Changes to the Future of Workforce Management

From WFM Labs

The Drivers Behind the Need for Change

This standard focuses on intersecting drivers behind the need for developing an entirely new approach to the Workforce Management function. Those areas include:

  • The exponential advancements in technology.
  • The global pandemic, COVID-19.
  • The dramatic growth in independent workers & the gig economy.
  • The introduction of a new generation of workers, “Generation Z.”
  • More extraordinary times of business uncertainty.

Exponential Advancements in Technology

For the past decade, contact centers have focused heavily on leveraging technology to take calls out of contact centers. Today, technology advancements continue to change the landscape of business. Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to deliver a more significant percentage of customer service functions, reducing companies’ dependency on customer service representatives servicing customers.

While there will continue to be a wide range of opinions for technology replacing the need for employees to service customers, this standard is designed with the position that contact centers will be employing customer service representatives (CSRs) through the 2030s and likely well beyond. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, customer service representative jobs are estimated to decline only by 4% between 2021 and 2031. Even as the overall population of customer service representatives declines, one consideration in this new WFM standard is that simple, scriptable interactions will continue to be removed first as technology advances. Complex interactions for customer service representatives will increase and result in contact centers requiring more highly skilled employees to service these interactions. This puts additional pressure to solve a legacy problem contact centers have long faced: employee turnover.

While most leadership draws a parallel between technological advances and reducing the staff required to serve customers, this standard examines how WFM positions technological advances in the service of employees. By aligning technology advancements with employees, WFM seeks to drive significantly higher downstream benefits for customers and shareholders.

Global Pandemic: COVID-19

This standard is authored as we end the year 2022 after experiencing two full years of significant change driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. By March 2020, most contact centers across the globe were forced to shut down, scrambling to deploy their workforce remotely to work from home (WFH).

As of this publication, many companies have shifted to an entire “work from home” model for customer service representatives or have deployed some hybrid approach, where employees may be asked to return to a facility for a fixed number of days.

While a minority of companies require contact center employees to return to the office, this standard is written to address the new reality for many companies, where CSRs are no longer physically positioned in traditional brick-and-mortar contact centers.

The impact of the global pandemic on employees and employers extends far past the notion of where we work. Indeed, remote work changes several factors considered in how WFM operates moving forward, but other outcomes of the pandemic are considered in the design of this standard. The pandemic has many employees re-evaluating their relationship with work and their employer. While compensation is often stated as a leading reason for employees leaving customer service representative roles, this standard acknowledges work from organizations like McKinsey & Company that suggest the traditional playbook for attracting and retaining talent has changed:

While many factors influence the employee-employer relationship, the global pandemic triggered an acceleration into a new work era.

Dramatic Growth in Independent Workers

While independent workers have long represented a portion of the US civilian workforce, the growth of this segment in 2021-2022 requires consideration. According to McKinsey & Company in “Freelance, side hustles, and gigs: Many more Americans have become independent workers” the change is meaningful:

“There is a seismic shift in how Americans work and support themselves: 36 percent of employed survey respondents say they labor as independent workers, up from our estimate of 27 percent in 2016.”

While independent workers have been a source for contact centers and addressing traditional seasonality, the sector's vast growth can also cut negatively, increasing competition for the labor force required for both temporary and conventional full-time work. Impacts from the change in independent workers are discussed in how we leverage a new WFM approach.

Generation Z

Many customer service representative jobs are viewed as entry-level. We must consider the dynamics of the current younger generation, “Gen Z.” In February 2019, The Economist published “Generation Z is stressed, depressed and exam-obsessed” referencing data from the Pew Research Centre discussing this new cohort’s hopes and fears. Gen Z’s outlook is now shaped by witnessing the global pandemic and insecurity across many industries as many companies shut down, reduced staff, or froze hiring. For youth entering the workplace during 2020-2022, the lack of in-person work environments leaves Gen Z missing out on the hands-on training and support that contact centers traditionally offer.

Many studies suggest that Gen Z will look toward security, stability, and flexibility. While employment at a Fortune 500 company may offer security and stability, contact center roles and traditional WFM practices do not offer tremendous flexibility.

Gen Y and Gen Z are digital natives who embrace technology solutions. These generations will recognize the deployment of technology that focuses on the shareholder or customer first. Gen Y & Z will be less likely to embrace such technologies when profit motives are clear. This standard considers the importance of positioning technology in favor of the employee and their experience first.

More Extraordinary Business Uncertainty

The four areas above and many other factors lead to one final impact of more extraordinary times of uncertainty. Economic cycles, geopolitical events, global warming, alternative energy, and other factors cause businesses to face times of more remarkable change and uncertainty.

Workforce management has long focused on precision and repeatable patterns in developing plans to balance supply and demand and to execute those plans effectively. Yet, our function’s approach to planning and execution should acknowledge an increasing degree of uncertainty. While precision remains a priority, this standard leverages an increased emphasis on planning for uncertainty and executing to address the variance that uncertainty brings.

Drivers Exasperate Legacy Problems & Create New Challenges

This standard recognizes five distinct drivers as the catalyst behind the development of a new workforce management playbook:

  • Exponential change in technology
  • The global pandemic: COVID-19
  • Dramatic growth in independent workers
  • Introduction of a new workforce: Generation Z
  • Greater business uncertainty

This standard recognizes that these drivers exasperate legacy contact center problems and will create new challenges. For those organizations that continue to leverage the traditional approach to workforce management, each of these five drivers fuels challenges.

Exponential change in technology drives:

  • Complex contact types resulting in longer handle times
  • More significant ongoing employee support requirements
  • Increased training requirements
  • Increased onboarding requirements

The global pandemic / COVID-19 drives:

  • New remote support model for onboarding, training, and coaching
  • Remote support model for in-call support
  • Recruiting challenges: attracting and retaining talent

Dramatic growth in independent workers drives:

  • Shorter cycles for new hire attrition
  • Traditional temporary hiring challenges
  • Recruiting challenges: attracting and retaining talent

Introduction of a new workforce, Generation Z causes:

  • The need for greater job flexibility and security
  • Recruiting challenges: attracting and retaining talent

Increased business uncertainty drives:

  • Higher variability in demand planning
  • Increased reactive "firefighting" from variance
  • Higher variability in service delivery
  • Higher variability in budget recognition and expense management

The legacy WFM approach must consider these drivers and accept that the traditional playbook does not solve future challenges. Not addressing the drivers impacts an organization's customer base and ultimately negatively impacts revenue growth and profitability.

By embracing the changes proposed in this standard, an organization can positively leverage the WFM organization to impact your company's value.

Guiding Principles

The remainder of this document is organized to present standard practices for the future of workforce management. It is organized as described in the section above; Goals, Roles, Processes, Interpersonal Relationships (People), and Technology. This section seeks to summarize the guiding principles & significant changes incorporated below so the reader can quickly understand what’s new and different.

The four major guiding principles behind the changes introduced in the future WFM standard are:

  1. To reorientate workforce management in service of employees first
  2. To design and deliver resilient, risk-assessed capacity plans
  3. To provide proactive visual variance management, and
  4. To enable the WFM operating model with modern automation & simulation technologies

To further expand, we provide a “from-to” table with samples from the GRPI-T framework:

GRPI-T From To
Goal & Process Service level & expense objectives first at the cost of employees Employee needs met first to deliver improved service level & expense objectives
Interpersonal Relationships Contentious workforce management – frontline employee relationship WFM operating model advocating support of employees creating a genuine partnership
Goal & Process Trending frontline employee attrition Accurately pricing the cost of attrition, forecasting attrition/retention, and implementing processes to reduce attrition & retain employees
Process Building “precise” fragile capacity plans Incorporating probability & variance factors to generate resilient, risk-assessed capacity plans
Process Fixed, pre-scheduled off-phone activities Dynamic delivery of off-phone activities
Process Policing processes for adherence to schedule Dynamic schedule adjustments supporting exception recognition
Process Reactive firefighting when variance to plan is introduced Proactive, visual management of variance
Roles Forecasters leveraging traditional time-series approach to predict single-point demand variables Forecaster’s role expanded to developing risk models & scenario simulation, leveraging probability theory for both demand and supply
Roles Schedulers focused on traditional pre-planned activity management within WFM software Scheduler’s role expanded to leverage automation software for delivering dynamic activities
Roles Real-time analysts executing manual processes to address variance Real-time analysts leverage automation software to remove manual processes / realigned with managing automation
Technology ACD, WFM & Excel ACD, WFM, Excel + Automation & Simulation

Changes across the GRPI-T framework seek to:

  • Reorientate workforce management in service of employees first, solving the legacy problem of employee attrition.
  • Design and deliver resilient, risk-assessed capacity plans, solving the legacy problem of cycles of missing service level and expense targets, and
  • Provide proactive visual variance management, solving the legacy problem of reactive firefighting to address intraday variance

By incorporating these changes, workforce management can be the catalyst for reinventing the customer service organization for the next generation.