Increasingly complex volumes – WFM – [FULL INTERVIEW]

In this full video Emma Skygebjerg from Puzzel, explains how we have been seeing increasing complexity in types and forms of volumes in the contact centre, and some of the challenges this has been presenting for scheduling and volume forecasting.

With the pandemic and the rush to digitalisation, this has only been increasing too. We discuss these trends and some of the solutions she has seen across the market.

Find out more about Puzzel-> Here.

Interview Transcript

Hi, everyone, I’m here with Mr. Skygate. From who’s the Director of Workforce Management puzzle. Emma, thanks very much for joining me today. Really appreciate it.

Great to be here. Thanks.

So so obviously, workforce management, I mean, we’ve been through a huge amount of sort of change in the contact centre industry over the last sort of 12 1218 months, began to get a little bit around what your perspective has been, in terms of what you’ve seen with with your clients,

we’ve seen a lot of changes, with the move to the cloud, a huge increase in cloud adoption, the reason for that adoption has been the pandemic. And we’re still seeing a lot of companies struggling with the change and, and really moving agents to the home office or working partly in the office and partly from from the home, we also see that a lot of a lot of legacy platform don’t support the kind of reporting you’re looking for and that you need. And in terms of being able to report both agents in the office and working from home.

How to how ready, would you say that the readiness level of the industry at large has been in terms of like, adopting that remote working sort of flexible, remote working kind of kind of patterns? How ready were we and how ready, do you think we are now?

Well, we weren’t I don’t think we’re that Ready, ready, but we were forced into being a rabbit. It just forced a lot of companies to start thinking cloud. It’s been more, yeah, let’s that’s something we’ll do in the future. We were forced to, to adopt the cloud and also adopt the way that we accept people working from different places in a whole different way than we did before

remote working brings its own challenges in terms of remote management, and how do you how do you think about the answers workforce management can be it can be a big part of that in terms of understanding, you know, who they got working with, I mean, what have been some of the challenges that you’ve, you’ve sort of you sort of seen and sort of like, you know, really tried to try to come across in terms of like, trying to work out, working bathrooms, etc.

Right. So some of the challenges are, of course, around building building schedules that fit this new way of working and creating the flexibility that we need to accommodate for people that are that are in their house. And sometimes they’re they have picking up kids are leaving kids or have homeschooling, so building availability that fits the the agent, but also it’s around visibility. So a lot around finding the right tools to to really know what where the agents are, and if they’re following the schedule that we have created. So that’s those are some of the challenges that we definitely have seen,

really working and having that flexibility to give you extra flexibility and schedules. I mean, people been using that. So yes, you’re you might need to come pick up your kids. But that means that maybe you can work a little bit later in the evening, or you might get extra capacity leaves and those kinds of things is to give a much more sort of nuanced, flexible, kind of kind of workforce, do you think or is it was it all, you know, not so positive?

No, it is actually it is positive, because we’re able to build shifts, shorter shifts, sometimes to cover specific peaks. When agents don’t have to travel to work. They can, can work, shorter shifts, they can we can also schedule them on split shifts to cover those peaks that we have. So it’s definitely positive as well. In a way that we can we can really design the sine shifts to fit also the the peaks that we have in our traffic.

Do you think split shifts are gonna become more common as a result of that with the remote workforce versus back in the offset and and are we going to lose that when we come back into the office?

I think it will. I don’t think we will lose it. I think it will continue to to be there but it is definitely bigger now and more common and sort of the fact that you can log on to the contact centre platform work for a few hours then maybe do some work with with your house or your kids or do some some hobbies and come back without affecting your life too much. But in the office, we’ve always always seen as shift or split shifts being one of the some agents that prefer split shifts, but we haven’t seen it like something that that would be very, very common previously. So going back to the office, I think we’ve we will go back to the same kind of usage or split shifts that we’ve seen before.

And what are you hearing in terms of in terms of returning to the office? Is it going to be, you know, everyone now back in? Are they already back? You know, are they all gonna stay remote? There’s some sort of blended, I mean, what’s what’s what, what would you say been providing thinking?

I think what we what we’ve heard, and what we’ve seen is that a lot of companies would, will continue to offer a hybrid workstyle. So they will continue to have a portion of their workforce working from home. And an often it is more flexibility around, you might work in the office for a couple of days. And then the rest of the week home, we mostly see those kind of setups where where you have a more more work from the house, but you do both. And I haven’t come across that many that that require 100% in the office. But then like, then again, we do have, we work with customers also that have very security sensitive information. And they would require 100% in the office, and they’ve always been in the office, even during the pandemic, but maybe have a smaller portion of the workforce covering during that time, we have adopted this way, new way of working, and it’s hard to go back and force everybody to go to go back to the office. So this

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blended way of working and I don’t know, in some, in some, some sectors, I mean, it seems like a lot of people. So like they want to be working remote on Friday or Monday. And it’s sort of gets squeezed into that sort of like middle of the week, it might be a bit different in the in the contact centre world where you’ve got, you know, maybe even seven days a week, right, we sort of have a bit more or retail. But certainly, it seems like it’s it’s sort of concentrating it feels like maybe just during the middle of the week.

Yeah, that’s very common. If the agents can can pick would be my

answer in terms of terms of agent picking. A good point in terms of like, you know, I use, do you think that it’s going to get more common if we have these flexible schedules to be able to make changes to schedules more often, I’m going to take you with the some of the new workforce management tools that are out there, the ability to be able to mix and match and change your schedule, much more dynamically seems to be me is more capable, do your more capability to be able to do that. But you know, is that something that you think is is is a trend that’s going to continue?

Yeah, I think it’s going to continue. And the more the more we focus on on what’s going on and real time. And the more I know about that, then the more we see, we will continue to do changes, maybe not as much on on the actual start time and end time. But the content of the work, maybe moving breaks moving, the skill sets moving, what you’re working on. So we’ll see a lot around data, I think it will continue. But what we also see is is of course around more around preferred working time. So already, when we do create a schedule, being able to offer the agents the ability to communicate those preferred times. So having also the preferences, take those into account early on to set the start and end time of course, mostly.

Do you think do you think those those short term changes are driven by business need? Or is it really just more around? I suppose employee employee preference or employee satisfaction that’s driving that change? Yeah, those

short term changes, I think are more around more around business needs and incoming traffic and maybe maybe short term planning on meetings, let’s pull out this team to have a quick team meeting those kinds of changes.

I suppose the challenge for the workforce management team is going to be how’d you do that? And stay in the control from a service level point of view from business point of view is like with all these changes coming through because it becomes much more complex, I would think. Yeah, the more changes you have. Yeah,

that is true. So it’s important To have technology that supports the the possibility to simulate, before you make those changes simulate how that affects the service level, before we do all these people off on a meeting or before, before we move these people to work on email, we need to know how that affects our service level. And also having the tool that supports the decision. Not not actually making this decision before you. So of course, I think the scheduler and the forecast so we’ll say the the driver, as I, I like to say and then then the tools are surrounding it, suggesting changes should be supported by really good, really good technology. AI is something that is coming in more and more. So having technology that supports us taking the right decisions, so that we can continue to deliver really good customer experience.

Yeah. And I suppose the the AI the machine learning piece, I mean, you’ve got that the mass around schedules and switching shifts, etc. I mean that that then there’s there’s that problem, right, which is which needs to be solved mathematically. But then I suppose you also have the forecasting of volumes as well, which can also change. Is that Is that what you’re saying? The the AI piece would come through or?

Yeah, I exactly. That’s where that will come in place. And also around planning those meetings when we should we plan those meetings based on what we’re seeing in the traffic and and the resources we have available right now. But of course, what we want to see in on E is is we see this increased volume at the beginning of the day, how will the rest of the day look like? So solutions around that? And suggesting based on what we’ve seen so far, this is what we think the rest of the day look like? And this is what we suggest you the changes were suggest you to make.

You make me think of what like the weather forecasting, right is almost like based on what we’ve seen in the first hour. Here are 10 models of what where we think it could be and you know, this one’s the most likely sort of thing. Yeah.

Exactly. Exactly. And, and looking at past weather days how how that has affected. Yeah, yeah.

So yeah, yeah. So if it’s a sunny day, that we can have that meeting, if it’s going to be a storm coming in, then maybe we don’t I don’t know.


And, and the world’s got a lot more complex. I think even over the last years got more complex in terms of digital, we talked about remote working, but also there’s there’s digital content channels, a lot of people sort of like launched chat, you know, rather than than voice, there’s digital, you know, Self Service portals that have come in, from a planning point of view. Does that add the complexity? And how do you think about that, in terms of like planning around that, because, you know, often we’ve got, even with remote agents, you got the same person do multiple things.

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Exactly. So definitely, having more channels makes it more complex, what we’re seeing also as moving from one channel to another, which even brings another layer of complexity into this. So that definitely makes it more complex. But But there are always I mean, you have the history, you have the trends to look at how things have evolved over time. And and that can be used to predict also, even if we switched between the front channels, what the future will look like. And bringing aim that it will have will probably make things even even more accurate going forward. So but it does bring another complexity and also thinking about digital channels, you usually have agents that can cover multiple channels at the same time, which is another complexity in forecasting, because you need to, you need to address the fact that we have agents, some agents that can cover four shots at the same times others that can cover three shots, and what happens if you would be covering an email and a shot the same time. So those kind of complexities are things that we we need to address and forecasting, to make sure that we have the right staff available to cover those interactions.

I suppose part of it is if you’re not taking a call, then you might be able to be able to do something else as well. And you can have that fill in work as well as the new the more proactive kind of like you’ve got an inbound chat as well as a call. I wish I would have thought

Yeah, exactly. So there’s different ways of looking at this. A lot of a lot of the contact centres are still wanting to look at all of this as an omni channel environment, where you would be taking any kind of interaction that comes in based on on the skill sets that you have. So whether that’s an email or a chat or phone call, you will be taking those as they come in. But we do still have a lot of customers that are on on older platforms, where they might have a special or separate email platform, a separate chat platform, and a separate voice platform and, and they often want to schedule people separately on emails, and separately on chats. Which really means that if you’re on chats, then cover only chats, you’re not covering the voice at the moment. But overall, we see the trend moving definitely towards the omni channel way of working. And so I think when when more and more platforms support this way of working, we will see a more around this taking whatever comes in.

And this was if you plan it around interactions, and it’s sort of omni channel interactions, then it really becomes a mix issue, I think because the variability of your interaction length might be quite a lot different if it’s chat only versus if it’s voice only just to pick two extremes. And then everything in between. And I suppose it’s how do you start thinking about what the right mix is going to be and capacity planning around the right mix, because you need because because if you get it wrong, then the person is on the call and can’t take the next chat.

Exactly. So that that has to be taken into account. And that’s done usually. So we do it in our system, we do it during the simulation. So we’re we’re simulating that M is taking this call and Patrick is taken that email and so forth. Based on on the simulation, we can calculate exactly the the number of people needed for all channels, independent on of media, but it’s all based on on the on the skill sets. And of course, it’s something that needs to be set as is, of course also the the skill sets themselves and maybe looking at performance over time, because we might have some agents that are super agents, and we might have somebody that needs a bit more training to be to be a full time employee. And that sounds so

so in terms of like the call centres and the future call centres. I mean, what would you sort of think is, is is going to happen in the future? So we’ve got to where we are now in terms of digital, we’ve got omni channel that’s coming out, we’ve got, I suppose, yeah, software as a service and sort of like cloud based technologies? I mean, where do we go from here? I mean, and what’s going to be the impact on contact centres? And what they what do you think they’re gonna look like in 510 years time?

Well, I think we will continue the cloud journey, and we’re not at our goal, yet. There’s still a lot of talk, a lot of that technology out there is still on premise based or maybe hybrid solutions. So we will continue that journey. And also, we’ll see a lot more around usability, I think that’s still has a lot to learn, in terms of how do we how do we create really user friendly solutions, that that we can really get the most out of it, I do think we’ll see more around flexibility as well. Being able to on a forecasting or on a workforce management perspective, flexibility, of course, around the agents, and in the tool itself, and of course, in the contact centre solutions as well, having the flexibility that allows you to address the specific business needs of each. I think I think that will be key going forward. And then I think there’s a lot that will happen also on the AI Franch. We’ve just seen the beginning. And I will see a lot more around that. And then I do think the the human aspect as well. More focus around how do we keep our agents whether that’s with us longer as to how do we create an a working environment that really keeps them with us? And I think in the past, it’s been more okay, how do we how do we do the most? How do we uncover our service levels and how do we deliver as cost efficient service as possible, but it’s moved more into how do we engage our agents and how do we make them As happy as they need to be in order to deliver that great customer experience. So a lot more around the agent side of things, both in terms of supporting with technology, but also building that working environment for them.

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I mean, the flexibility seems key from an employee point of view, is the pin quite a bit of discussion around? I suppose, shortages in the in the labour market and people trying to hire quickly and the sort of like there’s been, there’s been, it’s been quite challenging environment, I think, for a lot of call centres recently. I mean, do you think the flexibility becomes a bit of a competitive advantage for staff retention?

I definitely think it will. So it does. And we already see that already now that, that companies that can provide more flexibility, better worker environment, maybe for some agents that want to work from their home a few days a week, maybe want to work design, the way that they do want to work, what hours they want to work. So companies that really want to address that, I think they’re in a very competitive position. So that will be I think that’s because it’s, it’s, we see a lot of this year has been a lot of retention in general in the market, not only in contact centres, but overall and and companies need to find a good way to to promote themselves and working on on the working environment. And anything we can do for for the agents to build around their their like a work life balance or building schedules that fit their work or their life that will be keen in finding, finding those, those good agents and also preventing attrition going forward, I

suppose the challenge for businesses is how do you do that, but then stay in control, and then deliver the customer service pharmacy was kind of like that, that’s the balance is kind of the challenge.

Yeah, it is definitely. So I think it needs to come with, of course, communication. We need to, we need to allow the agents to be able to communicate those preferences. But we need also to communicate back that we will try to address as much as possible of that. But we still need to fulfil our business goals. So yeah, at communicating. So they understand why schedules need to be in a certain way. So that that’s definitely key.

We touched on earlier a little bit around motivation, I suppose. Or morale, maybe it’s a better way of saying it in terms of like people working remotely. And again, so do you think that that’s going to be another forcing factor for for, for in, in, in office work, and you know, other other tools that you’ve seen used sort of remotely to try and just get people more involved, make have that feeling of being in the office when needed when you’ve got remote work,

there’s a there’s a lot of tools out there, gamification tools that can help in the process, even for remote working, I think, from a workforce management perspective, it’s around the, the real time monitoring. So and also, knowing or communicating again, with the agents, why where we’re monitoring real time, and it’s, it’s for the best of them. So have providing, if we have agents that are not following their schedule is going to affect all the others. So really understanding why we’re doing that. I think that’s also key and, and, and then finding ways to communicate how when they do things that are good, they see agents that are part of this gamification, have provided really good customer experience, for example, have very good NPS scores or perform that well. In adherence and occupancy and and other things and communicating that will be also part of so really working with a multitude of different tools to to, but I think communication is key. And where we’re often lacking is communicating what’s what’s the strategy from from the business. So for them also to feel that they’re part of of the journey going forward. understand the importance of customer experience, and the work that they do. And I think that’s really, really, really important.

It does sound like there’s more changes on the way in just before. Just before this call, we were chatting a bit about video calls, video video calls, is yet another channel that seems to be sort of like bubbling in the background in putting that into the mix as well. So you might have telephone calls and video calls and chat, they might have it at all at the same time as well.

We do see video as a as a very strong channel, growing and we recently invested and in a company that specialises in in video and live share. And there’s a lot of usage areas. For this. A lot of calls, for example, for support that will be made much easier. You mentioned also banking where we do do see a lot of usage within the banking industry within within healthcare as well. But it also puts the it’s a different kind of channel for the agents. And of course, the agents have to be prepared to take that video call as well. So, so

Well, Emma, thanks very much for making the time and trust me about it. I mean, there’s been some unique challenges, I think, from a workforce management point of view and sort of a planning point of view over the last the last year. It sounds like there’s more change on the way and it’s almost like an accelerated little bit. So we’re still more to go. But I think it’s been quite exciting, actually to what we’ve seen and where we can go. So it’s fascinating. Thanks very much for giving us the insight.

Thank you so much for having me.

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