Call center companies tout optimization wares

Aspect Communications Corp., RightForce, and Blue Pumpkin Software Inc. are all scheduled to unveil call center workforce optimization solutions this week designed to help companies ensure their call centers are staffed with the best agents armed with critical data needed to ensure customer satisfaction.

The companies are making the product announcements at the International Call Center Management conference in Chicago.

As companies lean more heavily on their call centers to drive revenue by up-selling and cross-selling while ensuring repeat customers by providing consistently good service, optimizing the call center workforce becomes critical, according to industry observers.

"From a customer satisfaction standpoint, your people hold the keys," said Tiffany Riley, vice president of marketing at Blue Pumpkin in Sunnyvale, Calif. "From a profitability perspective, employees are obviously the most expensive part of anybody's budget. Our focus is on helping people build a management process that helps them understand the best way to use their employees to achieve the company's strategic goals. It's about making sure that their skills, their time, their activities, and their workload all have been oriented toward success."

Blue Pumpkin's new Workforce Optimization Suite is designed to allow companies to create a closed-loop system that transforms the workforce into a strategic asset via long-range human resource planning, budgeting, employee scheduling, productivity assessment, payroll integration, and performance measurement.

The new suite directly impacts customer satisfaction and cost control by ensuring people are aligned with corporate objectives, said Robert Mirani, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston. By focusing on the entire employee life cycle, Blue Pumpkin helps organizations more quickly and profitably achieve their goals, he added.

Aspect Communications will unveil this week its new eWorkforce Management 6.1 designed to enable companies to forecast and schedule staff to handle customer inquiries made via phone, Web, or e-mail. Contact center managers can now access key service and performance statistics and schedule administration via wireless and Web applications.

"Many companies are actually managing e-mail and Web in different organizations than within the call centers," said Tom Lockwood, senior product marketing manager for servers at San Jose, Calif.-based Aspect. "It becomes a chaotic enterprise. If a customer e-mails a company and then calls two days later, the agent they speak to may not know anything about the e-mail. This new release aims to allow them to integrate their agent population to significantly reduce their costs. It really enables customers to integrate agent populations for the first time ... which ultimately is going to give the customer a better experience."

In addition to ensuring that their call centers are staffed with the optimal workforce to handle inbound calls from customers, companies also are eyeing boosting their outbound calling campaigns with the best agents. Chicago-based RightForce this week is rolling out its new workforce planning software designed to boost the success rate and efficiency of outbound campaigns.

Although many managers assume that because they originate the outgoing calls, they can easily manage the workforce, said Gus Agusti, CTO of RightForce. But automatic dialers have completely changed the landscape and resulted in more calls ending with the customer listening to dead air because there were not enough agents available to handle the call recipients, he added.

"The dialer is doing a terrific job of dialing the calls," he said. "The 'right time to call' software does a terrific job of ... determining the sequence of who we should call first. What's been missing is the planning part that tells you ... when you should schedule the largest number of people and more importantly when you should schedule your most productive people."

The RightForce Outbound software is designed to be integrated with the dialer to obtain historical data on the ratio of completed calls to attempts. It uses that data to forecast traffic at various times of the day, blends the inbound and outbound traffic to determine the optimum staffing needs, and tracks each campaign's daily completion goals.

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