The Real Truth on Agent Performance and Workforce Optimization

Ventana Research believes that in today’s highly competitive markets the most important factor is the customer experience, or to be more precise, the way agents handle customer interactions and their outcomes from the perspectives of both customers and businesses. Our research on the contact center in the cloud shows that to reach customers organizations are deploying channels of interaction beyond the telephone, such as Web-based chat and self-service, mobile text messaging and social media, and that they increasingly use employees based outside the traditional contact center to handle interactions. Only organizations that handle all these kinds of interactions consistently and with high quality are likely to meet customers’ expectations, deliver satisfying experiences and thereby generate customer loyalty and repeat business.

Organizations have made extensive investments in technology to automate the handling of many types of interaction. However, our research shows that despite these investments, customers still prefer to interact with a person: More than 90 percent of interactions are telephone calls. Managing the total workforce that handles interactions therefore is of vital importance in delivering superior customer experiences while controlling costs. Our research on agent performance management shows that many companies are not mature in managing this workforce; such organizations use spreadsheets to define agent shift patterns, standard reports from their communications infrastructure to assess how well agents are performing, and manual quality assurance processes that depend on supervisors filling in standard forms. More mature companies use systems for workforce optimization, which typically include call recording, quality monitoring, workforce management and a reporting and analytics tool.

Call recording allows companies to record inbound phone calls. However, the research shows that most companies don’t make much use of these recordings, listening to less than 5 percent of the total to assess how well agents are handling calls. Quality monitoring systems allow companies to design more sophisticated quality assessment forms, and can provide reports and analysis that help managers and supervisors identify training and coaching needs. Workforce management, the most advanced of these applications, enables companies to use previous patterns of inbound calls to determine requirements for agent scheduling, in both numbers and skills, to report on agents’ adherence to those planned schedules and to provide analysis of actual performance. The analytics tools typically provide analysis and reports similar to those the infrastructure provides but make the analysis more extensive and easier to use and the outputs more visual.

Over the past few years the workforce optimization market has become APM_Weighted_Overallquite competitive. Our Value Index for Agent Performance Management in 2012 compared 12 of the major vendors that offer workforce optimization applications and in some cases full suites. Overall the results showed that the vendors are closely matched, with all but one earning the highest Hot rating and only seven percentage points separating the highest- and lowest-ranked Hot vendors. The list is topped by two of the best-established players in the market, Verint and NICE Systems, but several smaller vendors trailed them by less than one percentage point. The one warm vendor, Enkata, has the least extensive set of products and focuses solely on analysis of agent performance.

Since we compiled this index last year, both customer requirements and vendor capabilities have advanced. For example, our research shows the trend to support more channels of communication increasing: Companies on average now support seven channels. As more interactions are handled outside the traditional contact center, managing the workforce has taken on new dimensions. And like most other product areas, workforce optimization is under pressure to keep up with new demands for cloud computing, big data, mobility, collaboration and social media. Vendors have responded with new capabilities in their core products, and some now can capture all types of interactions, not just call recordings. Now available are agent compensation management to deal with variable pay and more sophisticated analytic capabilities that deal with big data, processing more forms of data and performing predictive analysis.

Our new benchmark research on the next generation of workforce optimization, which will show just how these new demands are affecting companies and how they are responding. I will also be updating the Agent Performance Management Value Index so you can see how vendors are responding to these demands and which of them are still hot. My recent research on the agent desktop and customer service established a clear link between agent satisfaction and the customer experience, showing that happy agents twice as often meet customer experience expectations and so deliver higher customer satisfaction scores. This finding points to the importance of managing and assessing agents in a consistent, coherent way and linking workforce optimization with customer-related activities. So stay tuned to see how the market has moved forward over the last 15 months and get the latest information on improving the performance of your agents and other employees who handle customer interactions.


Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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