What we learned at Aspect's Spring 2017 WFO forum
Recently, I took part in Aspect's East Midlands Users Forum Spring 2017. It was a great event that brought together 24 participants from 16 different organisations in addition to the team from Aspect to focus on the challenges and opportunities facing the workforce at large today.
Over the course of the event, we tackled some big topics in workforce management, and the fundamental role that employee empowerment plays in achieving current and future business goals.
In addition to networking and making new connections, we all learned more about how our organisations are alike and discovered how they may be dissimilar. We also discussed current and future approaches to managing and optimising our business via better workforce management. Here's what I took away from the event.
The value of ongoing learning
Some users at the event were new to Aspect WFM, but many users had lots of experience. Some had original training and consulting from Aspect, but many had learned on their own or learned from a predecessor. If anyone is looking to improve their expertise, I'd encourage them to re-establish their ties with Aspect. Don't be afraid to call in with questions, consider refresher consulting, and consider the wealth of information available in a self-paced format that's accessible 24/7 in the Aspect Active Learning system.
WFM has many tools that can be used in combination to solve challenges. It's perfectly natural to ask for help and discussion about how best to apply the tools to your unique environment and business challenges, or to learn what new capabilities exist in current product versions.
Engaging and optimising your workforce
In terms of employee empowerment, I believe everyone recognises challenges that could be tackled with a more engaged workforce. Some of the framework presented at the event to make tackling issues of empowerment practical should have given attendees some new ideas on how to apply tools they already have, or to identify tools that could get them further towards their goals.
We saw some similarities in the areas of forecasting, scheduling, and tracking, as well as some differences centred on those areas. Forecasting seems to largely be performed by individuals or groups for whom this is a key part of their responsibilities, if not their title explicitly. These groups will look at a wide variety of tools and techniques as part of their jobs, but there are great opportunities to show that WFM is a valid tool in this portfolio of options.
In some cases, a forecast was dictated by the business and no input requested from the WFM teams. However, everyone found that the intra-day planning part of forecasting was valuable for predicting staffing requirements as well as intra-day management.
Boosting time management
In scheduling, rosters still play a big role, with some varieties of preference-based or bid out schedules being experimented with. Some unique situations were shared, such as six-minute increment scheduling, and schedules with the same span, for example nine hours, which would have different break structures in different geographies.
This is a case where multiple WFM Schedule runs would be needed to create each unique type of schedule, then the results could be combined in Trial Schedule Manager.
The biggest feedback around real-time management was the legacy RTA Client UI. I would encourage everyone to ask us for demos of the new WFM Alarms and Adherence View features in the WFO Web UI to see what is available today and where we are going with real time presentation.
Readying for an omni-channel environment
As far as channels of work go, inbound voice, outbound voice, and back office were the main channels of the day, but options including web chat and SMS are being investigated and experimented with by many organisations.
Customer reactions to new channels are not always well understood, so it's vital businesses pilot, test, and get feedback. You may be surprised by the reactions to company interactions over new types of channels and need to adjust initial plans.
Overall the WFM Forum was a great event, and I would like to encourage everyone who attended to stay in touch with each other, as well as with Aspect as we all tackle the workforce management challenges in this fast-changing industry.
Eric Hagaman, Senior Product Manager, Aspect
What is Your Contact Center’s Engagement Quotient (EQ)?
Agent Engagement Has Been Undervalued
It’s hard to read a blog or listen to a webinar related to the contact center without the author regurgitating the mantra of the importance of “Customer Engagement" or its synonym, “Customer Experience." That’s not too surprising, since studies by industry analysts confirm the importance of customer engagement. Recent research by Aberdeen shows that in the past two years, the pursuit to delight customers has surpassed the need for better agent productivity as the most important goal for contact center workforce optimization systems. If agent productivity is less important, what should the focus on agent behavior be to ensure customer delight? Knowledge of human nature would tell us that the agent’s level of happiness and job engagement would be an important contributor to customer engagement, but we don’t hear much about the agent’s role.
Try this experiment. Google “customer engagement" and you’ll get about 4.4 million hits. Now try Googling “agent engagement." You will get only about 30,000 hits. So people are talking, posting, blogging and promoting customer engagement about 150 times more frequently than agent engagement. You get even more disparate results when you Google “customer experience’ and “agent experience". Yet agent engagement is certainly much more important than those Google results would lead us to believe. A study by Forrester in 2011 showed that almost all executives surveyed were convinced that customer satisfaction and agent experience are very highly correlated. Further, they thought that improving the agent experience was among the top 3 factors likely to improve the customer experience. The agent is clearly not getting enough recognition in the marketplace when it comes to factors that help to delight the customer.
Aspect models the relationship between customer engagement and agent engagement as shown here. In a conversation between two human beings, you really can’t separate their experiences. They influence each other significantly, continuously and symbiotically. If the agent is really enthusiastic and positive, it has to affect the customer in a positive way. If the customer is angry, it will be perceived by the agent, and sometimes the agent gets angry as well. The attitude of one party will definitely affect the other, and this dynamic can often induce antagonistic spirals if negative feelings come in or virtuous spirals if positive feelings come in. The secret for the enlightened contact center is to take steps to ensure that agents start with as much positive energy as possible to create those virtuous spirals, and to do this, agents need to feel really empowered and engaged in their jobs.
Engagement Quotient as a Holistic Measure
Knowing that both customer engagement and agent engagement are important to ultimate customer satisfaction and that you really can’t look at them separately, we need a measure to capture the level of engagement of both the agent and the customer. This gives you an objective view of how well your contact center is succeeding with a comprehensive measure of engagement. At Aspect, we call this the “Engagement Quotient" of EQ for short. We have developed a formula that embodies the notion that customer engagement is more important than agent engagement, but only by a factor of 2 or so, which is quite different from the factor of 150 that we might impute from the relative presences of these factors on the web. In essence, since customer engagement is our end objective, enhancing customer engagement by whatever means is somewhat more directly powerful than enhancing agent engagement, which indirectly improves customer engagement. Also, the total Engagement Quotient is inversely proportional to N, the number of interactions required between agent and customer, which is a measure of customer effort. We are currently working with outside analysts to verify the integrity of our EQ calculation using actual call center data.
The Aspect EQ Workforce Optimization Portfolio
We’re serious about driving agent and customer engagement, and we have refined our WFO portfolio and renamed our WFO offering to embrace the contribution that WFO can make to customer and agent engagement. The new name: Aspect EQ Workforce Optimization. In March, Aspect will be releasing the 8.1 version of our Aspect EQ WFO software with many new features. Most think about WFO as a way to enforce contact center rules and practices rather than as driver of customer and agent engagement, but consider the following chart highlighting the primary engagement effects of some key WFO capabilities:
The chart above shows the primary engagement beneficiaries of these important WFO features, but many of them also have a secondary beneficial effect both directly and indirectly through the virtuous cycle effect mentioned above. The power of WFO to influence customer and agent engagement in a positive way is undeniable, and that makes WFO increasingly important in the rapidly changing contact center environment. Continue to follow our blog as we unfold more information about computing the EQ of your contact center and using advanced WFO tools to drive that engagement quotient for customers and agents.
Mike Bourke, SVP & GM Workforce Optimization, Aspect
What happened at our Spring WFO event?
A run-through for those who missed it.
You might have the world’s leading Workforce Management Software, but do you have world class processes? And do you know how to fully leverage the tools' functionality to enhance the experience of your people and processes?
These where among the questions we were looking to answer at our Spring WFO event. On Thursday 19th March, Aspect came together with some of our Workforce Optimisation customers to best practice and work on individual challenges as a group. Over 16 different companies from the WFO User Group attended a full day’s agenda hosted by Senior WFO Specialists Dave Vernon and myself.
After the fantastic Bacon Barms (or Barmcakes, Cob, Baps, Buns or whatever else you want to call them), the day was formally opened on behalf of the Aspect Software European and African Leadership Team by Guy Wannell, Vice President of Europe and Africa Professional Services and Solutions Consulting.
He said: "Aspect Software are passionate about providing these types of opportunity for our customers to come together, learn about new developments, share best practice and bring out operational challenges, as this is key to be a true partner of our customer and help everybody leverage the maximum benefit from their Aspect Workforce Optimisation tool."
The Aspect WFO roadmap
After a brief interlude for people to introduce themselves to each other, I ran through the Aspect WFO roadmap for coming plans and developments. It was key to help the attendees understand the focus for the development of the tools to ensure they become solutions for everybody’s strategy moving into an omni-channel, multi-platform engagement with our customers, both internally and externally. We also summarised with the launch of Aspect VIA, a fully integrated all channel solution, which helped bring together the direction of change for Aspect, the attendees in the room and the industry at large.
This was followed by a session of roundtable discussions to explore the improved functionality of the newest releases of Aspect WFO. The major takeaways were;
• The Mobile App was considered a real differentiator for resource planning teams to contribute to their organisations' colleague engagement strategies.
• The development of Outbound and Back Office Planning and management could change the depth of support the planning function could provide to the operation, but was not being leveraged by the attendees
• The Reserve Module (Seat Management) is a function that has not been utilised and can bring Facilities Management onto true long term / capacity Planning approaches of a number of companies
• The development of true cloud should be considered in a modern, flexible and agile customer engagement centre
• Workforce Optimisation has developed around the utilisation of performance management information to leverage more effective plans and schedules. This has not been leveraged as much as desired by attendees
Neil Reuby, Principal Consultant at Aspect, observed: "There was a consensus among the customers on my table that they weren't using WFM to its full potential and that customers did not understand or use all of the features."
Providing industry expertise
After a networking break, the delegates returned to have a Case Study from the award-winning RS Components “Making changes with the support of the Aspect system", delivered by Customer Services Senior Planner, Laura Lindsay. The session highlighted the journey RS Components have been on, and the incredible results they have experienced. There was no surprise, this session received the highest feedback scores of the entire day.
Aspect’s Dave Vernon then ran us through some operational capability benchmarking taken from Aspects Self-Assessment tool, completed by over 600 companies globally. The information was explored globally, regionally and by industry sector. After this, there was a further exercise where all attendees joined in this benchmarking and each one will receive their own detailed report and results soon after the event.
"It was great to see so many of our customers challenging themselves when they were working through this and realising how many of them had gaps in their knowledge across their business and making a commitment to re-visit when they got back into their organisations," said Dave Vernon, Senior WFO Solutions Consultant at Aspect.
After lunch (and a short video recording session) the delegates were treated to a session on engagement by the special guest for the day, Aspect’s Senior WFM Product Manager Eric Hagaman. In a piece entitled “Turning Point: Keeping Agents Happy and Engaged" Eric shared his number of years experience in our industry, with a number of pieces of research, thought leadership and benchmarking results. The session we well received and generated some fantastic discussions leading us into the final session of the day.
He said: "I believe everyone recognises challenges which could benefit from a more engaged workforce and I hope some of the framework presented to make tackling issues of empowerment practical gave you some new ideas on how to apply tools you already have, or to identify tools that could get you further towards your goals."
Discussing the key WFO challenges
The Meeting Marketplace was again facilitated by Dave Vernon, and it created a “speed date" type environment where Dave, Eric and myself each spent 20 minutes on a table to discuss challenges related to Forecasting, Scheduling and Real Time Management. This session helped bring out topics for the next WFO User Group this Autumn, but also helped attendees realise common approaches to the tools they have, understand what was working in some processes and what wasn't in others.
Forecasting – Every company developed their mid-term and long-term plans (three months out) outside of their WFM solution, but used the what if and profile tools to turn these high-level estimations into detailed baselines to build confidence within the use of estimates.
Scheduling – Rosters still play a big role, with some varieties of preference based or bid out schedules being experimented with. Some unique situations were shared, such as six-minute increment scheduling, and schedules with the same span, for example nine hours, which would have different break structures in different geographies. This is a case where multiple WFM Schedule runs would be needed to create each unique type of schedule, then the results could be combined in Trial Schedule Manager.
Real-Time – The biggest feedback around real time management was the legacy RTA Client UI. I would encourage everyone to ask us for demos of the new WFM Alarms and Adherence View features in the WFO Web UI to see what is available today and where we are going with real time presentation.
The event was a resounding success, and delegates are already planning for the next session, which is scheduled for 19th October, at a location still to be confirmed.
At the end of the day, Dave said: "It was a privilege to see over 25 of our users representing 16 companies interacting and sharing real-life experiences, their challenges and their journey with the Aspect WFO solutions."
Senior WFO Solutions Consultant
Senior WFO Solutions Consultant