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Ep. 61 Revisited- What is Work Force Management (WFM), and why is it important? With Jason Lowe

March 22, 2023

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Don’t miss this historic episode featuring Jason Lowe, Telarus Solution Architect for Contact Center. Join in as he discusses a key contact center product some companies just can not do without, which is Work Force Management (WFM). He talks about why they need it, how to overcome objections, and most importantly, how to help your contact center customers see the ROI on it!

Can you believe that we’re already at 100 episodes? While we go and ramp up and get ready for season three, we’re gonna take you back, listen to some of the great moments in these past episodes. So stay tuned as we take you back to season one and two.

Everybody, welcome back. We are here to talk about contact center, workforce management, and we’re gonna talk about why that is so important. But before we get to breaking that down, what it is, why it matters, why you care, I’d like to welcome in Mr. Jason Lowe, also goes by the name of J. Lowe, into the studio today. – Thank you for having me, Josh. Happy to be here. – So J. Lowe, I wanna talk about your background. Part of my favorite thing of doing this is really learning where everybody came from, right? Did you used to cut grass, then you decided you wanna get into tech? Where did you start? What’s your background? How did you get here? And give us the story.

– Man, so I’ve always been into technology. My parents got an Atari, which I loved, and then we got an Apple 2C computer, and they sent me to a computer camp and did all of these things. But when I, quite frankly, when I got to high school, and I didn’t wanna go to my other classes, I would go and hang out in the computer lab. And the person that ran the computer lab was very nice, and knew that if I wasn’t there helping her with the computer lab, that I would probably be at the 7-Eleven on the corner, or something like that. So she let me go ahead and spend as much time there, and so I got to spend time networking computers together, and setting up software, and then I got a job right out of high school doing the same stuff, and it eventually led to writing code, and doing some of the really super cool, crazy, techy things. But then I was tired of not having a degree, so I went back to school, got my bachelors, and ironically, right after I got my bachelors, and I’m looking around for a job, any job whatsoever, and I ran into this fine gentleman by the name of Darren Solomon, who at the time, was a recruiter for a little company called UCN. – Ah yes. – Yes, and he is now at Varen, by the way, but he and I bonded, and he tried to shoehorn me into three or four other different positions, and I finally got in as a technical trainer at UCN. And so that’s how my technology, at least in the software as a service space career, kind of got started. But yeah, previously everything from writing code, to networking, and computer maintenance, to software installation, and stuff like that. – I love it too, because it all translates, right? I mean, I never thought when I was going to school that I would need to know what the OSI model was, and understanding all these different layers, but you have these core things that you have, that you’re taught that it always kind of comes back to, regardless of if you, we talk about this, of the things that we went to school for, are we doing those now, right? That’s a whole nother podcast on its own, but I think that core, that troubleshooting, plugging it together, right? You’re starting to learn what you like, right? So it’s been awesome to kind of see that progression, and then turned into in contact, and then I believe there’s some product experience in there. So I think you’ve gotten a cool,

rounded out experience in my mind of the background, now obviously specializing in the context in our side here as an architect. – Yeah, it’s really funny how things turn out. Everything’s so iterative, right? You build on top of things, and when I got to UCN, I was a technical trainer, and then I go walking into Scott Welch’s office, Scott is now CEO of Europe for Five9, and I said, “I need a mentor,” and he said, “Okay, here, take a test,” and so he gave me an LMS personality profile. They said it was a 96% match for sales engineering, which I had never heard of before in my life. And so a year and a half later, I’m on the SE team, and I also played SE roles at Talk Desk, and things like that, but really the fun and interesting thing where things went a little crazy for me was I met the SKO with Nice in Vegas, outside by a campfire, having a drink with Kristin Emenecker, who is now the chief product officer, I believe, for Playbox, and we were sitting there ruminating about what we were doing in our different roles, and she said, “Man, I wish I could find someone “to take this product role,” and I was like, “Well, I’ll do it,”

and next thing I know, we’re having a conversation, and a month later, I’m on the product team, and I’m managing the relationship with Varenth, and at the time in contact before the nice acquisition, and so that was kind of my first exposure to workforce management in the contact center from a product side of things. I’d done things previously, but that really opened my eyes as to how these tools work, and what they do, and the value they provide. – So you got to see a lot of progression there. I mean, UCN is turning to in-contact, and you got to see the Varen partnership, product side, engineering side, architecture, all of that, and seeing in-contact grow over the years. As you saw that, I wanna talk a little bit about, and weave this into the workforce management side, because we always talk about, from a discovery call perspective, we’re looking to understand where the customer is, what do they need, do they need the full suite of everything, do they need just this little segment of tools that we’re trying to augment, because maybe the customer already bought that, and the agent’s trying to wedge in with some product or service. So first off, help us understand, for anybody that doesn’t know WFM, and what this whole workforce management thing is, break that down for us. – So WFM is one of a set of tools that are collectively referred to as workforce experience management these days. It used to also previously be called workforce optimization. And WFM, in a nutshell, the Cliff Notes version, is a tool that in one side, you feed in a bunch of variables, and on the other side, it spits out a schedule for your agents. That’s basically what it is. Now the variables that you feed in, are everything from, how many calls we’ve taken, what service levels we want for these calls,

what shifts do they wanna work, what kind of calls can they handle, are we expecting increases or decreases based on seasonality, or on advertising spends, or these different things. It takes into account all of these different factors, before it spits out the schedule, that allows you to answer the number of calls that you’re going to get in the service level window that you want, service level being answering within a certain interval, like we wanna get 80 to 85% of our calls answered within 30 seconds, or something like that. And so it takes all that in consideration, and then it just makes sure that you’re optimizing the number of people that you need to have on the floor, answering phone calls at any given time. So really, it’s the thing that optimizes things in both directions. One, let’s optimize the customer’s experience by making sure that an agent’s there to answer the phone call, but let’s also optimize the spend for the company by making sure that we’re accomplishing this with the lowest number of actual agents or employees necessary to meet those levels. – Awesome, I wanna go back to maybe one of the first examples that you did with this, but maybe let’s kick back even further of how do we know who needs this, right? I mean, do most customers know that they need it? Is it a certain size that you would always see of when it gets to the size, that’s kind of when, and the spreadsheets thing doesn’t work anymore, or steer us around that? – Great question. So I would say in most cases, when you’re looking at somewhere north of 40 to 50 agents, you’re probably going to benefit from something like this. Now there are other variabilities that kind of play into things like,

do we have a follow the sun model? Do we have just one shift, eight to five Monday through Friday, and that’s it? Do we have long calls? Do we have short calls? Are we doing outbound also? What are the types of media channels are we handling like chat, SMS, email, et cetera with our agents? Lots of different factors, but generally rule of thumb, if you have more than 40 to 50 agents, if you will, whatever you call those agents,

that’s generally the level that’s kind of a rule of thumb. – Okay, so let’s look back at, I wanna show a progression here as we build on this at the end, then versus now kind of thing. If you flash back to one of the first opportunities that you ever worked in as an engineer, where you went, hey, I need WFM, or we need to add WFM in here, walk us through what was that like and what was the product set then and how much value did it add? – At that time, it really was just the scheduling component, but then there were also some affiliated products that also further justified it. On the scheduling side of things, that was enough of a financial justification to make it happen.

This was an instance where I think they were dealing with 75 agents, they were doing spreadsheets, they did have a day shift and a swing shift, and they wanted to be really particular about their schedule and they wanted to really make sure that they were hitting those service level goals. And so they were less concerned with providing

the agent with a consistent eight to five Monday through Friday schedule, but let’s make sure that we have the right staff scheduled wherever needed. And so you have two different extremes in using the tools. One is going to be flexibility in the agent schedule, the other is going to be let’s be consistent for the agent and just provide them a day job type thing. So the more flexible you can be with a schedule for an agent and start and finish at a specific time, take breaks at specific time, then you’re going to be able to customize things a little better to hit those service levels. And in this particular case, it really made sense because they were using Excel spreadsheets and they were just kind of going off of what they felt. But when we dove into things and really took a look at their call volume, imported it into a WFM tool, they could really see the flows, the ebbs and flows during the day and see that sometimes people were taking breaks or were scheduled to take breaks or lunches during some of these peak periods. That’s why their service levels were going down and they probably knew it was happening, but they weren’t recognizing it because they didn’t really have it right in front of their face in the form of a good report. – So how do you pull that in to help the customer see that it’s not just an added cost? How do you quantify that into ROI? What’s the easiest top couple things to drill that down?

– I would say just taking a look at the fact that the people in a contact center are the number one cost. There’s no, I mean, no matter what technology you’re going to buy, you’re still the biggest expense is going to be who you’re paying and how much. And anything you can do to optimize that level of personnel or staffing, or dare I say, minimize it to what is just necessary to hit the goals, you’re going to save yourself money. How is that going to be? Well, you’re always going to be over-staffing if you’re not really analyzing and taking a look at what’s going on with all of these different variables and making sure that you have people staffed at the right time, but also not there at the times when you don’t need them. And so it really boils down to, okay, how many agents do you have? What’s your labor expenditure? Why don’t we take some of your call volumes, run a couple of simulated schedules and see what your labor costs would be if we were to do it through the WFM tool on this other side. – Love it, love it, that’s good.

How do you think, let’s talk about pros and cons.

Our job, right, as engineers and architects is to help the partner solve the customer’s business problems. And surely we would love it if we can come in and we can sell them context center and the workforce suite and UC and security and all these things. But we’re only able to do, A, what the budget allows and then, B, what they really need that they can identify that solves their problems at the current time. So where I’m going with this is we talk about a fully integrated suite or just these a la carte products that help somebody wedge in. How do you look at pros and cons there? What’s my pro or con either way of saying, Mr. Customer, you should leave this older technology that you have because by the time we bolt on, it’s gonna be X, Y, and Z. Or, no, you know what, wedge it in here. How do you go through that thought process? – Well, it’s interesting, right? You have to take into consideration a lot of different things like the philosophy and the environment and the customer. And what I mean by that is, are they cutting edge technology adapters or are they someone that likes to hang on to their legacy stuff? How open are they to that conversation? There’s always that burden of teaching people what this new technology can do. And I’ve given you this analogy, but I think it’s a very pertinent one.

I’m giving it up. I’m not turning in my man card. Not gonna do it, but I like this show called Downton Abbey, I just like it, okay? – Awesome. – And the very, very first episode ever, they’re talking about how electricity is this really great new invention. And they’re talking about how they’re actually gonna pipe electricity into the kitchen. And one of the kitchen maids is really confused and can’t understand why in the world you would pump electricity into a kitchen for crying out loud. That’s because she didn’t understand that electricity could drive mixers and refrigerators and all these different things. She had to be educated as to why this tool was going to make her life better and easier and more efficient. And sometimes in the sales process with a lot of these products, you go through that. So ROI is really important. On WFM, it’s a little bit more tangible. On QM and some of these other ancillary products, it can be a little bit harder to prove, but it is provable. You just have to do the analysis. You just have to get into the numbers and figure it out. Now as it pertains to do we do it as an add-on, do we do it as a suite of products, again, that’s kind of the philosophy of the customer. Do they want to write one check? Do they want to have one hand to shake, one throat to choke, whatever your favorite analogy is? Or are they okay with trying to go with different pieces and bringing together a suite of best of breed products? And there’s really no right or wrong answer for everybody because everybody has a different use case that is going to be met by different product mixes.

Oftentimes people just kind of go with their gut or they go with what their company philosophy is. – Fair, good point.

Do you find though that with a product like this, are you getting them to consider things that they haven’t thought of yet? You know, what percentage of customers do you think are considering these things, right? Or thinking about the agent and how long they’re on and how much their costs are and all those things. Or are you finding that you’re having to bring up in these discovery discussions? Hey, have you thought about this? Have you thought about the software to be able to do these things? – There’s a lot of factors there. Sometimes they’re familiar with the technology, but it hasn’t been the right time yet to try and implement it. Sometimes it’s complete discovery and education because they’ve been so stuck on older technology that they haven’t even considered doing this yet.

It really is fun to go through that process with customers from both perspectives, right? We now have employees that have used this in previous lives. We want to adopt this technology. We haven’t been big enough to do it yet. Now we’re big enough to do it. Or our executive team is really emphasizing the trend of now, which is the customer experience. Let’s make sure we’re differentiating ourselves by how well we’re treating our customers. We have to do a better job of that. Let’s make sure that we are incorporating these different tools that can make that better. And therefore by extension, make the customer experience better. And so, wow, it’s a fascinating time to be in this space. Let’s just put it that way. Because technology is always changing, as you know, Mr. Podcaster, in all of these different areas. And all of these different and exciting innovations are really bearing fruit at a lot of different levels. And there’s always that bell curve, right? Of early adoption versus late adoption, et cetera.

Contact centers run the gamut, just like everybody else. They all run the gamut.

It’s fun to go in and see what levers you can pull or push to educate them as to what can actually make things better for them. How, why, how it’s gonna save them money. How it’s going to improve their customer experience and make their lives better. – So that’s perfect scenario.

That’s when it goes good, when we’re able to discover, and we can pull out everything that they need.

Let’s say a partner’s listening up to this point, they’re ready to hang up off this podcast and go try what you said and put into play. I wanna talk about the bad things, right? Not to be a Debbie Downer, but what are the problems that you’re gonna run into in a conversation that you see? You know, what is it that customers struggle with if they don’t wanna adopt WFM, or they don’t wanna move in that direction? Or just what are some of the challenges if a partner goes down and has this discovery and asks some of these questions on their own, what are they gonna run into that the customer might say, eh, I don’t know? – Well, the number one thing that you’re facing when you’re in a situation like that is, you know, it’s not necessarily the competitor which is another provider, it’s, you know, no change, or not make any change at all. They just wanna go with the status quo. That’s a tough one to fight, and really it comes down to education. And sometimes partners may,

how can I put this the right way? They want to make sure that they’re coming across the right way when they’re talking to their customers about new technologies. They may not feel armed or educated, and that’s where myself and my solution architect teammates really come into play here. We can be that person in your hip pocket or side by side with you on these phone calls to have those conversations, to do that education, to make sure that the customer realizes the benefit that these technologies could bring to them. It’s the role we play here atTelarus We make everybody better, including our partners, by giving them greater resources to accomplish those very things. – Love it. All right, let’s get through, we talked about an early example. Let’s talk about a more recent example. We can leave customer name out of this, but what I’d love to hear about this is that, we always talk a lot about what the deal ends up closing at. Really wasn’t always what it started as, whether that’s because we ask a lot of questions naturally and we gotta understand what fits where, and APIs and integrations and all that good stuff. But maybe walk me through an example where you helped a partner, you got brought into this situation, I said, Jason, here’s what it is. And by the time you got through your discovery process and all of that, it ended up being that they needed this. And let’s hear kind of what that is, and then really what did it solve?

– Great question. So I think doing discovery the right way leads to discussions about these newer technologies. And it can be something as simple as just asking a question about something that maybe they hadn’t considered on purpose, or if they didn’t have experience with it and listening to them go, what’s that? How does that work? How’s that gonna provide me a benefit? And then you get into a greater conversation of what it is that those tools can do. Really the discovery process is key. I think it’s very, very, very key in making sure that you’re leading the conversation the right way. Plus if you’re doing it right, you could find opportunity a little bit later down the road to introduce some of those newer things.

A recent use case would be actually,

one that I’m thinking right now was they just were interested in updating their phone systems. They didn’t have much of an IVR, but they had heard, and this was the term they used with me, they had heard of some of these newer technologies that maybe they wanted to figure out to use down the road. And so that led to a conversation of, okay, well let’s talk about those newer technologies and these are what they can do and these are the ways that they can improve that customer experience. And it led to a lot of aha moments for the customer. It led to a lot of, oh, and you can do that now? Oh, I’d heard that that might be possible, but I didn’t think that that was technology that we would be able to afford, let alone justify. And then when you get into the details of that and they realize that there are cost-effective ways to incorporate a lot of these newer technologies into their practice, it really made an impact. And what started out as just a, let’s replace just our phone system and we’re gonna do all of these things as futures. And later on it progressed into, okay, guess what? We’re gonna add this piece and this piece and this piece with these two pieces being phase two, this piece being phase three. Ended up probably being about twice as big of a deal as it was originally. – Love it. Message here, bring in the team, we can help. – We do those things for you. – All right, so as we wrap this up, just one or two final things here.

Obviously we’re talking about resources,

one of those phenomenal resources that partners have that they can lean on and bring in our team to help with. Is there anything that you would give a partner advice on if they’re not comfortable cracking into this technology, right, aside from bringing us in? Anything else that you would recommend for them to do? Education, things like that for them to learn who are not comfortable in selling this? – Just ask the questions and ask the questions around how people are communicating. I think that’s probably the biggest thing. How are your customers talking to you? How are you talking to your customers? Who are your customers? What is their experience like?

Is there anything you want to do to improve that?

What systems are you using now to facilitate those things that you’re doing?

Then you can ask questions that are a little bit standard, like what is your SLA? What is your service level? What is your CSAT score?

All of these different things that maybe you dropped some acronyms or you mentioned some things that they hadn’t quite considered. Your job really is not to dive into and ask all of the, at least maybe your job could be this if you wanted it to be, but you don’t necessarily need to dive in and ask all the super technical questions. You just need to progress it to, let’s have another conversation. Let’s get to a point where we’re talking to somebody that we can discuss these things in greater detail. Oh, by the way, I’m gonna call Jason and have Jason on the phone with me to go ahead and have that conversation.

It’s just ask questions. Try and learn a little bit more about what they like, what they don’t like, what’s keeping them up at night, what types of technologies have they heard about and they wanna consider and go from there. – Love it. Okay, final thoughts here. So in honor of Miss Cleo, if anybody knows what that is, those late night infomercials where she promises to tell your future.

We’ve seen a lot of evolution to your point, right? We talk about that all the time on this podcast of technology, the rate of change is faster than anything we’ve ever seen. If you look out, I don’t know, it’s hard to look out even past 12 months right now, but if you look out 12 plus months, anything that you see changing dramatically in this space that you want partners to kind of be aware of and pay attention to? – Customer experience is going to be influenced by a lot more technology than just an ability to answer the phone. There are intelligent agents, there’s AI everywhere doing all sorts of things in all the different places at once. Sam Nelson, one of the great people we work with here, Talaris just today, kicked off one of her minutes, or I can’t remember the exact name. – Sam Snippets. – Sam Snippets, where she was talking about AI and the role that it plays in the contact center and in customer service and customer experience. That is very, very true. And it seems like every time we turn a corner and we’re talking to a provider, they’re taking AI and applying it to a different place in the contact center and in the customer experience that we hadn’t thought of or considered before. And so that’s all leading to the point where you just need to be comfortable with the fact that technology is going to continue to evolve, technology is going to continue to make things better, but the bottom line is that there will always be someone that wants to talk to a live person and that doesn’t necessarily want to talk to a machine or doesn’t want to try and serve themselves in certain ways. And so there will always be people that you can talk to that are contact center or customer experience centric. Another thing, if I may, take a few more moments here, is the merger of marketing and customer service, sales and customer service. Marketing, sales, customer service are all kind of becoming the same thing. And so the systems that are serving one of those can oftentimes be the systems that serve others. And we have in our stable providers here at Telarus some fantastic tools that can do great work in all of those different areas and integrate with the other tools in the areas as well. – Love it. Okay, Mr. Jason Lowe, thanks for coming into the studio with me today, man. – Thank you for having me. – Okay, that wraps us up. All right, everybody, we’re out of here for today. I’m your host, Josh Lupresto SVP of Sales Engineering. This is Workforce Management with Mr. Jason Lowe, Solution Architect, Telarus