Maximizing Agent Flexibility and Satisfaction with Intelligent Agent Self-Service

Maximizing Agent Flexibility and Satisfaction with Intelligent Agent Self-Service

By L.S. (Larry) Schwartz, CEO WorkFlex Solutions LLC

As the economy recovers and hiring freezes are lifted, agents who have been dissatisfied with their current employer are packing up their headsets and moving on. Based upon findings from Dimension Data’s 2013/2014 Contact Center Benchmark report, agent attrition is up 26% from the previous year. Perhaps not shocking, but not a good statistic for an industry already plagued with high levels of employee turnover.

Interestingly, people who leave aren’t necessarily looking for more money.

Source: The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Workplace Forecast May 2013

Source: The Society for Human Resource Management
(SHRM) Workplace Forecast May 2013

In an online poll conducted by Reed Global, Britain’s foremost recruiting specialist, 68% of the 4,000 workers surveyed cited a desire to work more flexible hours. 33% of respondents even said that flexibility was more important than more pay. This statistic is further supported in the 2013 Workplace Report produced by Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) where respondents cited flexible work arrangements  as the Number 1 most effective tactic in retaining, recruiting, and rewarding employees.

All of this data is simply confirmation for something workforce management professionals have known all along: there is a direct link between scheduling flexibility (or lack thereof) and employee job satisfaction.

Speaking of flexibility, even in variable scheduling environments, contact center agents need their schedules in advance so they can plan their lives. But this kind of planning requires that they be able to predict their personal needs weeks, sometimes months, before the actual day. Once schedules are released, they’re locked in and committed to hours that may not have met their needs in the first place, let alone as time progresses. So what are an agent’s options to get the scheduling flexibility they need?

  • Option 1: Call In Sick — In many contact centers, it is unfortunate but true that calling in sick is likely the path of least resistance for an agent who has a scheduling conflict. Even in the eyes of high-performing agents, the impact to their attendance score is worth it when they see no other viable alternative to getting time off approval.
  • Option 2: Trade Schedules — Provided the agent can find someone with the same skills to trade with, trading schedules is a good option, especially at contact centers where the process has been automated, thereby eliminating the need for supervisory review and approval. Schedule trades don’t hurt the coverage line since they are by definition capacity- neutral, but in situations where staffing level requirements may have changed, they don’t help it either.
  • Option 3: Submit a Change Request — There is a reason why this option is last. Accommodating an agent’s schedule change requests is one of the LAST things a contact center  supervisor wants to do because of the time it takes to process and the toll it takes on agent perception of fairness. As a result, requesting a schedule change is also one of the LAST things an agent wants to do. By the time their request is reviewed, analyzed and processed, the agent is better off trying to find someone to trade with or…(see Option 1).

An area where we see some additional agent scheduling flexibility today is in initial schedule creation. The reason your workforce management system can support flexible scheduling options at the beginning is because you are working to cover assumed agent requirements based on a fixed forecast of future demand. As long as your agents’ preferences are aligned with these presumed staffing level requirements, it’s relatively easy for a system to incorporate agent preferences into the initial scheduling process.

Add to this the longer time horizon (weeks as opposed to days or hours), and you begin to see why initial schedule generation is a picnic when compared to trying to accommodate agent change requests on an intraday basis, where every schedule change request has to be reviewed and analyzed against changes in customer demand, changes in agent resource availability and changes in operational needs (unplanned  meetings, training, etc.), before it can be approved and processed. To make matters worse, the majority of this analysis and processing is manual and resource-intensive, making it a  challenge to respond to agents in a cost-effective and timely manner. It is no wonder why agent schedule requests tend to be “institutionally discouraged.”

The irony is that while agents are searching for ways to accommodate changes in their personal lives, intraday administrators are also searching for ways to accommodate changes in customer demand. Unfortunately in most organizations, neither party has very much insight into the other’s needs. Today’s change request process is reminiscent of the game “Battleship” where players must guess multiple times before finally landing on their target. Wouldn’t it be better to provide agents with advanced insight into what changes will be approved instead of forcing them to engage in a game of hit or miss?

What if it was possible to create an “intelligent” agent interface capable of determining and displaying all available options to each agent based upon their unique profile and  incorporating the latest forecast and schedule changes? In this intelligent self-service scenario, every extra-hour, time-off, or schedule change request submitted by an agent would benefit the business by increasing capacity where it is needed and/or decreasing it where it is not. In addition to reducing the administrative overhead associated with manual change request management, this process would also reduce the number of intraday staffing changes remaining to be made by workforce administrators to optimize staffing levels.

Giving agents  real-time visibility into current available options

Intelligent Agent Scheduling Screen – Extra Hours

Intelligent Agent Scheduling Screen – Extra Hours

for schedule changes is the key to cracking-the-code to maximizing agent scheduling flexibility. Once in place, intelligent agent self-service can be applied to many agent scheduling challenges including part-time and work-at-home agent schedule management. Intelligent Intraday Automation technology is key to enabling intelligent agent self-service since it’s probably not something you want to attempt to support using manual methodologies and spreadsheets.

Is agent attrition a challenge at your contact center? Is lack of scheduling flexibility one of the reasons your agents leave? Do your agents find it easier to call out sick than to go through the process of submitting a change request only to have it denied? If so, intelligent agent self-service could be the key to truly maximizing agent scheduling flexibility, satisfaction, and retention.

Larry Schwartz is Chairman and CEO of WorkFlex Solutions LLC. He can be reached at 513-257-0215 x101 or at lss@workflexsolutions.com.

About WorkFlex Solutions
WorkFlex Solutions LLC is a software and services company specializing in SaaS-Based Intelligent Intraday Automation Solutions for Call Centers. Our award winning products are designed to easily integrate with existing Workforce Management (WFM), Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) and Performance Management (PM) Systems, enabling call center operators to maximize agent scheduling   flexibility and deliver superior call center performance while reducing workforce administration costs.

WorkFlex deployments span multiple industries including Financial Services, Health Care, Communications, Cable/Sat, Government, and Business Process Outsourcing.

To learn more about WorkFlex Intelligent Intraday Automation, please visit us on our website at www.workflexsolutions.com