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The Future Of The Customer Service Workforce: A Case Study With CommunityWFM

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Matt Wujciak


“It’s like they’re put under a magnifying glass. The good service-oriented companies become more obvious. For others, the struggles become higher and bigger. Companies that are in industries that are recognized for not having the best service already… if they were struggling in their support world before, they [now] struggle even more…” WSJ and NYT bestselling author Shep Hyken told me a few months back.

While the pandemic has taken its toll on thousands of organizations, certain business trends were already starting to negatively impact specific industries.

For example, several traditional brick-and-mortar retailers that filed for bankruptcy (i.e. J.C. Penny or J. Crew) were already losing ground as e-commerce businesses continued to swallow the customer experience retail market. However, this digital shift impacted more than just the retail industry. People stopped going to the movies as much and started watching movies on-demand from home. Instead of driving to the gym, they took Peloton classes. What happened during the pandemic is this shift in consumer behavior became accelerated out of necessity. And even though we are still in the pandemic, it is likely some components of this way of life are here to stay.

We have talked about it before, but the term “financial Darwinism” seems to be one of the most accurate descriptions of the pandemic’s impact on modern business. “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”

This is a story about one of those businesses, technologies, and trends.

The future workplace

“We saw it coming… we knew that virtual agent environments where a large majority of employees would be working from home was in the future. We saw that back in 2005, but it doesn’t mean that the distance should splinter the communication and collaboration companies need to thrive.” CommunityWFM CEO, Daryl Gonos recently told me.

No, Daryl and his team didn’t predict the future of the pandemic back in 2005 - when his company began transitioning from a workforce management (WFM) consulting firm to a leading software solution provider for customer service departments. However, one might say they did predict the outcome of one of the many existing trends that the pandemic accelerated.

For example, it’s estimated that the work from home increase has expedited companies’ digital communications strategy by an average of six years, with nearly 97% of enterprise decision-makers stating that the pandemic sped up their company’s digital transformation. Workforce management is the shining example.

Working environments and conditions have changed drastically across many industries in the past six months. Contact centers, specifically, have moved from brick and mortar sites to primarily remote ones - a trend Daryl forecasted fifteen years ago. In fact, according to CCW Digital research, now nearly 75% of contact center, customer experience, marketing and customer service leaders are looking to make remote work a more permanent option. And according to KPMG, 68% of CEOs said they will downsize their office space. It is not hard to see why.

Other than the obvious leasing cost/factor of traditional corporate offices, 72% of CEOs believe working remotely has widened their talent pool. In addition, countless studies have shown the productivity increase of flexible working environments, and arguably more importantly, flexible hours.

“I think at Verizon, as a whole our main focus was on our network, keeping our network up so we could keep our folks connected, our customers connected, and of course, making sure our employees are safe… We have over 100,000 employees working from home...I think we’re going to keep working from home at a higher level than we ever have before when we return.”  Kelley Kurtzman, Vice President, Global Consumer Sales and Service Centers at Verizon told us during the pandemic.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that this was made apparent to most.

The primary items impacting workforce management in the contact center include how both the lives of agents and customers have radically changed. During the pandemic, customer contact volume had increased by 1,000% while agent capacity had dropped 20% and customer satisfaction had decreased 28% during one point in the pandemic, as seen in a recent CCW Digital webinar.

For some possible solutions, remote work can offer more flexible work hours, which are needed due to an increase in sporadic increases in customer contact volume (as seen in the WSJ). If a volume increase happens at a bad time and fewer employees are available to manage the demand, it creates a poor customer experience and stressful work environment.

The good news is this entire situation can be avoided. Companies are now turning to workforce management software now more than ever to better predict these fluctuations in volume. By leveraging their unique predictive AI algorithms, they can look at previous call volumes in real-time to forecast what the call volume will be for the next week – even down to the hour – with a high percentage of accuracy. This type of forecasting greatly reduces the chance of running into over and under staffing scenarios compared to other methods, saving companies both time and money.

What are those other methods? Traditionally, WFM solutions provide simple allocation-based percentages for staffing and scheduling, often managed using spreadsheets. For companies that have multiple sites, multiple channels, and requires multiple skills, using spreadsheets to accurately forecast agents is not possible. It is simply too complex with so many variables involved. The reliance on spreadsheets and other methods becomes even more confusing when trying to factor in the growing gig and temp employee workforce.

The emergence of the gig-economy (and how they fit in)

“With our embedded communications framework, a WFM analyst can instantly reach out to a targeted group of agents and solicit overtime and undertime and flex those schedules in a matter of minutes. And I think that’s why the CommunityWFM solution set is really blossoming as quickly as it is now.” – Daryl Gonos, CommunityWFM CEO.

One in five (20%) of these employees cite schedule flexibility as a reason for choosing temporary/contract work (another trend in customer service staffing), according to the American Staffing Association. Flexibility, particularly in customer service is here and it is here to stay. 

Many companies leverage gig, contract, or temp employees because it makes sense for improving their return on investment (ROI). When I asked Daryl what an ROI of a workforce management investment in customer service looks like today, he replied with a CommunityWFM stat:

“You can expect an increase in efficiency, and this is well documented of about 30 percent… And when you are talking about a 30 percent increase in efficiency in a one hundred person contact center, that is like adding 30 people without hiring a single person. The return is staggering.” - Daryl Gonos, CommunityWFM CEO.

Other than over or under staffing - another groundbreaking concept you might be able to relate to (especially Millennials) - a 9 to 5 career isn’t right for everyone.

In fact, these non-standard schedules are becoming more and more important for employees and colleagues. Maybe someone needed to leave the workforce to care for their children or parents and can no longer work full time. Does this mean they are not interested in working? Of course not. The nice thing about flex time or split shifts is they often provide a gap in the middle of the day to focus on life’s responsibilities, and a common reason why split shifts are increasing in popularity is for parents looking to make extra money, among a myriad of other practical reasons. They work a couple hours in the morning, then clock out to drop their kids off at school. After they return home, they clock back in and work the second part of their shift.

Split shifts, as recently featured on the CommunityWFM blog, are a great option to find motivated agents that require schedule flexibility. Companies like Uber have driven this “work when you can” mentality to the forefront of business, and more contact centers are following this gig style of workforce management that is only possible with the right WFM software solution in place.

Managing demand through proper staffing

Gig employees are also leveraged as a quick remedy for a spike in contact volume. As seen in a recent Harvard Business Review analysis published on August 31st, we are spending 12% less time drawn into large meetings and 9% more time interacting with customers and external partners. Instead, people are turning to contact centers to answer their questions. The fluctuation in the staffing needed to interact with those customers has become apparent with the increased call volume many customer service departments are struggling to accommodate.

We do 50% more activities through personal choice — because we see them as important — and half as many because someone else asked us to, meaning employees are taking control over their schedules, activities, and lives. They’re doing what they want, when they want - which isn’t a bad thing if managed properly. Workforce management needs to leverage technology to adapt to this concept so companies can bring the best out of their employees.

During lockdown, we view our work as more worthwhile. We rate the things we do as valuable to our employer and to ourselves. The number of tasks rated as tiresome dropped during the pandemic from 27% to 12%. In other words, employees are ready to take on work more efficiently if the workload is balanced correctly, ideally, by the employee’s choice.

This often means contact centers should have a larger number of agents that are ready to react when needed, and all the agents should be organized by the skills they have within the WFM software.

As Daryl described the skills concept, referring to CommunityWFM’s solution:

 “An analyst can go in and recognize through our intraday intelligence dashboard that, because of a poorly communicated promotion, they’re going to be understaffed this afternoon by 15 people between the hours of 1:00pm and 4:00pm for instance in a particular group or skill. And they can broadcast out a message on multiple channels (email, SMS, mobile)  to all the agents that aren’t working this afternoon that have the relative skill and they can receive the offer on their mobile device, or on their desktop. The agent can accept or decline the offer. If they accept it, it comes right back into the CommunityWFM solution, and we update their schedule within seconds… And that’s just one of many strategies that you can implement with the embedded communications framework.”

For a look behind the numbers and success stories, check out how CommunityWFM is revolutionizing today’s workforce for their clients with higher productivity, engagement, and staff management with these short case studies - by clicking here.