IVR containment rate, therefore supporting workforce optimisation in your contact centre.

IVR-driven workforce optimisation is also greatly enhanced by speech recognition technologies which make it possible to intelligently route customers to any number of outcomes by automatically identifying their precise reason for a call from their own natural language. For example, with Oration, instead of your customers being greeted with limited DTMF menu options, the software will simply ask your customer “how can we help you today?”.

Unlike generalised DTMF menus, AI-powered language interpreter technology will determine the most appropriate call routing option based on the customer's intent. This avoids the common pain point of traditional contact centres which sees callers being routed to the wrong department or agent and transferred elsewhere. Incorrectly routed calls can be a huge drain on your contact centre resources, as well as weighing heavily on your customer satisfaction levels.

Workforce optimisation techniques in the contact centre

In the contact centre environment, workforce optimisation can be delivered through a collection of tech tools and features that all come together to support and enhance the contact centre function. If you're thinking about optimising your contact centre and are considering which tools and features will help you boost the efficiency and productivity of your agents, it's important to understand that workforce optimisation technologies and techniques generally fall into three key categories.

Performance management. Some of the most sophisticated IVR solutions, such as Oration by Convai, offer intuitive dashboards supported by analytics and reporting features that give greater transparency over contact centre activities. For example, contact centre managers will have historical and real-time visibility over performance and quality metrics, such as average handling times and customer satisfaction ratings from post-call surveys.

With this information readily available and easily accessible, contact centre managers can gain a clearer picture of the performance and capabilities of individual agents, so they can identify additional training needs or provide appropriate reward or recognition to high-performing staff. Around 87% of human resource and employee engagement leaders have identified the need to change up their performance management processes. While quickly addressing weaknesses in agents’ knowledge or call performance will drive greater efficiency and result in an improved customer experience, rewarding and recognising high performance is critical to maintaining high levels of motivation and morale for a more productive team overall.

Quality control. One of the best ways to keep on top of the quality of customer experience delivered by your contact centre is to ensure you have the capability to analyse live calls and historical calls. Hearing and analysing exactly how your agents handle queries will give you the best insight into the experiences your customers are having. These types of insights include the type of approaches that make them most satisfied and happy, as well as attitudes that trigger dissatisfaction and frustration within callers.

By monitoring the actual quality of interactions delivered by individual agents beyond what can be provided by key performance metrics, like average handling times and the resolutions achieved, you can quickly address issues or take influence from the most positive calls to drive consistency in the quality of customer service across the board.

Call recordings and transcriptions are critical for monitoring the quality of your customer experience on the phone, offering actionable insights into the behaviours and techniques of your agents when handling different types of customers. For example, advanced AI software can highlight call recordings where agents inadvertently make a bad situation worse, and conversely identify traits and a few clever tactics that successfully turn a negative customer experience into a positive one.

But the question is, how do you know which calls you should listen to, to gain the most valuable insights when it's simply not possible to listen to every call received by your contact centre. The use of full-blown AI technology can mine the data but other technology features such as post-call surveys and sentiment analysis can play a huge role in flagging calls most worth listening to for workforce optimisation.

A post-call survey can be made up of specific questions configured by contact centre management and can be continually adjusted to elicit the most useful and relevant insights for the call type. Importantly, survey data can be used to identify calls driving the highest and lowest levels of customer satisfaction as well as the most common issues affecting customer satisfaction ratings.

Sentiment analysis technology, on the other hand, uses AI to analyse conversations between customers and agents to build a picture of the emotions and feelings of callers, such as whether the sentiment is positive, negative, or neutral.

Ultimately, sentiment analysis in the call centre environment gives call centre managers real-time and historical visibility over the sentiment of callers speaking with agents. This is through an intuitive dashboard that indicates where positive interactions are taking place, and perhaps most importantly, where a conversation may be taking a turn for the worse.

With this type of visibility, call centre managers can offer support where required, or even spot trends that might indicate common issues with customer services techniques, so measures can be put in place to drive improvement or speed up resolutions.

Workforce management. Advanced analytics and reporting capabilities can be incredibly useful to identifying peaks and troughs in call volumes which might inform staffing levels at different times of the day, week, month, or even year, depending upon the seasonality of the business. Going even further, with greater transparency over the type of queries being received and how they may be connected to different times or events, contact centre managers are well-positioned to adjust staffing schedules according to the knowledge and expertise of agents.

Aside from using a more informed and responsive scheduling process as part of your workforce optimisation strategy, cloud technologies, more generally, make it easier and more cost-effective to quickly scale workforces up and down. Take it from the 79% of contact centre leaders who plan to invest in greater artificial intelligence capabilities in the near future.

For example, you’ll only pay for what you use with Oration’s pricing model which is directly linked simply to the number of calls you handle. New team members will have immediate access to all your contact centre technologies without the time and additional costs involved with relying on IT service requests and extending software licences.

Workforce optimisation in the contact centre should never be a one-off project, but instead, part of an ongoing strategy to streamline and automate processes. Keeping on top of the latest technologies and considering how they can be implemented in your contact centre to boost the efficiency of your agents is critical to optimising the workforce for the best customer experiences and ultimately a more competitive business.

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