When I was in the fourth grade, Kevin and I sat on the seesaw at recess. While most students leverage this playground toy as a means to buck off their competitor, Kevin and I had a different plan. We were trying to create perfect balance on both sides. It was an incredibly difficult task, especially without the proper information and tools.
A few years later, Kevin and I were in science class and attempted the same task, but with a two-sided scale. The task was now much easier. We had data on both sides of the scale that helped us determine how to achieve balance.
As a student, I was always super interested in systems, balance inside those systems, and how to predict or create future balance in a system. In my estimation, balance reduces friction. And the less friction you had in a system, the more likely the system would succeed.
My obsession with balance followed me into my career in customer experience, leading me to develop a playbook and a set of tools for balancing a company’s supply of CX resources with its CX demands. The framework I’ve been perfecting for two decades is now called WorkForward, Powered by Spreadsheet Scheduler, and it’s helping my clients bring customer satisfaction up while pushing costs down.
Balance in the WFM system
The concept of balance first came up in my professional life when I was in my 20s. I was working for a contact center company and had recently joined the WFM (Workforce Management) group. I didn’t yet have much experience in the craft. However, in the first week I noticed something: the importance of balance in the staffing and capacity system. Each week, service levels were not achieved on any intervals. There was a lot of tension between the WFM team and the Service Delivery teams. So, I started to research what creates balance in a staffing and capacity system and how that benefits the end customer.
I soon realized it starts with data, forecasting, then scheduling, adherence, and then the ability to respond to unexpected variables in the staffing and capacity system (volume, average handle time, absenteeism, etc.). I started to do some modeling during my off hours. I quickly realized that the company was losing millions of dollars due to imbalance in its staffing and capacity systems. This was driving a negative customer satisfaction (CSAT) number and, in turn, a poor brand experience for its end customers.
I spent a few weekends in Excel, IEX, and Blue Pumpkin and came up with a new way to forecast, schedule, and report on adherence, and a playbook to manage real-time variable changes in the staffing and capacity system. While this is fairly commonplace today, the idea of creating a unified WFM team system to enable balance in the staffing and capacity system was very new 20 years ago.
I proposed my new system to leadership and asked for the opportunity to test it on a smaller account. We tested my system for six months. The experiment results demonstrated a dramatic improvement in service-level achievement (SLA) and other performance metrics. It also improved forecast accuracy to +/- 10% at the interval level and enabled Service Delivery to hit >95% adherence targets. All in all, the account saved about 15% in total resource cost and hit expected staffing and capacity system performance targets. One big surprise was the 10% increase in CSAT and positive brand experience that followed. A new WFM way was born.
Shortly after the experiment, my staffing and capacity system approach was rolled out across the company. This new approach to looking at WFM at the systemic level and interlocking its interdependent parts allowed us to more effectively manage the system to achieve the expected result. What I was most happy about was our ability to find balance in a system and enable it to thrive and avoid unnecessary tension and friction. It delivered the perfect balance of supply and demand in the customer experience.
Taking WFM Balance to Scale
As my career progressed and I continued to work for many great companies, I repeatedly encountered the same problem. None of these companies had figured out how to balance supply and demand effectively in the customer experience, and so I introduced them to my staffing and capacity system and playbook.
In all cases, after effective implementation, we experienced very similar results to my first company—an increase in SLA achievement, a decrease in resource cost, an increase in CSAT and brand equity, and the overall system generally operating with ease.
Over time, I took all of these best WFM practices, and created a WFM framework that governs the staffing and capacity system. This framework allows decision makers to choose key system variables of success like low wait times, cost effectiveness/occupancy, and ROI, and make decisions based on the returns they value most.
How WFM Balance Became WorkForward
As time progressed, I eventually gave my framework and tools a name: WorkForward. It’s a simple concept. How can we move the work forward for clients? We believe we can best do this by helping them balance supply of their resources with demand of their customer engagements. If we can implement a best-in-class WFM framework and system that creates harmony in their day-to-day customer experience, they will succeed, create amazing brand equity, and drive re-buy or stickiness with their customers and superfans.
When speaking as an expert in WFM, I’m often asked why use WorkForward, powered by Spreadsheet Scheduler?
In the call center world, there is a great opportunity to minimize staffing costs while ensuring hitting your Service Level goals, by effectively determining the number of agents you need by half hour intervals of the day, and scheduling agents to best match this staffing demand.
WFM systems have historically had high implementation and licensing costs. As such, it is often not financially feasible for a small contact center to invest in a WFM solution. They must decide between allocating a significant portion of their budget to one of an expensive system or put an Excel Spreadsheet together to best account for schedules.
These home-grown spreadsheets typically lack any sort of automation and thus take a lot of manual work and are hard to truly maximize staffing efficiencies with the almost infinite combinations of start times, breaks, meetings, etc. And yet even large call centers like eBay and the United States Postal Services that have very large budgets and spend millions of dollars a month on their call center staffing, still have benefited from spreadsheets to help them forecast.
With forecasting being a mix between an art and a science, many companies need these advanced forecasting spreadsheets to take their forecasting to the next level. WFM systems can apply the scientific side of the numbers but need human insight into the data and knowledge of the business and trends.
With so many call centers still needing to rely on spreadsheets, WorkForward, powered by Spreadsheet Scheduler has created a low cost model that would allow us to provide forecasting and scheduling programs based in Excel Spreadsheets at very low costs to allow small contact centers to gain big center efficiencies, as well as create forecasting models for call centers of all sizes to be able to apply both the art and the science to their forecasts.
Furthermore, it is a plug-and-play, fully customizable system that maps to the client’s WFM needs. We deliver ~10% resource savings that often self-funds within the first month. Additionally, we believe all contact centers should have access to high quality WFM and their own data, and that no one should have to pay expensive license fees to big software companies.
I’m proud of the results WorkForward has achieved for our customers. Whether our customers purchase our products, or have one of our WFM analysts use our products to forecast and schedule for them, we have found that many times over, we have achieved SLA targets, forecast accuracy +/-10%, increase in CSAT, and usually around 10% cost savings across the enterprise. WFM is not always the most exciting topic to discuss, but, in my experience, building a framework that governs your resources—where they work, how they work, and their quality of work—will pay you dividends 10x over.
As I think back to Kevin and me trying to find balance in the simple things of early life, I'm reminded of the difficulty and importance of achieving balance. It is balance that enables us to support and help each other and to move forward to the future of work in all we do for ourselves and our customers.