Succeeding in WFM Through Communication
By Nicole Gresham and Domita Latimore, Assurant Solutions
In today’s fast paced world of multi-tasking and self-managing, good communication has become more critical to our success as call center professionals than ever before. Further complicating matters are the difficulties of an increasingly virtual workforce as many call centers seek to collapse their brick and mortar structures and move to virtual environments. According to the summer 2012 SWPP Newsletter, survey results indicated that the two biggest drawbacks of having a virtual workforce management (WFM) Team were decreased availability of WFM staff to their operations teams (38%) and difficulty coordinating with other team members (30%). How can WFM professionals overcome these obstacles and clear the path for more success?
Partnering with Outsource Vendors: The Philosophy
At Assurant Solutions, adopting a philosophy of “Yours + Mine = Ours” has helped to drive the emphasis of our partnership with our outsource vendors. We refer to each other as “partner sites” in all of our dealings. This language helps to promote a culture of transparent communication and peer accountability. Working together as partners has also opened the door for sharing best practices, knowledge, and common goals. Meeting shared goals such as driving decreases to average handle time (AHT) requires that we be open to sharing continuous feedback with each other. Finally, as we succeed together, we take time to recognize accomplishments and celebrate them together.
Methods of Communication
WFM professionals in every industry understand that planning is required for success. With proper planning, execution (intraday) is smoother and more efficient. Results of the planning and execution stages must then be evaluated to identify strengths and opportunities for improving future plans. Depending on the stage in the process, we utilize three primary methods of communication including phone, e-mail, and meetings. We find communication via telephone to be most effective for real-time and intraday management, call allocation changes, emergencies, system/service outages, and escalated issues. E-mail is primarily used for standard communication and delivery of reports. It should be noted that most real-time and intraday updates are also communicated via e-mail.
The planning process which includes forecasting and event and capacity planning, involves regular meetings with outsource partners, Sales team, and Operations. In these meetings we review workload, call drivers, and any initiatives that will involve the use of call center staffing, etc. The audience for regular meetings is made up of varying roles throughout Call Center Operations, such as Quality Assurance, Human Resources, IT, and customer-facing teams. One particular area that is addressed in planning meetings is determining actions
needed to address high and low call volumes due to seasonality. As with most Workforce Planning groups, our strategy is to address changing workloads as efficiently as possible, with minimal hiring and optimal utilization of resources. During our monthly meetings and weekly reviews, we analyze headcount, call volume, and other operational metrics so that we are able to anticipate changes and determine the plan of action to meet service levels and other key performance metrics.
To ensure that service levels are met on shared lines of business, the WFM team manages the intraday (real-time) load balance between sites. During this stage, we rely primarily on phone and e-mail communications. Any changes to “default” allocation settings are communicated in advance, as part of the planning process.
To facilitate better communication in real-time, we had a “bat phone,” or emergency line set up for our partner sites to call. This line rings to all of the WFM team’s phones simultaneously. Our outsource partners call the bat phone throughout the day whenever assistance (allocation adjustments) or updates are needed. Our partners also send regular interval reports via e-mail to the WFM team. These status updates also include any root causes for service level challenges or other concerns. The team reviews the information as it is received and initiates contact with the partners as needed to offer assistance, ask for additional information, etc.
Virtual Workforce Management
Our WFM team spans across the United States. This team is virtually managed and there is minimal face-to-face interaction. In addition to the need for virtual management of internal resources, the local WFM team is responsible for coordinating efforts with outsource partners that are also located in different geographic locations. The method of communication between team members varies depending on the message. However, we use specific tools to ensure consistent effective communication like instant messaging, group chat, biweekly team meetings, and quarterly review meetings as previously stated. It is worth noting that the internal team of Workforce Analysts report to one manager, who is only located in one of the multiple locations. The coaching and development of the Analysts, as well as the overall team relationship is cared for through virtual one-on-one meetings, conference calls, and occasional site visits. Similarly, these methods are also used to maintain proper communication with the Operations team and other departments that are located in different states and/or offices. As a means of measuring our effectiveness, an internal customer satisfaction survey is administered twice each year. Even though we support differing geographical locations (some of which have no physical workforce planning presence), our typical customer satisfaction score is 3.6 out of 4 possible points.
Call Center Relocation
As our organization planned to relocate one of the call centers across the country, we were faced with the challenge of moving call traffic and establishing staffing while maintaining our customers’ confidence that all service metrics would be maintained. We developed a project plan that included which calls would be moved, and where other calls would be handled during the transition. We collaborated with the Operations team to gain buy in and to ensure that all associates, resources, and potential pitfalls were considered. We ramped up communication with our Sales Team, sharing a detailed plan of how calls would be redistributed to outsource partners with no impact to call quality or service levels. We maintained the workload without needing to acquire additional headcount, temporary staffing, or delays in call handling. The transition was completed within the promised timeline and budget. Our senior director indicated that this transition was one of the most successful that he has ever witnessed. Customer and partner feedback indicated that this was an overall successful move that was practically transparent to our client base!
SWPP Members Nicole Gresham and Domita Latimore presented a session on this topic at the 2013 SWPP Annual Conference. They may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.