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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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