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Tuesday 20 October 2009

Why are contact centre desktops so broken?

My colleague, Toby Baker has created this guest posting based on his observations from working with Corizon's customers and partners applying enterprise mashups to integration problems in contact centres.

I spend a lot of time in contact centres, analyzing applications in use on the desktop, and see the same challenges and issues again and again. This is my top ten:
  1. Too many applications, each with their own login, UI and screen layout
  2. Applications that time out when they are used, forcing another login
  3. Applications with too many screens, each in a tab, sub-tab or sub-sub-tab
  4. Applications that require way too many clicks to get the job done
  5. Applications that show you the customer name on the first screen, only to not show it on all subsequent screens, forcing the user to write it down on paper
  6. Applications that perform so badly the agent has to become an expert in ad-libbing
  7. Screens where the information is way down below the bottom of the screen, or all the way across to the right
  8. Screens that are so crowded with information, it’s hard to pick out what you need
  9. Screens that are so visually unappealing it makes them hard to use
  10. “Customer Records” that are split across many applications and so require a large amount of copy/alt-tab/paste to see the whole picture
Everyone knows that a unified desktop is a good idea, and fixing the ten problems above is a good thing. So why is it so hard to do? Let’s look at the problem in more detail:

First of all, the applications - why are there so many of them?
  1. Companies merge, acquire and get acquired. Technology stacks don’t get integrated quickly, or at all.
  2. Core CRM applications have huge programmes associated with them to implement front- and back-end CRM processes. It takes years to get round to doing “the other apps” so we end up with original apps as well as a new CRM front end.
  3. To stay ahead of the competition, enterprises launch new products and services before the core applications can really support them, so new applications are built.
  4. Agents build their own applications to help navigate through the complex desktop. These are known as “Shadow IT” or “Guerrilla” applications.
  5. Technology is “improving” all the time. There are new widgets and frameworks and standards and approaches that IT tries to keep up with.
Secondly, why is the data all over the place? Why is the thing that I want buried deep, across multiple screens or a few scrolls away? Why are apps so hard to use?
  1. Databases organize information in a way that works for databases. Customers have orders, addresses, contact details. Orders have statuses, products, dates. Products have prices, catalogue entries. All too often, applications use the structure of the database to drive the structure of the screens. Mostly, users don’t look at information in the same way as computers, and nor do customers when they are asking for it.
  2. The tools used to create applications make it easy to use the data layout to drive the screen layout.
  3. Tabs, tabs, tabs. It seems like the right way to organize information, but demands change, so it rapidly becomes the wrong way to organize information.
  4. It’s sometimes easier to add something to a screen than it is to create a new screen. You then get a crowded screen with loads of unnecessary fields on it.
  5. The people designing the applications understand about data. The people who use the applications understand about the servicing of customers and their products. There is a mis-match here!
  6. The people building applications don’t sit down with call centre advisors enough. If they did, they would not build apps in the way that they do!

Thirdly, why do I have to look in lots of places? Why aren’t the sequences of activities I need to go through - the "user processes" - catered for?
  1. User processes change faster than apps do. Customer service organizations manage sales processes, retention processes, diagnostic and fix processes. They need to learn based on what works and what does not work. They need respond to market conditions, competition, regulations. Importantly, they need to do this without changing systems. Unfortunately, as user processes are all too often wired in to applications (or on paper), this is too hard to do.
  2. Sometimes it’s easier to create a new application than modify an existing one.
  3. “One size fits all” does not work in a customer service organization where you have a variation in process across each user group. Maybe you have retention, inbound, outbound, first line and second line. Maybe you have organized teams based on product specialty. Either way, using traditional development techniques, it’s almost impossible – or very costly – to create applications that are tailored to the needs of each user group.

Any more thoughts? Please leave a comment. Toby will be back with more on addressing these problems in a future blog.

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