An increase in growth is a problem wed all like to have these days, but its one that presented a significant challenge for Timberline Software Corp.s support staff and one that was, ironically, costing the company money.
"We had some challenges in previous years when our company was experiencing dramatic growth," said Mark Brannan, operations director of Timberline, which provides accounting, estimating, service and investment management software for the construction and real estate industries.
"We were increasing our sales and were dramatically increasing demand from a support standpoint, but we were struggling with being able to process the level of support that our customers were expecting from us," Brannan said.
That was in 1999, at which time Timberline, based in Beaverton, Ore., underwent a re-engineering effort. One of the first things identified, said Brannan, was that the support groups call model needed to change.
"At the time, it was strictly on a call-back method—that is, the customer called with a problem, and one of our support people called back," Brannan said. "In some cases, our call-back time was pretty lengthy. On a good day, we would call people back within 20 to 25 minutes; on a bad day, it was up to 48 hours."
When a Timberline customer called for support, dispatch personnel would field the call and log information into a home-grown system based on Microsoft Corp.s Excel. Support staffers would pick the oldest calls off the list, no matter what the issue. "It was relatively unsophisticated," said Brannan, "and we needed to address this gap in customer support."
Timberline developed a live inbound call model and reorganized support staff to be specialists rather than generalists. However, a tool was needed to automate the routing of support calls to these specialists and to recognize patterns of calls so that the right person was available at the right time.
"If we couldnt track when [customers] were calling in, there was no way for us to determine who needed to be on shift at what times of days and with what skills," said Brannan. "Thats when we started to investigate work force management systems."
A team composed largely of Timberline support staff developed a request for proposal and evaluated a number of work force optimization systems.
On the short list were products from TCS Management Group Inc. (now part of Aspect Communications Corp.) and Blue Pumpkin Software Inc., both of which met Timberlines need for skills-based routing.
Ultimately, Timberline chose Blue Pumpkins Workforce Optimization Suite for its ease of use, said Amy Pierce, who is now Timberlines director of project management and was director of operations during the implementation of the Blue Pumpkin system.
"The functionality for TCS and Blue Pumpkin was pretty similar at the time," said Pierce. "Blue Pumpkin was just more friendly, and it also allowed us a little more flexibility."
Timberline went live with Blue Pumpkin in September 1999, and the implementation took about four weeks. Blue Pumpkins Workforce Optimization Suite is priced on a per-user basis. Depending on the applications and modules used, prices for software licenses range from about $200 per user to $1,000 per user.
Based on historical data, Timberline call center agents can now be scheduled so their skill sets are aligned with customer questions and needs. In addition, instead of waiting for hard copies of the latest Excel spreadsheet, agents can view their schedules via a browser-based interface.
"The biggest thing for us was the budgeting process—the way we used to account for staff has dramatically changed, and were much more accurate and able to keep head count down," said Brannan.
Timberline is using Blue Pumpkins Director-Enterprise system, which provides the skills-based routing capabilities; Timeoff Manager, which allows agents to request vacation time and get manager approval online; and Planner, which allows Timberline to perform staffing forecasts.
"Planner has proven to be a useful tool for me," said Brannan. "It takes call data in month snapshots and helps you determine how many employees you need to achieve goals based on volume or predicted increase in volume. Last October, I used it to determine staffing volume in 2002, and I use it consistently to update those forecasts. If theres a new product coming, do we hire new people, or do we do cross training? It provides me with a whole bunch of scenarios."
Timberline purchased the Blue Pumpkin Advisor module in June. Advisor is a performance management application that allows Timberline agents to see how they are performing against set goals on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
"We have key performance indicators, and we assign goals, and then every day the Advisor product grabs data from various databases, computes a score and displays it on the Web interface," said Brannan. "Theres a real difference between performance reporting and performance management, which is what Advisor is really good at. Its made that leap from reporting information to giving [agents] tools to manage their behavior."
Executive Editor Debra Donston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.