Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Drilling Down for Better Schedule Adherence Tracking

Schedule adherence plays a significant role in the efficiency of your contact center. It is a time saving and money-saving practice that impacts both agent performance and customer service.

To be effective, however, it must be executed correctly.

That starts with real-time schedule adherence, which gives you the opportunity to react immediately to address problems. A workforce management system monitors agents in real time, and delivers instant alerts when adherence is not achieved. It also provides a means to analyze KPIs and compare forecasted, scheduled and actual contact center statistics.

Still, even with these capabilities, the cause of an adherence lapse is not always apparent at first glance. But the answers are there, all that is needed is a few moments to run the appropriate drill down reports. This allows the contact center manager to view different aspects of a workday in isolation, which makes it easier to identify where the schedule is not lining up with the reality of the situation.

Perhaps a certain time of day always seems to have lower adherence. By drilling down it’s possible to measure where goals are not being met, and communicate this to the team. Whether the issue is not enough schedule flexibility, or agents simply taking too many unscheduled breaks, there is now a chance to implement a satisfactory solution.

One may also discover that the adherence breakdown is centered on specific departments, sites or skill teams. Once the issue has been identified, it is incumbent on the manager to educate the agents involved on the importance of adherence on service levels, and how even a minor deviation can have a significant negative impact.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cloud Security in Contact Centers: The Questions to Ask, The Answers to Expect

The cloud is about to get a lot more crowded.

That is the conclusion reached by a new research report that projects the cloud-based contact center market to grow from $4.15 billion this year to $10.9 billion in 2019, at a compound annual growth rate of more than 20 percent.

There are a number of reasons why contact centers are moving away from environments where data is centrally accessed and stored, and into a distributed, virtualized system. These include lower upfront cost, scalability, ease of upgrade, speed of implementation, and many others covered in previous blog posts and articles.

Security, however, remains a point of contention with some companies. The Cloud Industry Forum surveyed 250 senior IT and business decision-makers on what they view as key challenges to cloud adoption. More than 60% identified security as a leading issue.

Is the Cloud Secure?
The short answer is yes. The cloud offers a much higher grade of security than most internal IT departments, and at a much lower cost. However, contact centers should also be aware of the differences between cloud providers, and the right security-related questions to ask.

What Constitutes Security?
Achieving an adequate level of security at a contact center requires the coordination of many systems and applications, as well as vigilance on the part of agents. There are five layers in all, each of which plays a vital role:

Physical Security
The data uploaded to a cloud resides in one or more data centers. These centers should be protected by multiple security perimeters, including electronic surveillance, qualified 24/7 security staff and multi-factor access to keep physical intruders away. The centers should also be equipped with state-of-the-art environmental systems that make certain that operations are not disrupted. To avoid any data compromise from a fire or natural disaster, data should be stored in multiple geographic regions.

Network Security
Network security is perhaps the most significant threat to contact center data. Network architecture must be protected from a wide array of outside threats. A firewall is usually the first line of defense, while anchoring additional security measures, such as web application firewalls and intrusion detection technologies. This firewall is a barrier between the public Internet and the cloud infrastructure, that controls traffic between trusted and untrusted networks.

An intrusion detection system provides an alert when someone is attempting to compromise systems or data, and responds quickly to minimize the possibility of a security compromise. Before such systems are triggered, regular vulnerability assessments identify any weaknesses in a cloud system that can be exploited by hackers.

The web application firewall blocks non-essential traffic to the application layer and protects poorly coded applications. It can block both SQL injection attempts and XML-RPC Exploit attacks.

Also, while many may be aware of load balancers as they relate to application availability, they have a security component as well, as they allow for termination of SSL traffic, provide centralized certificate management, central restriction of weak SSL ciphers and HTTP and HTTPS session persistence.

Finally, log management helps protect, detect and respond to security incidents by identifying unauthorized access attempts.

Systems and Application Security
The focus here is on how contact center platforms and applications are designed and built. Security should be a priority at each stage of the development cycle. Cloud software that was designed from the ground up has built-in security optimized for the cloud. Traditional on-premise software that is offered as a hosted solution might have some more security challenges, because the solution was not designed and optimized to be delivered over the web.

Frequent testing is required to confirm adherence to industry-standard security requirements. All code releases should undergo both automated and manual reviews, as well as in-depth penetration testing prior to release.

Information Security
Cloud providers verify their security controls through third-party certifications such as ISO 27001 or ISO 27002, standards recognized globally as the most comprehensive framework for establishing security best practices.

As many contact centers field orders from customers where credit card information will be provided, the cloud system should be compliant with the 12 security domains of PCI-DSS standards. The PCI DSS requires file encryption, secure storage and the deletion of certain information, such as the credit card security code. Contact centers affiliated with the healthcare industry should also be HIPAA compliant.

Agent Security
Of course, the client must accept some of the responsibility for security as well. This includes using complex passwords and limiting access to online data within your organization.

The flexibility and scalability of the cloud model makes it easier for contact centers to employ remote and home-based agents. These agents must be held to the same standard as those that work within the contact center, and that extends to security concerns. Agent-customer interactions should be monitored regularly.  Call recording should be used for security compliance, and providers should have visibility into data collected by these agents. Desktops used by remote agents must be secured in a way that ensures compliance and data encryption.

Asking the Right Questions
To make an informed decision, here are some of the most important questions to ask a potential cloud provider.
  • How long have you been providing a cloud-based contact center platform?
  • How many security perimeters are in place around your data centers?
  • Do your data centers have 24/7-staffed security?
  • What types of security measures have you taken to protect your network?
  • What security measures were taken throughout the development of your platform and applications?
  • Are you compliant with established third-party security standards?
The protection of information is vital to corporations in the digital age, and while no system is 100% secure, current technology is more than a match for any outside attempt at a data breach. Partnering with the right provider is the best way to achieve confidence in the transition to the cloud.

Several layers of security measures and processes are built into the cloud infrastructure, platform and services. All client access endpoints are secured, with alerts for password brute-force attacks that prevent those accounts from being compromised. Built-in firewalls provide additional protection, and many clouds also offer encrypted data storage.

As organizations become more experienced in cloud security options and best practices, cloud security will become less of a concern. Please contact us if you would like to learn more about cloud security in contact centers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Workforce Optimization Webinar

Our recent webinar about cloud-based workforce optimization received a great response. Amidst the shared information and productive discussions, those in attendance learned a great deal about the role of cloud-based WFO in improving workforce management, quality monitoring and performance management.

Watch Webinar Now
If you were not able to attend, Monet invites you to see what you missed by viewing the recorded webinar in its entirety at your convenience.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

How Accurate are your Call Volume Forecasts?

When it comes to forecasting, past activity is always the best predictor of future activity, especially when broken down via workforce management data analysis into ever-smaller increments of time. This makes it easier to identify anomalies and prepare accordingly.

The challenge, of course, is factoring in all of the variables to which forecasts are subject – it’s no wonder that creating consistently accurate contact center forecasts is both an art and a science.

But with the right workforce management system, one capable of predicting future call volume and agent staffing needs, you have everything you need to make the tasks of forecasting and scheduling more accurate and more efficient.

Here are some additional tips to get the most from your WFM solution.
  • Detailed Data Analysis: Use work history data to anticipate future call volume, agent requirements, average call handling time and other performance indicators.
  • Flexibility: Gather necessary data through analysis of call types and routing policies, and review updates throughout the day so you’ll always know when changes are necessary.  
  • Testing: Generate and analyze alternative scenarios based on changes in staffing or call volume, so you can better anticipate issues before they arise.
When forecasting is done right, the result is the right number of agents at their desks, handling call volume without long wait times. For more tips on call forecasting, please also visit our blog post from last week.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Five Tips to Help Achieve More Accurate Call Center Forecasts

Accurate forecasts produce accurate schedules. But what is the secret formula to generate forecasts that are consistently on the money?

It starts with an automated workforce management solution that delivers the necessary historical data. If that sometimes isn’t enough, here are 5 additional tips for utilizing WFM in forecasting.

1. Select More Weeks of Historical Data. 
Use the WFM system to generate additional historical data, which should more accurately average out handle times and return a more even distribution of calls when things get too “spiky.”

2. Make Granular Edits to Call Volume
After viewing a forecast, edit call volumes by queue and by interval.  This can be especially useful if you’re changing hours of operation or just need to edit smaller ranges of data. 

3. Override Agent Numbers
After viewing a forecast, use WFM to override the required number of agents, or adjusted agents, for times when you wish to reduce the degree of variance from one interval to the next. 

4. Adjust Total Day Changes
Use the Total Day changes to deliver more sweeping changes to call totals, AHT, service levels, abandon targets, and staffing numbers.

5. Edit Current Day Forecasts

Use intra-day functionality to edit the current day’s forecast, so it matches the current trends of collected data for today. 

These steps would be difficult, if not impossible, with spreadsheets or a home-grown system. If you are ready to step up to a Workforce Management solution, make it sure it has the functionality to accomplish all of these objectives and more. To learn more, we invite you watch any of the foreasting and scheduling videos on our website.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Workforce Management Software Implementation: Cloud vs. On-Premise

In previous blogs we explored the differences between a cloud delivery system for workforce management, and an on-premises solution. Most of these pieces focused on the cost savings, the automatic upgrades and the lower upfront investment.

But one aspect that is sometimes overlooked is implementation. There is a process that has to be followed whether a company selects a cloud solution or an on-premise installation. But with the cloud, you’ll be up and running much more quickly, reaping the benefits of your investment.

With an on-premise solution provider, the contact center will first have to consult on defining the solution to be implemented, and establishing configuration requirements through workshops and analysis of documentation. With software delivered via cloud, these steps are typically unnecessary, since the software is already set up to handle most contact center environments. It’s possible some consultation will be needed for customization, but this can be concluded in a fraction of the time it would take with traditional software.

Specific customer configuration can be done often in hours or days with the cloud; with an on-premise system, that same task can take up to several months.

Actual installation is also faster, and the site acceptance testing required with a traditional solution is not necessary with a cloud delivery system, as compatibility is already achieved with multiple modern web browsers.

Finally, user training can be completed in less time as well since the true cloud solutions are build  with ease of use in mind - think Amazon - nobody gets trained on that. With traditional software systems, it can take several weeks before agents and managers are comfortable with the new technology because the systems are typically more complicated.

The verdict? A cloud delivery system can not only be implemented for less money, it can also be set up with fewer headaches as well.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Advantages of Skill-Based Scheduling

Skill-based scheduling is a practice where incoming calls at a contact center are routed to specific agents based on the type of service requested. If customers can be connected with an agent that excels at the service they require, the odds are much greater of achieving a satisfactory result.

This practice can take many forms, from simply routing calls from Spanish-speaking customers to bilingual agents, to routing angry callers to those agents with the personality and people skills to calmly resolve the situation.

Generally, the implementation of a skill-based scheduling process requires four steps, starting with a detailed knowledge of why customers call. By classifying these contacts, a manager can define the necessary agent skill sets, and gather some of the information needed to set up an effective schedule.

The next step is to identify staff skills and resources. This can be achieved in a number of ways, but call recording should play a key role. Most well trained agents have more than one skill, which can make the process somewhat easier, while reducing the number of agents needed to handle call volume. Productivity can increase 5-15% from agents with at least two skills.

Step three requires a review, and perhaps an upgrade, of the contact center’s technology. Choose a system capable of skill-based routing and scheduling in a multi-channel environment.

Finally, conduct a gap analysis to compare your current business environment with how that environment will changed under a skill-based scheduling system. This will uncover any risks incurred during the transition period, and help to make certain that the system is working as designed to benefit customers and improve contact center efficiency.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Successful implementation of Workforce Management Software

Workforce management (WFM) software provides the best means of optimizing personnel resources in a contact center.

When a contact center decides it is ready to make the move to a workforce management software system, it now faces another decision when reviewing the range of available products. One way to improve the odds of choosing the right system the first time is to make a list of the qualities and capabilities that are most important. Such a list might include the following:

By using historical data, and through simulations to calculate future call volume, WFM generates forecasts for appropriate staffing, call handle time and other factors to maintain optimum call center performance for any time interval of the day.

Accurate forecasts create accurate schedules. A WFM scheduling engine should incorporate all call types and other activities. A staffing schedule is only valuable when it is optimized for all necessary factors, including agent skill sets, staff availability, holidays, breaks and service levels.

Intra-day Management
Scheduling an agent for a shift is not enough – WFM should provide a graphical display of variances in agents’ schedules during the workday for breaks, lunch and other exceptions. Real-time updates allow managers to compensate during surpluses or shortages for each time period.

Exception Planning
Choose a WFM solution with an integrated exception calendar that simplifies the scheduling of agent exceptions for training, time off and other variables.

Real-Time Adherence
Use WFM to compare planned agent activity to actual activities throughout the day, while also reviewing forecasts for key performance indicators such as call volume and handle time.

WFM should adjust to your call center regardless of how it is organized. Choose a system that lets you build an unlimited number of center splits or agent groups with separate service objectives and guidelines. Use WFM to manage multiple sites and time zones, and set service level goals down to 15-minute intervals.

Performance Analysis/Metrics
WFM provides actionable insights on all agent activities through dashboards, key performance indictors and real-time alerts.

Implementation: The Forgotten Attribute
All of these qualities pertain to the day-to-day usage of WFM, but contact center managers should not overlook the importance of implementation. Technology cannot benefit a business if it is not easy to use, and if it cannot be incorporated into the center with minimal training. It should also be possible to implement a workforce management solution to deliver break-even status in a matter of months, as opposed to years. But that will take some foresight.

While every company and corporate culture is a little different, these guidelines should prove valuable to any contact center in the process of a WFM transition.

Plan Ahead
Upfront planning – that incorporates both technical requirements and business processes, is critical.

Include all Departments
All of the contact center’s functional groups, including agents, managers, supervisors and trainers, should be involved in the process. The implementation of WFM software is going to represent a change for the center. It’s important for all those involved to know why the change is needed, how it will improve their business processes and how they all benefit from shared data and metrics.

Appoint a Liaison
While all voices should be heard, there should also be one project coordinator – usually a manager – with the experience and knowledge to work with personnel, answer questions and address concerns.

It will take time and patience to adjust to today’s feature-rich workforce management systems. But the last thing a contact center wants is to make the transition and then discover that employees are only using 20% or 50% of the system’s capabilities. Comprehensive training will be necessary to ease the culture shock and ultimately arrive at a place of optimal functionality. The faster agents in particular realize the benefits of a WFM solution, the faster they will take to its advantages.

What to Expect from a WFM Provider
Up to this point we’ve described the implementation process from the end-user perspective. But few of these steps can be taken without the support and expertise of the software provider.

For the contact center, WFM implementation is (ideally) a one-time process. For the provider, this is what they do every day, and they should have a system in place that will make the transition as easy as possible.

At Monet, our implementation plan and timeline begins with a kick-off call of about 60-90 minutes. This consists primarily of a discussion of roles and required data necessary to get started.

Once that is completed, the initial set up can begin. This process typically involves the creation of workgroups, shift profiles, skills and skill teams and the selection of service level targets. While the provider initiates these processes, they are then completed and customized by the client team.

Data collection set-up is next, which incorporates configuration and historical data import and verification. Depending on the contact center and the specific situation.

Once this is completed, training of personnel can begin. The procedure will start with the basics – forecasting, scheduling, rosters – and then examine the more advanced features of WFM, from assigning exceptions and analyzing reports to intra-day management.

After implementation and training are complete, the provider should continue to be accessible for questions or concerns, and provide follow-up checks to make certain everything is running smoothly. And since Monet's complete suite of workforce optimization is cloud based, there are not a lot of resources and money required for purchase and installation of hardware and software. Therefore, the implementation team can focus on the business needs and business processes, and less on technology. And the whole set up or implementation can be done in 30 to 60 days.

When a contact center makes the significant decision to install workforce management software, it is critical that the system be implemented and configured properly, since management will be making key decisions on operations and staffing based on the information it provides.

A successful implementation requires not only software integration and configuration skills, but also a solid understanding of the customer environment and of the multiple ways of addressing and solving the specific requirements of the contact center. It should also be completed as efficiently as possible to shorten ROI.

With a little research, contact centers stand a much better chance of not only selecting the right WFM solution the first time out, but the right software provider as well.