As part of the 'Aiming for Excellence' event, Sabio hosted 'WFM – Optimised Planning' workshops to guide attendees through a process of thinking about the benefits and pitfalls on the road to optimised planning.
Sabio began the discussion with a presentation on why we need workforce management and the symptoms & issues faced with non-optimised organisations & then asked questions of the attendees about what their experiences were of this type of environment.
Typical issues experienced were:
- Bad schedule fit
- Periods of high availability contrasted with periods of low SL where lots of calls queue
- An inconsistent customer experience
- Low agent morale
- Gambling with SL – the resulting daily SL often achieved or missed as a result of ‘firefighting’ during the periods of call queuing
- High/wasted cost
The discussion then moved onto how to change this environment, to improve both the customer and agent experience whilst providing efficiency savings to the organisation.
The first and biggest obstacle to optimisation was found to be culture, since this dictates what options could be available to improve things. Some attendees commented that with all of their agents on fixed shifts it would be difficult to move to flexible scheduling & others found it hard to recruit part time staff.
Those that could commented that part timers are typically harder to manage, they are more difficult to train / keep skilled, and so were considering moving towards increasing the numbers of full timers instead – potentially putting efficiency at risk but balancing this decision against the quality of the staff being provided.
Paul Wills from Screwfix observed that in environments where attrition is low, attempting to change the culture was a massive task as it would take a long time to phase out old fixed contracts and replace them with new more flexible ones.
For the organisations that did use flexible scheduling, the majority asked for full flexibility from their agents, whilst then ensuring that lates / weekend working were made fair (often tracked on excel rather than in WFM due to lacking functionality in WFM systems). An overview of this functionality in I360 was shown.
Rob Tuck from Thames Water was actively involved in the discussions since they have been through this optimisation process with over 600 agents in the last couple of years. In order for their schedules to provide the best fit, full time agents can work mixtures of shifts – given a choice of ‘opting in’ to working standard 9hr shifts, mixtures of long and short shifts, or even a shorter week of longer shifts.
In this environment, the system chooses the shifts it needs to meet SL and provide the most efficient fit, with the agent still working their expected weekly hours.
At Thames they also fully engaged and empowered the agents in this business culture change process – meeting one to one with the agents to discuss the options, providing documentation and guides so the agents were fully informed, making the agents responsible for their own adherence & even providing business performance reports to make the agents feel like they were a part of the bigger picture. This approach helped to minimise the impact and resistance to the changes being made.
Forecasting and Forecast Accuracy
The conversation then turned to forecasting, and more specifically forecast accuracy. Surprisingly when asked who used forecast accuracy as a KPI, less than 5% of one of the groups was actually targeted on this KPI but however did consider it to be important. For those that did use the metric (5% considered to be the allowed daily/weekly variance) some were also targeted on interval forecast accuracy – with the aim of achieving 75% of intervals within the +-5% range.
Others were also measuring the number of intervals where SL was met – thus providing a customer experience/delivery KPI.
From the discussion, forecast accuracy was shown to be crucial in the optimisation process, since it provides the foundation against which to schedule – ultimately being the area in which organisational efficiency grows from.
Back Office Scheduling
Back Office scheduling was also a hot topic, with some attendees scheduling for these departments and those that didn’t were looking for best practise advice to take back to their organisation.
A I360 demo was shown – going through the steps of optimisation to provide firstly a better schedule fit – to increase SL of Frontline departments and then to build in back office schedules so that these agents can both support the frontline where needed and vice versa. Functionality was shown with back office agents providing frontline cover during the time of high call volume peaks, and frontline availability being used to provide help in the other direction.
Examples were also given of Intelligent Routing opportunities – Reserve Agents (expanding the size of the pool of available agents when a predicted wait time threshold has been breached) and Interruptible Auxiliary (sending handset messages to those agents in AUX (idle) to ask them to help out when needed). All of these options help to optimise both the front and back office & are supported by functionality available both within woWFM and the ACD.
Again, Thames Water discussed their approach to back office scheduling – explaining they have blended the teams thus enabling call takers to work on back office tasks when available, and back office workers to work on frontline when required – they supported this process by providing guidance and documentation to the agents expected to complete this work to help them understand what was being asked of them and why.
The attendees from Sage commented that this approach may not work for them, since agents who move to back office are very keen to remove their phone turret and ‘escape’ from the inbound phone work – this sentiment was echoed with some of the other attendees too – and so again highlighting it is very much the culture of an organisation that dictates what optimisation options are available.
What works for one may not work for all and changing the culture is the biggest task any organisation faces but it is also often the barrier to making the biggest efficiency gains.
Buy-in for change process
Supervisor and Management buy in was highlighted as critical in any change process, with lots of attendees feeling that certain roles within the business had the potential to undermine or restrict the success of the planning processes – typical examples given were shift changes being agreed without assessing suitability (or overruling planning decisions), or holidays being approved by management when allocation was already full.
Both of these impact delivery of SL and it was commonly agreed that this is a challenge shared by most organisations, with the key to resolving it thought to be through education and visibility of planning processes and impacts on performance – again empowerment being a key factor.
Other supporting topics were also discussed – Adherence, Re-forecasting, activity optimisation, automated alerts, Time Off and Shift Swapping all being crucial and agreed to fully support any optimisation process. The 3 sessions were all interactive, with full engagement from the attendees.
In terms of a summary, the message was clear – business culture determines the options available and can be a help or hindrance in the process, & this is crucial on the road to optimisation.
What works in one organisation won’t necessarily work in another, so planners need to be flexible and creative when assessing the route to take. When rolling out new processes it is the people involved that ultimately make the business change a success – so buy in from all levels needs to be intrinsic.
Functionality in the WFM software becomes the enabler – to provided the business case to support the proposed path – its then up to the people to make it work.