Slow Computer Systems – It’s Not Rocket Science, Is It?


Many contact centres are plagued by slow and unreliable computer systems.

In this article, Paul Cooper looks at what is causing this and how we can start to address these problems.

A few weeks ago, I did a webinar on making agents more efficient and empowering them.

The biggest criticisms, suggestions for improvement and efficiency ideas came from just fixing and overcoming the slowness and problems of their system!

Wow! How high tech!

And yet we have been in a modern, highly mechanised business for at least 15 years.

And when I dig deeper, it is worse.

In many organisations still, through legacy, major systems still don’t talk to each other; many processes are manual; even if the system functions most of the time, there are continual crashes, freezes and the like; one can still not get a single view of the customer, especially in the public sector.

Add to this, IVR systems that drive us all mad, websites (both internet and intranet) that freeze, don’t process data properly, aren’t updated and don’t have telephone numbers to complain to when it all goes wrong, and I wonder have we really made any progress in the last 10 years!

So why is it still happening and, in some cases, getting worse?

Well, certainly it is NOT because it has been passed down to the front-line, customer-facing people and they screwed up!

In my opinion, there are 6 main reasons for this.

  • It is firstly to do with the fact that these key people in the organisation – those who are customer facing – were never considered important enough in the first place, and therefore were never truly involved.
  • Secondly, it’s because they have had to rely on other departments to provide support, especially IT. But don’t let’s leave out other areas like marketing, which keep changing the goalposts.
  • Thirdly, it’s because updating and improving systems has not had the priority once a basic system is in place.
  • Fourthly, and too often, the work isn’t done to a high enough, or quick enough standard.
  • Fifthly, senior management have had their heads in the sand and don’t want to listen to the detail because they don’t understand it and/or don’t get how critical it really is.
  • And sixthly, there is still not enough listening to the customer and customer-facing staff, who actually know what’s wrong.

And this last point is a big worry, as these two sets of people are the ones who actually care most. No one wants organisations to do badly, or serve them poorly. Of course, this is tinged with self-interest, but the dangers of not listening to customers may even be greater to an organisation than ignoring its staff.

Back in the bad old days of around 10 years ago, a major issue was that systems, especially CRM systems, were being put in by techies using equipment bought from techies, and who had succeeded in bamboozling boards into paying silly money for systems that didn’t work the way the call centre staff needed them to. (OK, I exaggerate a bit, but not much.)

Then, about 5 years ago, we all started talking about a new revolution where this was seemingly behind us and systems improvements were everywhere, and yes, I remember seeing the improvements whilst judging for various awards.

Well, judging from the comments from that recent webinar, and examples that I seem to trip over frequently, it looks as if, yet again, not a lot has changed since then.

But hang on, you say! Technologies themselves have changed dramatically – we now have cloud computing, speech analytics, much improved intelligent telephone systems, and much, much more, which I know many organisations are already using, or at least considering.

Yes, I do believe in all of these things and believe they are good for pretty much any business. However, before we all go rushing off for ever-newer technology and new toys,  this cry from the heart needs to be carefully considered – do your systems need a “back to basics” programme done to get them working to your satisfaction – fast, efficient, error free, reliable, comprehensive, up-to-date, easy-to-use, customer and agent friendly?


Paul Cooper

If not, it’s time you stopped putting up with it! It’s not rocket science!

With senior management always looking for cost efficiencies, better performance, more sales, and higher levels of customer satisfaction, I can’t think of any area, in many organisations, to be looked at first that could deliver more.

Paul Cooper is a Director at Customer Plus

Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 6th Mar 2013 - Last modified: 21st Aug 2017
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, ,

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  • A very informative guide

    Jeffrey Bradshaw 7 Mar at 12:40
  • I think there is a sixth dimension – the failure of too many managers and IT managers to engage in an effective and meaningful way can often be a significant contributor.. Some of you may have read my article on working with IT in Journal of Customer & Contact Centre Management Volume 1 Number 2 on this very topic

    Written in conjunction with all time favourite IT manager, here are some of the key issues we think contribute to that communication break down.

    Why does disengagement happen?
    It takes two to tango, so to truly understand it you need to look at the issue from both perspectives – that of the contact centre manager, and that of the CIO. Only then will you understand that success is two way street. So firstly let us look at it from the business perspective.

    Why do managers believe disengagement happens?
    In my experience I think there are three main contributors.
    1. The use of “Smoke & Mirrors”
    Some IT folk like to use jargon to confuse nontechnical business managers to either justify their recommendations, or hide the fact that they screwed up
    Like all contact centre managers, all IT pros — even the very best — screw things up once in a while. Some think they can take advantage of the fact that business managers (and even some high-level technical managers) don’t have a good understanding of technology, and so try to get by using use jargon to confuse them when explaining why a problem or an outage occurred, or why your recommendation won’t work. As managers and staff are becoming more technically literate, they get better at spotting this, and so it can be a death warrant to the relationship.
    For example, the explanation as to why a financial application failed might be, “We had a major failure on the Server that runs that application – damn vendor!” What they preferred not to tell us is that the problem was actually caused byban update they applied, perhaps without the appropriate testing or understanding.
    2. Blurred Vision
    Some IT professionals deploy technologies that do more to consolidate their own power or look good on their resume, rather than those that help the business. I know of one who embraces these first two points perfectly.
    Rather than select systems or applications which are truly best for the business itself, some IT professionals tend to select and implement technologies based on:
    • how well those technologies make the business dependent on IT
    • how good they will look telling their industry colleagues about the “bleeding edge” deployment; or
    • The size of the personal “incentive” from the vendor
    The GFC has tightened the market place considerably and as a result “incentives” being offered have blurred the vision of more than one clients IT leadership group over the past 12 months and now they are fighting to extract themselves from what are usually costly mistakes.
    For example, they might select a solution that requires specialized skills to maintain instead of a more turnkey solution; a CIO might have more of a Linux/UNIX background and so chooses a Linux-based solution over a Windows solution, even though the Windows solution is a better business decision (or, vice versa ).
    I am sure many readers can relate – I nick name them Nero’s – fiddling while Rome burns. Ten years ago I worked with one and am still trying to implement his “vision” while the enterprise capability has crumbled.
    3. Failure to keep abreast of developments
    Failing to keep up with trends is a risk to all of us. The biggest roadblock to implementing new technologies can indeed be veteran CIO’s who fail to keep abreast of the IT evolution, or those who are emotionally tied to a particular application or deployment. Some enterprises could implement more leading edge stuff than they do. Often, one of the roadblocks to migrating to new technologies is not budget constraints or management objections; it can be the veteran techies in the IT department or equally, contact centre management that has failed to keep abreast of opportunities.
    Why do CIOs think it happens
    There are two sides to every good story, so now let’s consider the perspective of the CIO. Those whose opinions I respect suggest the following:
    1. Lack of technical understanding amongst business managers.
    Some contact centre managers despite their lack of tech savvy, think they know it all. Sadly, in many situations, a manager’s technical expertise sometimes only extends to the last industry or vendor presentation or event they attended
    2. Poorly Defined Business Case
    Too often the business assumes the IT department knows what they want – and fail to put the necessary effort or emphasis into the scoping document or discussions, and then blame IT for getting it wrong
    3. Failure to respect IT’s knowledge
    Some managers fail to recognise their IT counterparts for the benefits delivered, and as a result they fail to seek guidance or engagement appropriately or at the appropriate stages

    Steve Mitchinson 8 Mar at 02:21