Graduating to Workforce Management

Don’t get mad at me if I drag out an old punch line:

College was the best six years of my life.

Here’s why I say don’t get mad. You may be a little late in graduating yourself—when it comes to the technology you use to manage your call center staff.

Here’s how you should move through WFM University.

Freshman: The Spreadsheet

That’s where most call center operations begin—with the spreadsheet. It serves the call center well, at least for a while, in handling the simplest part of workforce management: creating a schedule without conflicts. Call centers buy templates, or packaged scheduling macros, for very little money. Sometimes they’re free. And they do their one job well enough. For call centers that have been handling scheduling manually (with whiteboards and Post It notes), the spreadsheet makes things easier.

Sophomore: The Wish List

But they don’t make things better, and that’s what you learn very soon. As you use that spreadsheet, you become aware of what other kinds of systems do. You start to learn about analytics, shift swapping, employee self service, cross training schedules, and even gamification—all of the things that a real workforce management solution can do that Excel templates and macros just don’t. And the thought strikes you that, while you may be satisfied with your spreadsheet, your competitors may be using these more advanced systems. You realize they may be getting competitive advantage from a leaner, more efficient operation.

Junior: Spreadsheet Programming

Now you’re challenged to close the gap between your spreadsheet and your wish list. Of course, it’s hard—I haven’t seen one yet—to find a packaged Excel add-in that can deliver much functionality beyond basic scheduling and reporting. So you have to look around for a spreadsheet programmer. (This is also where you find that there are some things that spreadsheet programming languages like VBA7 simply can’t do.) That programmer also has to understand the ins and outs of call center operations. If he doesn’t, you have to learn how to write a perfect functional specification. In other words: turning your spreadsheet into a WFM isn’t likely to happen.

Senior: Stepping Up to WFM

What is likely to happen is that your perspective will have shifted. As a Freshman, all you wanted was a way to get everybody’s hours lined up without hassle—you just wanted to save yourself some effort. But as you’ve matured in your understanding of call center workforce management, you’ve turned away from solving a task problem to achieving business goals. You don’t want to make scheduling easier, you want to reduce attrition. You don’t want to make professional printouts for the schedule board, you want to increase productivity. You don’t want to just make sure off days don’t collide, you want to expand the amount of time you have for agent training.

And when you hit that point, when you realize that a real workforce management system can drive bottom line benefits to the operation, it’s time to turn off the spreadsheet and graduate to the real thing.