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Interview: Talking Workforce Management Systems with NICE

June 23, 2009

NICE Systems makes, among other products, workforce management systems via its IEX (News - Alert) subsidiary. Nathan Stearns, vice president of the company’s business solutions group, kindly responded to a series of questions that Customer Interaction Solutions posed to him recently on WFM trends and issues.
Our exchange follows.
What key trends do you see in how contact centers evaluate and purchase WFM products and what is driving them? What impacts has the economy had on the market for these solutions, in demand, in purchasing cycles, and in how firms buy them?
The economic downturn has led to a renewed scrutiny in investing in contact center technologies. Generally speaking, customers have to obtain more levels of signature authority to approve a purchase. More individuals are involved in the discussion and vetting process.
The economy is also driving companies to return to the basics in running efficient contact centers. Rather than investing in the flashy ‘bells and whistles’ that don’t solve real world problems, customers want the fundamental tools that drive down costs and allow them do more with less. Companies are placing greater emphasis on using skills based routing to insure customer contacts are handled by the right person with the right set of skills, with the fewest agents possible.
Skills-based routing makes the WFM task much more complicated, thus driving a demand for advanced solutions that optimize the SBR practices. We’re also seeing more companies consolidating small centers and queues into larger centers for economies of scale, or consolidating the WFM staff into a centralized model. These consolidations drive demand for WFM systems that can handle virtual queues and centralized management models.
What effects have/will the following trends have on specifying, buying, installing, and effectively utilizing WFM solutions?
1.         Empowering staff to set schedules
Empowering agents to define their own schedules is very costly and typically ineffective in meeting customer demand. The trend we see is companies seeking tools to help agents participate in the scheduling process through automated time off management, schedule trades, and schedule change practices that allow some flexibility and sense of agent empowerment, without detrimental effect to the customers. The contact centers are able to empower agents, but limit the negative impact by defining business rules to protect the customers. Agents feel more in control of their schedules while your company maintains the ability to achieve its service goals.
2.         Increased interest in and deployment of home-based agents
For companies strengthening their work-at-home agent team, they should invest in a robust WFM solution that can properly optimize at-home agent schedules: whether as full time, part time, on demand, or any combination. Ideally, the WFM solution should allow you to dynamically schedule agents in short blocks of time (e.g. 15 minutes of non-contiguous schedule blocks) so you can take advantage of agents who have zero commute constraints.
3.         Use of informal agents outside of contact centers i.e. in banks, healthcare, and in retail
Accessing informal agents often leads to longer handle times which drive staffing requirements higher. Many of our customers are investing in systems and training to equip the front line staff for first contact resolution without the need to involve another person through instant messaging, or worse, through transfers, referrals, and call backs. Using resources outside the contact center environment can be detrimental in providing quality service since those extraneous resources have not been trained on the broad spectrum of contacts that a typical contact center agent must handle. As such, the trend of using informal agents has not played out in the real world to any great extent.
Discuss the benefits and challenges of purchasing standalone WFM solutions versus those in suites.
When purchasing a standalone WFM solution, you gain a demonstrable greater depth of product functionality backed by an R&D investment fully dedicated to solving WFM challenges. At NICE, we have a dedicated R&D team for each of our products: WFM, Quality Management, and Interaction Analytics. Our best-in-class solutions are integrated – which drives cross functional solution synergies - but we do not require the customer to adopt a ‘suite’ approach. Suite solutions tend to sacrifice product depth for product breadth…even when you may have no desire or capability to replace all the contact center systems embodied by the suite.
What is your view on SaaS (News - Alert) as a delivery option for WFM solutions?
SaaS hasn’t taken off for several reasons. By definition, SaaS implies a ‘software use on demand’ license model, typically as a hosted solution. WFM tasks and processes are a constant in the contact center; a recurring set of repetitive activities that contact centers license for use on premise-based equipment.
Current WFM system licensing models already account for limiting the software distribution to only devices that need the software on demand; therefore the concept of SaaS licensing is not a critical need for WFM purchase and installation. In addition to the licensing considerations, data security concerns stop many companies from even considering SaaS as an option.
Perhaps even more importantly, when you’re dealing with schedules, you’re dealing with people’s lives. Customers want control of the software in house in order to maintain full control and flexibility over a critical system such as WFM. Finally, one of the benefits of SaaS is the perceived lower total cost of ownership by avoiding heavy investment in infrastructure. But with a single server approach like the IEX TotalView System, there is already a low cost of ownership – and a low-carbon footprint or “green” solution – thus reducing the perceived benefit of purchasing WFM as SaaS.
What is happening in WFM pricing?
Pricing is commensurate with the return the customer plans to achieve with deployment. We help our customers match their business objectives with the right feature set so they can achieve a solid return on their investment.
What best practices do you see now and emerging in identifying and selecting WFM solutions and suppliers?
Customers are looking beyond their immediate needs to what their company may need down the road. Rather than looking for solutions that solve only inbound contact center needs, they’re seeking technologies that can grow into other parts of the enterprise, such as outbound, back office, branch offices, or retail. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re deploying WFM in these areas, but they are thinking futuristically.
What is your advice to contact centers who are seeking either to buy new WFM products or to replace/upgrade to new WFM solutions?
Not all WFM solutions are created equal. Take a deep dive into the functionality of how the technology works. For example, rather than just asking if you do skills-based scheduling, ask how skills-based scheduling is achieved. By looking into the science behind the product, you’ll find the solution that delivers the highest ROI.

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Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan
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