The new Head of our Workforce Management Consultancy, Richard Abdy, talks about the changes he has seen in Contact Centre planning over the last 20 years.
When I started in planning (amazingly that’s over 20 years ago) I was a sales and service advisor, working the phones in various contact centres from London Electric, British Airways and finally One2One where I moved on to become a planner.
One of the first things I found as an ‘office worker’ was that my hours and breaks were now flexible, and it was much easier to take a day off, even at short notice, to watch my kids in school plays and other family activities.
My passion for planning has always been around the part where ‘people meet numbers’.
When hosting agent engagement sessions, I have reeled out anecdotes such as “if you go shopping on a quiet Monday night at Tesco, you expect to get served quickly and, although you can’t visually see a queue in a contact centre, the same expectation of quick service exists”.
With this in mind, it is paramount that we have the correct volume of skilled agents available at the right time, when our customers want us to be there, just as you would expect at Tesco’s checkouts.
However, this hasn’t stopped me trying to find innovative ways to give contact centre agents a slice of what the rest of us take for granted.
A successful attempt to provide work/life balance in a contact centre started after I ran some forum groups. These brought forth issues people had around attending regular events. This could be slimming clubs, 5-a-side football or even further education all of which traditional workers take for granted. Our industry was simply not nurturing its human resources.
I have been involved taking some risks over the years, like implementing a guarantee of 2 weeks holidays and agent duvet days – all of which have been well received, but still fall short of truly putting control in the hands of employees.
Change happens slowly
When I worked at T-Mobile, we won the first ever Professional Planning Forum Innovation Award back in 2003 for what became infamously known as ‘The Pubs and Clubs shift’ This was, to the industries knowledge, the first large scale attempt at truly providing some work life balance that was instigated by employees.
Whilst innovations like this have always been my passion, truly listening to people and trying to reach a balance between colleague and customer, we (our Industry) have always fallen short of where I wanted them to be.
What truly excites about my new role at SVL (other than working with some very talented people) is the opportunity to get my hands on some cutting-edge technology that I believe can finally solve the missing parts of the puzzle I have been wrestling with since I got into planning 20 years ago.
We are starting to see great results coming out of organisations that embrace Workforce Engagement Management. Some, like EE, are pushing the boundaries of their existing WFM technology to implement flexible working and breaks on a scale never seen before, with significant and visible benefits.
Others are now starting to look at some of the new tech that is out there and overlaying this where great culture already exists supporting employee agendas.
Organisations are buying into the concept that employees are their greatest asset and that it is paramount to attract and retain great people. WFM and EEM technology will have a huge impact in meeting these goals.
Companies that embrace all available technology, whilst listening to its employees and implementing added value, will be those that capitalise and succeed, and this will see the benefits reflect through ESAT scores and, ultimately CSAT results.
Through automation we now have the ability to effectively change demand profiles, whether that be through automation of a process or use of bots or technology that allows blending of workload.
Using the Tesco analogy, it would be like using shelf stackers and checkout staff flexibly to move between to match demand automatically, without any human intervention. Add to a flexible human workforce the implementation of self-scan checkouts, then you see a huge step forward in self-service and effectively helps flatten demand.
How often do you see people using supermarket technology for the first time when a queue begins to build? Once they have used it once, many then become adopters and happily use self-scan when there are queues.
This manipulation of profiles can not only make companies more efficient, but also allows them to be more employee friendly with arguably more varied work to help stimulate and flex staff.
WEM or Workforce Engagement Management software, is also starting to harness this desire for flexibility from our colleagues, which historically tended to be placed on the ‘important but too difficult pile’.
This desire for employee autonomy is even more important for the new, younger, generation that expect flexibility and have grown up with technology in their lives (as my 18 year old daughter will testify). This isn’t a dream of the future anymore, as pilots are breaking new ground across the UK, allowing people to be in control of their own destinies whilst maintaining optimum levels of customer support.
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