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Meeting customer expectations with workforce management and AI

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Three trends are redefining how companies meet customer expectations. The first is the exponential growth of digital commerce and the expectation of superior omnichannel support. The second is the need for companies to schedule in real time their skilled resources. The third trend, which COVID-19 brought to a tipping point, is the need to proactively support employee well-being.

During the pandemic, workforce management has become an area of intense focus and accelerated innovation. Human resources teams at companies around the world have developed new policies, practices, and processes to enable a decentralized workforce while keeping employees connected and productive. As innovation continues, especially around reducing operating costs and managing staffing, in addition to maintaining an optimal customer experience, it’s fair to say that a new era of workforce management has begun.

Experts agree the economic recovery will not just be faster; it will look different. More than 1.5 million new businesses started in each of the last quarters of 2020, according to The Wall Street Journal, doubling over the same time in 2019. Harvard Business Review predicts that there will continue to be disruptions and transitions, along with new employee well-being drivers impacting business. 

For mid-sized organizations, which are often perpetually resource-constrained, these trends and drivers can change the trajectory of their success—upward and downward?virtually overnight.  

New approaches

Historically, companies tackled the first and second trends by sheer brute force—spreadsheets, tribal knowledge, and late-night numbers crunching. Mental health was considered a taboo topic. In today’s faster-paced global economy, historical ways aren’t fast or accurate enough. Equally, worker mental health is considered critical to company success.

Enter AI and machine learning. Companies prepared to capitalize on the rebound need to focus on assigning their limited resources to where the volume and issues are expected to be. The number-one reason that customers stop doing business with a company is because of the poor service they received. Go online and you’ll find thousands of YouTube videos of people sharing the gory details of their customer-service horror story at a particular business and detailing how badly they were treated. Why? Lack of staffing. Businesses must take advantage of new customer service techniques to boost customer experience or risk falling behind. Consumers embrace new digital trends that improve their experience (just look at how common once-disruptive tools such as live chat and parcel tracking have become) and expect companies to offer innovative services to suit their changing needs.

Intelligent workforce management

Since traditional methods of staff forecasting fail miserably at achieving this, companies are looking for cloud-based intelligent self-tuning and self-learning work-from-home applications.

A workforce management solution, which is different from a workforce engagement management suite, optimizes agent scheduling to meet the forecasted number of customer interactions. Contact centers have used workforce management tools for some time. But today’s solutions use AI and machine learning to facilitate an agile work environment. Agents are now part of the scheduling process so they can prioritize their work preferences and easily make changes if needed. When you give an agent a say in when they work, they’re more likely to be engaged while they’re on the job.

Customer-facing workforce forecasting uses AI models based on real-time data feeds and provides the best action recommendations to achieve target metrics based on what is currently happening in the contact center. A workforce engagement management suite can monitor and listen to your agents in real time. Instant access makes it easy for organizations to coach in-the-moment by offering immediate suggestions or corrective steps. Having real-time monitoring also lets them check in with their team to gauge how they’re doing mentally and physically. When agents know that the company cares enough to check on them, it builds loyalty and fosters greater engagement.

The benefits of AI

Today’s customers have a low tolerance for frustration. They’d rather try their luck with another company than repeat themselves to your customer service rep. After all, your competition is just a click away. Brands have become accustomed to the idea that they must provide multichannel access, but omnichannel demands more. Multi-channel means the customer can contact you through different channels: phone, live chat, social media, email, and so on. Omnichannel means that all channels are integrated.

AI models are equipped to handle the complexities of contact centers?including people with various skill competencies, rapidly shifting interaction channels, volume peaks and valleys, and the varied nature of customer service requests. Responding in real time enables organizations to meet customer expectations, not just in responsiveness but also in resolution time while optimizing employee availability and skill competencies. 

AI can also analyze the most effective ways of addressing downstream complexities of customer issues based on their criticality and volume. Equally, AI models the service and resource levels needed to meet the specific outcomes customers expect based on inquiry or issue type. Live data streams and automation to tune, train, test, and continually retrain models in real-time to reallocate resources and course correct is at the core of a successful workforce management application. 

Having the right people working on the customer concerns they are best suited to address is critical to brand loyalty and satisfaction. It helps avoid having a scheduling problem turn into a crisis and is key to employee satisfaction. Automated workforce forecasting in real time is becoming the de facto standard for progressive companies around the world that rely on WFM applications.

According to Harvard Business Review, nine new forces are shaping commerce and business.  Three stand out as impacting WFM:

  • “Employers will shift from managing the employee experience to managing the life experience of their employees” as companies that proactively support employee life experiences achieve a more than 20% increase in the number of high performers. 
  • “Flexibility will shift from location to time” as companies grapple with employees wanting to manage when they work, not just from where.
  • “Mental health support is the new normal” as companies invest in expanding mental health benefits along with de-stigmatizing mental health issues. 

AI will be instrumental in improving the well-being of front-line workers—from detecting staff stress levels and automatically scheduling a break to forecasting low volume periods and recommending training programs for employees or managers. This automation will continue to be a big trend, and the convergence between humans and bots will grow as automation and self-service increasingly take up more of those simple, transactional queries?which workers can use to take a breather.

Combining the automated understanding of workloads and individual employee well-being enables organizations to increase resilience and flexibility. There is nothing more demotivating than for a person to not feel in control of their lives. Employees are grown-ups and should be able to take their own decisions when it comes to choosing their work schedule, vacation days, and appropriate workload. Each person is different and only they know what fits them best.

Giving employees the choice to manage their time and work enables them to handle their work-life balance the way they see fit. By empowering staff to be in control of their time management, organizations are guaranteed to have more fulfilled and productive employees. This will support competitive differentiation, employee retention, and customer loyalty—all elements of growth. 

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