Following on from the fascinating spotlight interview with Guillermo (CLICK HERE for that interview), we are following the path down the Americas to the southern hemisphere to another Español native speaker in Mariano Samamé (Check out his Linkedin profile here). Mariano is the Workforce Manager for Telecom Argentina a major Telecommunication company in Argentina that works with brands like “Cablevisión” and “Fibertel” – 4 million contacts to the contact centre per month – who has a contact centre that can beat that?
Can you briefly describe your workforce planning team and your role in that team?
We work in the biggest communications company of Argentina, with around 15 million clients and 4 million contacts to the call centre per month. The company has 4 different brands for each of the 4play products, so we have the challenge of keeping the performance calibrated between them.
So, we need a big team to keep the things under control, and have 50 planners in the department separated into 6 different teams:
Forecasting: the classic but never old “think tank”. 5 analysts and a coordinator do the maths and travel to the future like Marty Mcfly, every month, for every process, for each interval. The foundational stone of a good WFM area.
Planning and scheduling: we have 5 outsourced centres and 6 in-house sites with 5000 agents in total; so we need very strong analyst/negotiators who have the hard work of organizing them.
Commercial WFM: we have created a separate team who includes both mentioned activities (Forecasting and planning), but specifically focused in sales call centres. Marketing plans often need quick decisions and immediate implementations, this team ensures it.
Inbound RTM: the SL keepers, managing call routing and making sure the sites comply with the plan.
Outbound and Social Media RTM: same spirit, but focused on contact channels which are very different in nature to inbound phone calls. They need specifics analysis, and specifics decisions, so we have a dedicated team.
Process Optimization: someone has to look the whole and bigger picture. This team is constantly thinking of new ways to increase the CX of the WFM process, and how to save money without affecting the customers.
I constantly remark to my team that they are the ones who makes the magic. I like to think that my role includes: a guide who shows the road, a teacher who pushes the students to be better, and a boat captain who helps fight to keep the team safe from de storm.
As someone who clearly is willing to go the extra step to help fellow WFM professionals in the industry, what inspires you to share best practice?
I think that to share knowledge is the best gift that a person can give to their co-workers, because you are giving them new tools that can improve their future.
Using an old famous quote:
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”
The conflict that some people see in sharing best practice, is that that these same people want to monetize their own knowledge and think that it is a risk for them to democratize certain information.
Referring to the same quote, it is like if the owner of a fish market wants to ban people from learningt to fish, because this will result in sales reducing. Well, I’m in the other side of the street (or the other side of the ship if we are in the sea): if all of us know how to fish, then someone will have an idea to improve the task and make it easier or faster for everyone, and it will be a gain for all group together. That is the meaning of everything, share and improve.
There are many planners aspiring to move to the next level. How did you develop your workforce planning skills to the point you were ready to start managing?
Who says that my WFM skills are developed when I started managing? Lol.
When I became manager I had many people working in my team who had a much larger knowledge base than mine in this thematic. Managers can’t and should not expect to be the person with the most knowledge in the team, but is essential to have these skills:
The capacity to understand the different processes associated to workforce management. Being able to see end to end along the overall process that aligns to the the same objective.
The conviction to force and help people to take their skills beyond what they think is possible.
You must study a LOT. Even when you have specialists in your team, you must be able to work at their speed. Stay informed about best practices, and have statistics books on hand. Remember point 2, you must help them to improve, that is the only way to form a high performance team.
Mathematics plays a big part in workforce planning. Has this helped you build better workforce planning capabilities?
“Little WFM analyst aspirant: if you have troubles with maths, don’t even think about coming to the interview, I will give you a lot of pain.”
Mathematics has helped me since my first day in the job, when I built my first traffic report, and last week when I reviewed the Holt-Winters model to explain it to new forecasting analysts.
What’s your greatest workforce planning success story?
I could remember the day that I told a company director: “don’t worry about those differences in planned revenue, is just numbers”… I literally saw my head rolling on the hall. What a beautiful young and unconscious analyst I was back then.
Now seriously. I think that my greatest success was in my actual position. Last year, we had a serious problem with call centre suppliers and their frequent errors in scheduling, at the same time our company were in what I refer to as a fusion process (I had duplicate teams for each step of the WFM process). We had to reorganize the area and solve critical troubles at the same time, we made many changes, including one that involved in the forecasting teams converting completely to a planning and scheduling team for the outsourced call centres, creating a new way to engage and manage vendors.
Now, our efforts are focus on improving forecasting accuracy, I hope that becomes the success story for the future.
Sometimes there’s friction between workforce planning and operations teams. What’s the best way you’ve found to create positive interactions between these two areas?
I think that the best way is to set common goals for both teams. It is counterproductive that a WFM team looks for SL, without thinking of FCR, and an operational team only looking for FCR or NPS, without think in the planned AHT or the targeted SL.
We are part of the same company, so it is the mutual responsibility of each team manager to build commons road paths. A good practice for the WFM team is to participate with the Operations team in budget planning, and to involve them with the productivity goals (ie: AHT, Utilization, Occupancy). Otherwise when Operations don’t achieve what WFM planned, they are in a position to say “I’m do not agree with that plan”… and it is in that moment when the war begins.
What are the most important skills workforce planners need to be successful?
It is essential to have solid statistics knowledge, and is desirable that you have complete expertise in the service/business that he or she will be working with. Both things are important and must be part of the analyst skill-set to ensure advancement in this career.
You don’t know the characteristics of the service that the company give to consumers? How can you forecast a customer service calls without knowing the situations that make customers communicate with us? Go to the training department and look for a product manual, it will be incredible useful for your work.
With statistics it is a little bit harder to learn, but nothing is impossible to learn.
If you could teach all the workforce planners in the world one thing, what would it be?
The purpose of life: achieve the target service level without exceeding the budget.
Sound like a joke but it is a serious thing: not matter whether you are a great professional, the most prepared, with the best team… we are a numeric area and, at the end of the day, the company will only be happy with our performance if we comply with what we plan. (Sounds easy, uh?)
What do you see is the biggest current challenge for workforce planning teams over the next 5 years?
Similar to the Guillermo Rangel says in his interview, I think that the mayor challenges will be in digital channels and how we can make an integrated planning unit with traditional channels. Here in Latin America I think that we have a lot to learn about WFM concepts yet, we must learn of the expertise that professionals around the world have, and I expect that a new blog “WFManagement en español” could help all those who want to improve in this beautiful field.