65 Key Workforce Management Terms: A Very Simple DiCXionary

A glossary of key terms every workforce manager should know. From A to WFM.

The Dictionary of Key Terms of WFM illustrated

In 2020, a Tymeshift video jokingly asked WTF is WFM. Jokes aside, it's really true that in Customer Experience and in Workforce Management, there are a ton of terms that are new and unfamiliar to people who have just joined the business. Whether you're a rookie, or just needed to freshen up your memory, these are 65 key terms in WFM that you just need to know.

From A to B

Abandonment Rate:
The contact volume of customers that leave without getting help. Only applies to real time channels (see: real time channels). This is the number of people who are hanging up the phone in frustration waiting to be helped or who jump out of chats before a ticket is resolved.

We've all been there. We just didn't know it had a name.

How closely an agent is following their assigned schedule.

The person who is in direct contact with customers. Remember: your CX agents matter.

Agent Performance:
How the agent is performing measured against predetermined target metrics. Are they hitting all their targets, trailing behind on some metrics or just smashing them?
Remember: if a majority of your agents are either struggling or smashing targets, you might have to make a few changes, by adapting target metrics or hiring more people for example.

Assigned Shifts:
Create a schedule for agents that tries to hit the forecasted intraday plan requirements.
(See: intraday plan)

Asynchronous Communication:
Contacts that don't need to be answered in real time. This is the case of an email (or a fax!), where you can send the message across and carry on with your life while you wait for an answer.

Side note: yes, out of all the key terms in WFM, this is the most difficult to spell.

Average Handle Time (AHT):
The average amount of time it takes to resolve one of your customer's contacts.
This number will vary depending on the contact channel (chat, email, call, etc.).

Average Hold Time:
The average time your customers are waiting on hold to be answered.

Average Speed of Answer (ASA):
On average, how quickly are your agents answering contacts?
The other side of the coin to Average Wait Time.

Average Wait Time:
The average time someone is waiting in the queue to have their question answered.
The other side of the coin to Average Speed of Answer.

Break Tolerance:
How flexible are you? In some companies, agents don't have to stick to their schedule by the second and can, in fact, start their breaks a bit earlier or later than planned. This can make sense especially for agents on channels with larger Average Handle Times: if you know the average call takes 15 minutes, do you really want to force an agent to take a call 3 minutes before their break is due?
One gold standard we've seen in many of our customers is:
Break tolerance: ½ of AHT of the channel the agent is working in

Key Terms in WFM: C to F

When a person makes a phone call to the contact center. 
Kind of obvious, no?

When a person interacts with agents via online chat.
This can be on your social media or on your website if you have an integrated CX chat.

The means of communication a customer uses to contact a company.
This can be a phone call, email, social media message or post, or another method.

Clock in:
The time a CX agent begins work. Some people might also call it punching in.

Clock out:
The time an agent leaves work.
This can be temporary (leaving for lunch) or officially leaving for the day.

Contact Volume:
Definitely one of the key terms in WFM, Contact Volume is the number of inbound contacts that come in during a specific time period through any or all contact channels.

Conditions and limitations that change when or in what channels an agent can be scheduled.

Customer Satisfaction Survey (CSAT ):
A survey sent proactively by support teams to gather customer satisfaction across a range of chosen metrics. These are typically short and can sometimes impact an agent’s ability to earn privileges or promotions based on their scores.

Dynamic Scheduling:
Dynamic scheduling is an alternative to manually scheduling the intraday activities of your entire CX workforce.
Using a smart solution, you'll be able to automatically manage your CX workforce and their workflows (like Tymeshift!). It takes all your SLAs and objectives, the staff you have available and their individual skills into consideration. The solution then makes the scheduling decisions for you.

This solution has been a game-changer in WFM, as manually scheduling the daily jobs and activities of dozens or hundreds of people, factoring in who's on holiday, who's sick, who's off or who just doesn't show up by hand or on chaotic spreadsheets is a sisyphean hassle.

First Response Time:
How long it takes for the contact to be initially answered.
This will (and should) vary depending on the channel: it's much more important to have a low First Response Time on Synchronous Communication Channels than over email, for example.
(See: Synchronous Communication).

Predicting the volume of work for a given period based on the volume from a previous, similar timeframe and circumstances. You can forecast manually (we don't advise it!) or use a WFM software tool to generate automatic forecasts for you.
Automatic forecasts are more accurate and much easier to do.

Forecast Volume:
Predicted contact volume based on historical data.

Full Time Equivalent (FTE)
A full-time workday is typically 8 hours: so anybody scheduled for 8 hours is a 1.0 FTE. If half of your workforce will only be working half a day, they're a 0.5 FTE. (You can also calculate this using the 40-hour workweek as a basis).

Knowing how many full-time agents will be needed to handle a predicted volume of work is critical to make sure you're not under- or over-staffed.
If your forecast results in a fraction of an FTE, we recommend you always round up to ensure you are fully staffed.

Key Terms in WFM: G to L

General Tasks (aka AUX State):
What we in WFM call non-support related activities.
These are things like lunch, breaks, training sessions or meetings.

Handled Volume:
The number of contacts (either total or per workstream) that have been successfully handled.

Historical Contact Volume:
Historical data from all of the different channels where customers reach out to an organization (tickets, chats, calls, emails social media, etc.).
It's super important to have a good set of Historical Contact Volume logged if you're going to be doing your forecasts manually.

Inbound Volume:
Contacts coming in.

Intraday Plan:
The plan of your agent's activities for each working day. These will include answer calls, tickets, chats, take breaks, going to lunch, and so on.
A good Intraday Plan will be as detailed as 15-30 minute intervals .

Interactive voice response (IVR):
The technology that allows a human to connect to a database over a phone. It is IVR if the caller can enter an “ID” or account code, access the database and then interact with it. A good practical example of this: your Bank probably has a “phone banking” system (and you've probably never used it) - and it allows you to conduct transactions without having to talk to any operator. And that's what IVR is.

What an IVR isn't is an Automated Assistant: those (usually) annoying menus that route you to the right CX agent.
You know the ones: "If you want to talk about the weather, press 1. If you want to talk to an agent, press π."

Leave of Absence (LOA):
The reason why your agent is requesting their Time Off.

Longest Wait Time:
The longest time it took for someone to have their question handled during a set period of time.

No Problem, so far? N to P

Non-contact activities:
Whatever activities your agents are engaged in that doesn't involve contact with the customer, between the time they clocked in and clocked out. This will include breaks, lunches, training sessions and so on.

Non-support activities:
This is exactly the same as Non-contact activities or non-productive activities: but it is the preferred term in the WFM business.
Whatever activities your agents are engaged in that doesn't involve contact with the customer.
This will include breaks, lunches, training sessions and so on.

Non-productive activities:
Whatever activities your agents are engaged in that doesn't involve contact with the customer.

Especially when looking at Historical Contact Volume.
Normalized Data can be when you've accumulated data for long enough that it evens out, making outliers less glaring.
It can also involve manually removing all the anomalies from your logs.
Using normalized data is really important if you're trying to forecast manually.

The time during working hours that an agent spends on support activities versus non-support activities.

Open Shifts:
Realize you are understaffed (i.e. don't have enough people)?
Send out a request to everyone who is available to work and ask them to cover a shift.
Depending on what options your WFM solution gives you, you can typically either make this a First Come First Serve, or have a scoring criteria.

Outbound volume:
Communications being sent from agents to customers.

Paid Time Off (PTO):
Time when a CX agent of yours is not working but is still getting paid.
This can include vacation, bereavement, and more - depending on your internal policies.

Payroll Integration:
A system or software that integrates with your WFM solution to manage payroll duties such as tracking paid hours.

Predicted Future Volume:
The contact volume anticipated as the result of forecasting.

Punch-in Time:
Time you start work for the day. Even on a virtual system, this often refers to the start of a shift.

Punch-out Time:
When you stop working whether for an unpaid break or at the end of the day.

Simple definitions to complicated WFM terms: Q to R

Queue (Also known as workstreams or views):
Where customers wait (in the virtual sense) to have their question answered.

Real time:
Well, whatever is happening right now!

Real time channels:
Channels where customers and support agents interact in real-time. The most obvious example of a Real-Time Channel is a phone call. Emails, voice mails, and forms are examples of channels that are not real-time.

Ring Group:
To deliver better Customer Support, you should start by routing tickets and calls to the correct department, making sure whoever answers a call or ticket has the skills, languages and permissions needed to help. When you group your agents into departments, languages, etc, you are forming Ring Groups.
Each ring group can have their own metrics.

A WFM solution like Tymeshift allows you to configure and set up Rules. These will trigger actions automatically based on conditions you specify. (In fact, they’re very similar to Triggers in Zendesk!) You set up conditions and specify when an action should occur.

These Rules will help you to ensure that your Agent Activity is accurate and will send you real-time notifications if something is unusual. Some ideas for rules you can implement:

  • Send a notification to managers alerting them that a ticket is taking an agent longer than expected.
  • Send a notification to an agent’s manager if the agent arrives late or leaves earlier than their scheduled time.
  • Automatically shift an agent to Untracked Time if they are inactive/stuck on a task for too long (you can choose how long is too long).

Almost there now: the Ss

Service Level Agreements (SLAs):
Customer-facing agreements for answering contacts, defined per channel.
Industry gold-standards are answering an email within 24 hours and phone calls within two minutes.

A plan for daily activities for the team.
This can be as granular as minute-level increments or as general as monthly increments.

Scheduling Constraints:
Restrictions based on specific parameters.
These can be organization-wide or agent-specific.

Shift Bidding or Ranking:
When agents who have the skills necessary to take a shift can bid for it or rank the shift they’d like to have the most.

Shift Trade:
The ability for agents to exchange shifts with other agents.
Make sure your agents trading shifts have similar skillsets and time available, because you'll make things run as smoothly as possible.

A number companies predict based on their turnover in which agents won’t be able to be in the queue full time.
This is usually associated with time spent training people, hiring people, people leaving, unplanned absences.

Social media:
Social networking services that customers use to interact with a company or brand.

Synchronous Communication:
Contacts that require immediate responses in a conversational flow like chats or phone calls.

Key Terms in Workforce Management: T to WFM

Customer contacts that come in and need to be answered by agents.

Time Tolerance:
Time late or early that is allowable to be considered “on time.”

Tracked Time:
Time agents spend on certain activities that are monitored and logged by a punch-in system.

Quality Assurance (QA):
The process of reviewing and refining how agents respond to tickets to increase customer satisfaction.

Untracked Time:
Those small bits of unproductive time that don’t fit in other categories

Utilization is the percentage of time one of your agents is either supporting or available to support your customers. If a full-time agent will spend 3 hours in training and 1 hour having lunch, out of an 8 hour workday, then their utilization is 50%.
(You can also spell it Utilisation, depending on your English preferences.)

WFM Manager:
The person who oversees all workforce management issues within a company.
In smaller companies, this role is sometimes combined with a team lead position.

Workforce Management (WFM):
Having the right people working on the right things at the right time.
WFM is great, and doing it well can make your company more successful, your agents more productive and your customers happier.

About Tymeshift:

We’re Tymeshift, an effortless WFM solution made exclusively for Zendesk to make workforce managers’ lives easier. We don't just do Dictionaries of Key Terms in WFM: our workforce management tools include shift scheduling, forecasting and analytics. A perfectly intuitive Zendesk integration makes your CX agents’ lives easier. Learn all there is about us and our product on tymeshift.com