July 28, 2020

What exactly is workforce management?

Laura Chandler

@laurawrdeadly

How do accomplished teams manage to keep things running smoothly, even when thrown into unknown waters? They rely on strategies, like workforce management, to help them maintain excellent outcomes. As a customer service leader, you have the power and obligation to implement a strategy that not only improves your metrics, but provides your team with the right tools and support to achieve any goal.

What is workforce management for support teams?

The term “workforce management” seems relatively simple; a process designed to better manage your workforce. For some, this may mean tracking employee time or analyzing performance. One of the earliest examples of workforce management is the “punch clock.” You might’ve seen a punch clock in old-school cartoons, the smoking and whistling box that anthropomorphic animals used to punch their timecards and start a long day of teasing one another. This 19th-century tool, created in 1888 by a New York jeweler, was used to track and manage the time of employees everywhere.

Early ideas of workforce management tended to focus solely on efficiency and quality of employees in call centers. It wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that workforce management gained traction outside of call centers. At the time, workforce management was trickling into supply-chain businesses as well as other to-market pipelines. Some even attribute its popularization to Andrew Grove’s book, “High Output Management.” His book included strategies typically found in production lines, such as forecasting and the use of calendars (can you imagine working somewhere that doesn’t employ calendar usage?). 

Luckily, the modern idea of workforce management goes beyond simply tracking employees’ efficiency at work. It focuses on all aspects of managing and supporting an all-star team, including:

  • Recruiting: Scrolling through resumes or reaching out to that mutual LinkedIn connection

  • Budgeting: Figuring out your team’s monetary needs for internal and external projects (and team off-sites like mini golf)

  • Human Resource Management: Managing the various people employed or contributing to the company including both full-time employees, part-time employees and independent contractors

  • Field Service Management (FSM): Managing physical resources located at your client’s property

  • Performance & Training Management: Providing the right tools and guidance to ensure your team works effectively

  • Scheduling: Planning when your team works to ensure best performance, even when someone is vacationing in Hawaii

  • Real-Time Data Collection: Collecting real-time performance, volume, and other business metrics

  • Forecasting: Pulling out your crystal ball and predicting future outcomes based on current work

What is the importance of workforce management?

So, now that we understand the term “workforce management” and how it came to be, the question becomes why should you care about it? I’m guessing since you’re reading this article, that you’re at least a little bit interested in understanding how to improve your team (in whatever way that may be). 

Workforce management is especially helpful in increasing the efficiency of your team without sacrificing quality. Like many other support leaders, you may have had to weigh whether your support metrics or content of your tickets matter more. You may have even thought it impossible to maintain a quality voice or tone and a relatively high FRT (First Response Time). Workforce management strategies, and tools like Assembled, can help leaders maximize both their team’s efficiency and efficacy.

Workforce management is even more of a valuable asset during unprecedented times such as these. More and more companies are transitioning their work from in-office to remote. Some companies, like Twitter, are even making that change a permanent one. Many leaders may find themselves in brand new territory, unsure how to maintain the same level of quality and efficiency when their entire team is stuck behind computer screens. 

Implementing workforce management strategies

Introducing a workforce management strategy for your day-to-day business can be a game-changer, especially when navigating unknown terrain like a fully remote staff.  You’ll have reliable processes and tools that function whether your team is all together or far apart. But before setting up new tools and sending out email updates to the team, you first have to start by evaluating the foundation of your team.

A key ingredient for any strong strategy is having clear objectives and goals in mind. You want to be sure that both you and your team understand and align on the goals. Your goals should encompass all that you wish to achieve with your team (higher satisfaction scores, better response times, higher conversion rates, lower customer effort scores, the list goes on). Many of these goals will also include commitment from teams outside of your own, so it’s imperative that everyone involved aligns on the objectives and goals.

Once everyone is onboard with whatever objectives and goals you’ve all set, then you can move on to the next building block: people. You can have the best processes in place and the smartest tools for your team, but none of it will matter unless you have the right people. The “right people” is subjective, which is great, because then it can mean whatever you want it to mean. The “right people” could mean fast repliers, or very autonomous workers, or technologically skilled wizards. The “right people” fully depend on the goals and objectives of your team. Hire, train, and invest in those who can help you reach those goals. Remember, training is a key part of the workforce management strategy!

One of the last things to tackle is finding the right technology to help you and your team achieve the aligned goals and objectives. There are an abundance of tools available for all types of teams that help with different aspects of workforce management. What’s great about workforce management software tools is that they should integrate with and help manage your current systems.  Customer Experience teams, for example may find our forecasting and scheduling tools to be an asset in their own workforce management strategies. Keep in mind that your tools should alleviate administrative work so your team can refocus their attention on other important projects.

Workforce management is designed to help teams maximize their efforts without losing their quality. Aligning on goals and objectives, hiring and investing in the right people, and finding the best tools for you and your team is just the beginning of a stellar workforce management strategy. Like any good strategy, continued effort and upkeep of your workforce management strategy will have immense impact on your business as a whole.

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