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Sunday 31 May 2009

Funnel shaped mashups

An interesting conversation on freedom vs control at the desktop in call centres, in conjunction with much recent speculation as to the "shape" of the economic downturn and recovery, made me wonder what “shape” a mashup solution needs to be, and what that would tell us about its design and delivery.
In a situation like a call centre you give the agent a job to do because you want him or her to do two types of things within a call which can appear quite inconsistent. First there is the need to analyse a situation based on “conversational” interactions with the customer and the systems on the desktop. This involves relatively unstructured interactions with the applications and customer, drilling into different information sources and exploring options with the customer. However, as quickly as possibly, a path needs to be chosen. The agent then must switch mode and move into a much more structured, regular approach to ensure no mistakes are made, all details are captured, and frequently that regulatory compliance requirements are met.
So it seems to me that for these types of activities, mashups are funnel shaped! The cone represents the user working in an unstructured, conversational way before moving into the spout and being constrained and guided through a defined process. So, if enterprise mashups are to support this type of interaction, then they need to support both modes of working in a single solution, and to get through the spout as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Taking the analogy further, not all funnels need to be the same shape. In fact many factors can determine the shape of funnel needed. For example
  • experienced agents need to be able to work in a less constrained way compared to rookies, and will find constraints demotivating and frustrating
  • new products are often trialled and launched with very broad cones while the organization learns using highly skilled agents. As the products mature and the agent base grows, processes then need to become more constrained and more “spout heavy”.
  • knowledge management solutions can be used to narrow the cone sooner by reducing the up-front analysis work for service desktops
  • sophisticated propensity-to-buy and segmentation based intelligence can help to move to the spout quicker and optimize outcomes
One thing is clear though, whatever funnel shape you start with, being able to change it and experiment is essential. The shape of the funnel is a key “lever” for call centre managers as they struggle to find the optimum balance between allowing initiative and empowerment and enforcing process repeatability. That’s where the flexibility and control provided by enterprise mashups are invaluable.

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