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Friday 12 February 2010

iPad: a return to web 1.0?

Interesting comments from Jay Rosen on the iPad and what it says about where Apple think the Internet is going: "In a way it is taking us back in web time to the read only web. We had advanced from web 1.0 to web 2.0 where users are producers. That is what YouTube is about, and blogging and social media. The users are producers of some of the most popular seems to be restoring people to the days when they were just the audience, when they were just the consumers of content. It is very hard to produce content on the iPad. Now that is interesting for something in 2010".

The 'consumption experience' of the Internet does need major improvement. Laptops and desktops of today are not the most effective, the most pleasing way to absorb content, be it a web page, a video or a film. The mobile experience of the web, despite major progress with smartphones, is still very limited and not entirely satisfactory. Driving a much better consumption experience seems to me to be essential going forward. However, does this mean a return to web 1.0? Of course not! People will continue to create content. What it means though is a trend towards delivering fit for purpose applications and devices, a move away from "do it all, jack of all trade" devices and applications, so full of features it becomes almost impossible to use for all but a few specialists.

What does this mean for the Enterprise? Web 2.0 also had a major impact on enterprises by allowing users, employees to generate and share their own content. The growth of wikis, collaboration and micro-blogging is a testament to that. Some thought this would go as far as allowing users to 'generate' their own applications. A significant part of the early focus of enterprise mashups was to provide simple enough tools to allow end users to do just this. Did this make sense? Of course, allowing users to personalise their desktops, to develop dashboards, to manipulate and create knowledge from data would add value. However, I never thought end users would want, or should, generate their own enterprise applications beyond dashboards. Would you want call centre agents to have the freedom to develop their own desktops? How would a process be enforced to deliver a consistent customer experience (without even starting to deal with scalability, data integrity and security)?

A major improvement to the "consumption" of applications was what was really needed. A better way to deliver fit for purpose desktops to users, dedicated to the task at hand, tailored to the need of each user. This could not be achieved without major changes to the approach of developing applications for people. It required analysts, process specialists and business owners - i.e. the ones who understand best how people need to do their job every day - to be involved in developing these applications. They needed to be allowed to participate fully and take control of the specifications and delivery of the application in a collaborative way with IT. It also required "stripped-down" applications dedicated to specific use cases and user groups, with intuitive and simple user interface to guide the user through the task at hand and to make the application easy to use and learn. This is what web 2.0 for the enterprise can bring: a new, cost effective way to develop applications for people where the "consumption experience" is significantly improved.

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Friday 5 February 2010

The Agent Desktop – the elephant in the contact centre?

A recent paper from Gartner (Top Business Processes for Customer Service, 2010 to 2012 - subscription required) about customer service process priorities adds to my impression that the agent desktop - and in particular the complexities of using the applications on it - is in danger of being the “elephant in the room” when improving service delivery in the contact centre.

The report discusses the process improvement priorities for customer service, looking at problem resolution, feedback management, workforce optimization and field service processes. Within the first category it examines agent facilitated, self service and collaborative problem resolution. As it suggests, it is essential – in both financial and customer experience terms- to move as much interaction as possible to the self service and social arenas. However, most organizations will still need high quality agent facilitated support, either because of the complexity of the issue or because of customer preference.

In this arena it cites a familiar set of challenges
  • Problem definition and understanding — both by the customer and the agent
  • Process handoff steps, both intra- and inter-departmental within the organization
  • Transfer of customer from one department to another, or transferring from one channel to another
  • Ability to resolve the problem for the customer
  • Cost to the organization of resolving the problem for the customer
  • Time to resolve the issue for the customer
  • Keeping the customer informed of the status of the issue resolution
  • Tracking inquires linked to the same issues over multiple contacts

I completely agree that the technologies cited as relevant to addressing these challenges - Call handling and case management, trouble ticketing, training, knowledge management, cobrowsing, automated call distribution (ACD), call recording and workforce optimization – are important. When it comes to the “moment of truth” and the customer is on the phone, the only thing that really matters is “do I have access to the knowledge, information and tools needed to fix the problem?”. And for most agents this all comes via the desktop, which will typically be cluttered with CRM, KM, trouble ticketing, case management etc as well as a set of operational applications such as billing, tests, returns management, field service bookings, logistics, order management and diagnostics. So we have all this investment in systems to help the agent, but then deliver them through an unusable clutter that frequently undermines the bigger strategic objective.

Like the proverbial elephant, this rarely gets mentioned, even though it’s a fundamental determinant of the agent’s performance and hence customer service. I can think of a few possible reasons
  • We are conditioned to having to work this way
  • Technologies that have offered a solution have failed, reinforcing acceptance
  • “The agents can manage” so we can act like it doesn't matter

This elephant needs to be sent on its way if the challenges are to be met. We need to give the agents the right tools, not handicap them with horrendous desktops. Why do you think we tolerate his presence?

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