VENDOR ROUNDTABLE: How Contact Centers Can Have Available Quality Agents – Part 1


How Contact Centers Can Have Available Quality Agents - Part 1

Having the right numbers of skilled quality agents to provide an excellent business-building-and-supporting high quality customer experience (CX) when they are needed has always been the fundamental challenge facing contact centers.

But every indication is that doing so will not become easier going forward. High agent turnover continues to persist, with going to work becoming more expensive with rising fuel and childcare costs; it is little wonder that employees are resisting return-to-office demands from senior management.

And with new advanced artificial intelligence (AI)-driven digital solutions like chatbots handling more of the “easier” engagements, those that land on the agents’ screens are more difficult and stressful to handle. What effect do these solutions have on quality and on agent experience and performance?

Workforce management (WFM) solutions are the prime go-to tools for contact center managers to assure agent availability. The suppliers are keenly aware of the milieu and difficulties being faced by their customers. Therefore, we have reached out to several industry thought leaders for their insights and recommendations. They are:

  • Florian Garnier, Product Marketing Manager, Calabrio
  • Daryl Gonos, CEO, CommunityWFM
  • Baker Johnson, Chief Marketing Officer, UJET
  • Tricia Manning, Director and Dave Singer, Global Vice President of Go-to-Market Strategy, at Verint
  • Mitch Todd, Product Marketing Manager, NICE

With the criticality of this topic, and the changes the industry is experiencing, we are dividing this discussion into three parts.

Part 1 covers key trends and issues, including an examination of chatbots and quality.

Q. What are the top four trends that you are hearing from contact center customers impacting their purchase and use of WFM systems? Have these changed recently and if so, how, and why?

Florian Garnier

Florian Garnier:

1. Increased demand for omnichannel support. Customers today demand a seamless experience across multiple channels, including voice, email, chat, social media, and more.

It is interesting to note that a few years ago many thought that chat was going to take over phone interactions in the contact center, yet phone has remained the largely preferred channel for consumers. WFM systems need to support multiple channels and provide a unified view of customer interactions.

2. Adoption of AI and automation. Contact centers are increasingly leveraging AI and automation technologies to streamline operations, improve efficiency, and enhance the customer and agent experience.

WFM systems that incorporate AI and automation capabilities are seen as critical tools to help contact centers stay competitive. The introduction of tools like ChatGPT has only increased the race towards more AI and automation.

3. Focus on employee engagement. Many contact centers recognize the importance of employee engagement in delivering a superior CX. WFM systems that enable flexible scheduling, hybrid workforces, and other employee-focused features are leading the WFM market.

4. Cloud-based solutions. Cloud-based WFM solutions are largely gaining in popularity over their on-premise focused competitors as contact centers look to reduce infrastructure costs and gain greater flexibility and more efficient scalability. Cloud-based solutions can now provide greater reliability and security than ever before.

“…a few years ago many thought that chat was going to take over phone interactions in the contact center, yet phone has remained the largely preferred channel for consumers.” —Florian Garnier

It’s worth noting that these trends are unlikely to change significantly from year to year. However, the relative importance of each trend may shift over time as the contact center industry and customer expectations continue to evolve.

Daryl Gonos

Daryl Gonos:

The top four trends are still mostly the same…

1. Improve operational efficiency. Time is money and it’s still a major reason why WFM software is so important to contact centers. Solutions powered by AI and automation are built to make the life of a WFM analyst easier so they can spend more time getting the little things that matter right. Instead of spending most of their day in the trenches with schedules and intraday changes.

2. Integration capabilities. The ability for WFM software to integrate with other technologies, such as contact center-as-a-service (CCaaS) and payroll systems, has become essential to efficient operations. It’s imperative that a WFM solution can integrate with both large and small solutions to keep customers happy.

3. Improve agent retention. Contact center agents have always had a high churn rate. WFM solutions like shift bidding, mobile communication (scheduling, time off, etc.), and an agent portal with a built-in communications framework are attractive offerings a contact center can provide to keep agents happy.

4. ROI of WFM software. Price will always be a factor of some sort when it comes to a purchasing decision. Leading suppliers have developed multiple tools internally that they share with prospects and customers that help them to understand the ROI of investing in WFM software and what they could be missing out on if they wait.

Baker Johnson

Baker Johnson:

1. It’s difficult to manage fully remote, distributed, and hybrid teams, especially when using legacy technology and algorithms. Without the right technology and support systems, productivity, agent satisfaction, and supervisor effectiveness all take a massive hit.

2. The average contact center employee turnover rate is as high as 45%, according to a Salesforce-sponsored article in the Harvard Business Review.

A lot of that is due to high stress, poor support, and a lack of technology. One issue that leads to increased agent turnover is the lack of clarity on schedules and the lack of support during times of increased customer calls.

Many contact center leaders still use Excel to develop agent schedules. These manual processes drain efficiency and make it difficult to account and staff for fluctuations in customer demand.

Most of our customers schedule agents far in advance and utilize predictive capabilities to forecast customer demand and properly staff for any variances. This helps create better agent experiences, which leads to happier customers.

3. We’re seeing contact centers move away from on-premise set ups and implement cloud-based and AI-powered WFM solutions, which are more powerful, flexible, and intuitive, and much easier to deploy and scale. We’re also seeing increasing demand for solutions that include both CCaaS and WFM natively from a single vendor.

4. Organizations are demanding better data and analytics from their WFM solutions. Going back to the staffing issue, we hear from many contact centers that still only produce demand forecasts quarterly or monthly. This lack of timely data insights creates an inefficient service experience for agents and customers as contact centers are rarely staffed to meet expected demand.

Dave Singer

Dave Singer:

The top trends impacting a contact center’s purchase and use of WFM solutions are essentially continuations and accelerations of what we’ve seen for the past couple of years.

It’s increasingly harder to hire and retain people. Which has organizations leaning into WFM to not only increase employee productivity and performance, but also improve the employee experience by supporting the shift to flexible hybrid employment models like gig work and shorter shifts to drive better retention and hiring.

As a result, we see more WFM automation and AI requirements to help take the management burden off of humans while also providing self-service capabilities like agent self-scheduling. So that employees can seamlessly manage the best schedule that works for them.

Mitch Todd

Mitch Todd:

The first top trend revolves around the explosion of new digital channels. This, coupled with customers’ increasing desire for more digital self-service options, has made managing customer interactions much more complex.

Contact centers are having trouble keeping up, lacking the tools to leverage data and KPIs from these new channels to be able to staff accordingly, make availability predictions, and support agents. It has become paramount, then, for contact center customers to invest in modern WFM software with AI-powered scheduling and forecasting.

The second trend contact centers are seeing is that attrition remains high. Agents are more stressed than ever due to their roles changing in the digital era. This has become more apparent each year with the influx of new digital channels.

Agents are now handling more interactions over a variety of digital and voice channels. As chatbots take over the more mundane tasks, agents also are handed the more complicated interactions, increasing stress. Contact center customers know it is time to invest in their agents with adequate support tools to empower them to deliver exceptional CX.

The next trend we have seen more frequently is the demand for real-time reporting and planning since waiting until the end of interactions is no longer sufficient. Instead, understanding interval-specific activity patterns is crucial for effective workforce planning in a digital era where interactions span hours or days.

Lastly, contact centers are increasingly being asked to do more with less. 2023 has seen more economic hardship than 2022.

“Agents are more stressed than ever due to their roles changing in the digital era. This has become more apparent each year with the influx of new digital channels.”
—Mitch Todd

A modern WFM solution can enable agents to be scheduled to seamlessly handle more than one customer interaction simultaneously. It allows the contact center to truly optimize their staffing and workloads, offering ways to accurately forecast and schedule in a multiskill and multichannel environment. And to utilize the staff and resources they have in the most efficient way.

Chatbots and Quality

The use of artificial intelligence (AI)-driven tools, most notably chatbots, appears to be becoming pervasive for CX and cost-saving reasons.

But what impact have AI-powered chatbots had on quality, including quality monitoring, and on agent performance? Any downsides and if so, have any recommendations on preventing and mitigating them?

Florian Garnier:

In today’s modern, hybrid operations, AI-powered chatbots accelerate agent performance and contact center efficiency.

Chatbots or virtual assistants allow agents to better shape their work-life balance. For example, they automatically alert agents about overtime opportunities or voluntary time off, while also recommending unique requests tailored to individual schedules and overall staffing needs.

In addition, chatbots relieve agents of repetitive, mundane tasks and automate routine interactions with customers. This allows agents to shift their focus to high-value engagements, complex problem-solving, and providing excellent customer service.

One of the main challenges will be managing the transition from self-service to assisted service. During the hand-over between chatbot and agent, the CX should be seamless. Companies should ensure tight integration with agents’ desktop applications: assuring vital information that adds valuable context to customer conversations is easily shared with the agent.

Tricia Manning

Tricia Manning:

Let’s start by stressing the importance of monitoring the quality of all interactions across all channels for humans and bots.

Often an AI-powered chatbot or an IVR system might be the customer’s first interaction with your brand. This means that your bots need to make a great first impression, not just in terms of providing a personalized, human-like interaction, but also in delivering actual resolutions and services.

If an interaction is transferred from a chatbot to a live agent, it needs to be seamless and should include a summary of the customer’s journey up to that point.

Because if you don’t have visibility into the entire quality picture, including the customer’s perception of quality, then you can’t really know what total quality in your contact center looks like, where improvements are needed, and whether AI-powered chatbots are effectively assisting your agents. All of these factors need to be considered when monitoring quality in the contact center.

Conversational AI can revolutionize your customer engagement operations, but there can be challenges. According to a recent study by Verint, organizations must devise a smart implementation strategy to circumvent common AI deployment challenges including prolonged delays, expensive development processes, and bots failing to meet customer expectations.

“If an interaction is transferred from a chatbot to a live agent, it needs to be seamless…”
—Tricia Manning

According to the study, 74% of consumers who have used a chatbot while 64% reported a negative experience. The most troubling issues cited were the bots failing to answer the customer’s question (71%) and/or misunderstanding their intent (64%).

The key is to deploy holistically. Bots and other automated self-service tools need to be part of a holistic customer service strategy.

Mitch Todd:

As companies increasingly rely on chatbots to manage straightforward customer inquiries, agents often find themselves dealing with more intricate customer issues. This shift can lead to extended handle times for agents, which, in turn, introduce complexities into the WFM processes downstream.

“…contact centers need to ensure that the introduction of chatbots is accompanied by proper training for agents…”
—Mitch Todd

The integration of AI-powered chatbots also brings substantial benefits. These chatbots enhance agent effectiveness and performance by handling routine queries, enabling agents to focus on more specialized tasks. Additionally, AI technology provides near-real-time insights into customer behavior, enriching interactions and enabling agents to better address customer needs.

To prevent and mitigate potential downsides, contact centers need to ensure that the introduction of chatbots is accompanied by proper training for agents to seamlessly transition between routine tasks and more complex interactions.

By fostering a symbiotic relationship between chatbots and human agents, organizations can create a harmonious customer service ecosystem that optimizes efficiency and elevates the quality of support provided.

Q. Are you/your customers seeing any shifts in their ability to hire, retain, and schedule agents and supervisors, including training?

Florian Garnier:

The ability of contact centers to hire, retain, and schedule agents and supervisors is affected by a variety of factors, including economic conditions, labor market trends, industry-specific challenges, and more.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry saw tremendous challenges in 2020 through 2022 for contact centers to hire and retain agents. With that said, the uncertain economic landscape of 2023 has eased some of the pain points that occurred in the last couple of years.

“…the ability of contact centers to hire, retain, and schedule agents and supervisors is likely to be an ongoing challenge.”
—Florian Garnier

The following are some factors shown to increase the ability of organizations to retain their agents with greater success.

  • Remote work. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend towards remote work, and many contact centers are now allowing agents and supervisors to work-from-home (WFH). While this can provide greater flexibility and access to a larger talent pool, it can also present challenges in terms of scheduling, training, and communication.
  • Workforce diversity. Companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workforce. Contact centers that prioritize diversity and offer inclusive work environments may be more successful in attracting and retaining top talent.
  • Training and development. Many contact centers are investing in training and development programs to help agents and supervisors build their skills and advance their careers.
  • WFM systems that are part of a suite of products that can support training and development can help contact centers to better manage these programs and ensure that agents and supervisors receive the support they need to succeed.

Overall, the ability of contact centers to hire, retain, and schedule agents and supervisors is likely to be an ongoing challenge. Contact centers that prioritize employee engagement, training and development, and flexible scheduling may be better positioned to succeed in this competitive environment.

Dave Singer:

One of the ongoing effects of the pandemic is that people are less willing to keep jobs they don’t want, and contact center jobs are notorious for high turnover rates.

“With everything getting more complex, organizations need solutions like WFM to bring it all together…” —Dave Singer

In addition, employee expectations are higher, especially when considering the increasing importance of employee engagement and experience. A more competitive employee candidate pool matches this challenge due to hybrid and remote work. Now, someone can live in Indianapolis and get a job in Dallas.

With everything getting more complex, organizations need solutions like WFM to bring it all together, including scheduling (full-time, part-time, and gig workers), coaching sessions, team meetings, and more. Meeting employee expectations for flexibility has to be driven through automation workflows and self-service.

Mitch Todd:

Contact centers continue to struggle with retaining agents. The job of a contact center agent is hard and highly prone to burnout.

As agents are expected to do more, handling both voice and digital interactions, it is more important than ever for contact centers to provide modern WFM software. Just as customers want more self-service options, agents do too.

WFM software should allow agents to self-schedule, empowering agents to take control of their schedule. It should also provide AI-powered real-time insights to drive personalized, objective, and targeted coaching opportunities for agents to improve the CX.

Contact centers that invest in employee experience are seeing improved retention rates leading to happier agents and customers.