The average computer screen of a call centre agent contains a range off different applications connected to a variety of different computer systems. We asked our panel of experts for their recommendations of the three key things that you should look for when buying a desktop application.
Read on to find out more…
Richard Snow, Ventana Research (www.ventanaresearch.com)
Buying a Smart Agent Desktop Tool
In a piece of research I completed recently, it is clear that agents are faced with a computer terminal, or in some cases multiple terminals, that can only be described as a mess.
The research showed that these agent desktop systems, as they are often called, can contain 8 or more applications and these can range from legacy “green screens”, modern applications, goggle-like displays, search facilities, a softphone, scrolling message systems, the list goes on, And even within one system, agents normally have to skip between screens to access and enter data just to complete a simple transaction. The net result is that agents lose focus on the caller and instead concentrate on navigating these complexities; with the knock-on effect of increased call times, agent frustration, caller dissatisfaction, high training costs, bad data collection and a reduction in first call resolution rates.
The answer lies in what I call a smart desktop which makes it easy for agents to navigate around what they need for a particular call type, makes it easy to retrieve and enter data, gives them easy access to the information they need about the caller and their issue, and prompts them on what their next best action should be.
Top three features:
Easy-to-use interfaces and navigation – in the research, I identified that one of the biggest issues for agents is the state of the desktop they have to use to handle customer interactions. A quite staggering 17 per cent have to use more than one desktop to access the systems they need to resolve customer interactions, and on average agents need to access between three and four systems. A good desktop system can replace all of this with an easy-to-use interface that hides applications behind the new interface and just delivers what agents need to handle individual interactions. Implemented correctly, these desktop applications can mirror the flow of different interactions, thereby guiding agents through the process.
In the same way, the agent should not have to navigate specific applications to enter data, but data collected through the new interface should automatically be sent to the relevant application or applications. This will significantly reduce data-collection errors, remove the need to collect and enter data more than once, saving time, and ensure all relevant applications are updated with the same information.
Next best action prompts – as well as a new interface that is easier to use and mirrors interaction flows, a smart desktop should actually prompt the agent on their next best action. This can take the form of pop-ups or new dialogue boxes that automatically appear advising the agent of a question to ask, proving relevant information, or giving the agent easy access to new dialogues, e.g. asking the customer if they are interested in a new product. These actions should appear as the result of pre-built rules being satisfied, that take account of already-held customer information and/or data collected during the current dialogue. For example, during a sales dialogue, the desktop should prompt the agent on what offers to make based on the customer’s profile and information the customer supplies during the call, alongside providing the agent with information about the most appropriate products.
A good development environment– creating a smart agent desktop will inevitably require some development, and one of the most time-consuming tasks is creating the interfaces to the different systems needed to resolve an interaction.
As well as tools to create interfaces to existing applications, companies should also look at the tools to create the desktop environment for their agents, be it a complete new user interface, pop-ups, or search-based.
Carl Adkins, Managing Director, Infinity CCS
In my experience, inadequacies in the tools that we provide for our agents, primarily the agent desktop applications, are the greatest contributor to poor productivity and failure to deliver consistent service to the customer. Most contact centres are aware of this, but stories of long and expensive desktop projects fill us with fear and lead us to continue to stick with agent desktop applications that are simply not fit for purpose.
The fundamental issues with most agent desktops are:
- They tend not to provide a single view of the customer, so fail to help the agent service the customer’s needs.
- They are often slow and cumbersome to navigate.
- They lack flexibility and are unable to respond to the dynamic needs of the contact centre.
- They do not have the inbuilt functionality to manage and track compliance.
Having helped many contact centres deploy effective applications on the agent desktop and save money in doing so, I understand some of the golden rules that need to be followed.
I am constantly shocked at the number of organisations that still consider the ‘build’ option as opposed to the ‘buy’ route. Technology has moved on and so too has the applications that are available ‘ready made’ for the contact centre. A good contact centre desktop application is what I term ‘off-the-shelf, tailor made’. It provides contact centres with all of the functionality they need to structure calls and manage interactions with their customers, yet it is easy to tailor and configure to meet the specific needs of even the most complex of businesses.
With increased regulative controls, auditing of customer interactions is a way of life for many call centres. If you select the right desktop application, the burden of keeping audit trails and adequate reports is taken away from your managers and is automated. This alone can save you considerable time and money, as well as being a lot more accurate than manual processes.
When advising contact centres about the technology they should be deploying, I ensure that each component adds value and delivers savings or a return to the business. As important as this, I also look at the additional increases in productivity that can be made by having all of the components working together. For example, an automated dialler will increase outbound activity by around 200%. A good desktop application can reduce call durations by as much as 20% or 30% and increase conversion rates by a similar amount. However, have the two elements working seamlessly together and you are able to get your agents talking to not only more people, but more of the right people, and ensure that these conversations deliver results.
It is therefore vital that you do not evaluate the agent desktop in isolation; you need to understand how it works with your telephony, utilises data from your existing legacy applications, feeds your MIS, links into your web or multi-media services and most importantly, provides a single unified agent desktop.
4. Ongoing support
The success of any application is down to user adoption. If your users do not feel comfortable with the tools you provide them, they will not be successful and you will not realise the productivity improvements.
Francis Carden, Founder and Chief Evangelist, OpenSpan
New call centre technology seems to appear weekly. But in our experience, one constant is the large mix of both legacy and new applications on the agent desktop. A recent survey by Velociti Partners* showed that the average contact centre agent used 7-8 applications on a daily basis to solve customer issues. So when buying new applications, it’s really important to consider how the new application will fit into the existing desktop environment. Otherwise you risk complicating an agent’s job even further.
Here’s our take on three “must have” features – or, better put, functions – that should be proforma for call centre agent applications.
1. Ability to integrate/automate within current IT environment. The first question you should ask yourself is how well will the new application fit into what I already have in place? What impact will it have on my agents’ business process workflows? The ability to integrate easily with existing legacy applications is important. Also, the ability to participate in workflow automation is critical for maintaining staff productivity. Some applications, like salesforce.com for example, do a great job of exposing data and logic via a set of rich APIs. Other applications do not. Make sure new applications will blend well with existing applications and/or invest in integration and process automation technologies that enable everything to work together.
2. 360° view – rapid access to customer data. Agents need all the information in front of them for the customer they’re assisting. It’s important to integrate that information to give a unified view in the user interface (UI) of choice. Agents shouldn’t have to navigate multiple screens within multiple applications to access critical customer information. Ideally, applications should be able to determine the context of the call through automation, and change the data on view to reflect the agent’s workflow.
So the question becomes this: will the new application help an agent gain quicker access to customer information? And can I access customer data from other legacy applications directly from the new application’s user interface? If not, you might just be introducing additional complexity and yet another silo to your contact centre.
3. Comprehensive analytics. Make sure any new applications can track and expose user events and other analytics, or consider a technology that can access this information from new or existing applications.
Steven Thurlow, CTO, Sword Ciboodle
The modern contact centre desktop is a unique software application environment, which should not be simply a combination of applications that fulfil disparate elements in support of the hard-working agent.
The agent interface needs to be:
1. Unified and intuitive. The agent needs a single place to fulfil customer demands in a way that matches the business scenario that the caller is presenting, combined with other business scenarios that the organisation wants to add, such as cross-selling. Rather than a disjointed set of applications or a purely record-based system, the solution should present process- or scenario-based capabilities in an optimal, supportive manner.
2. Context aware. The agent does not need a hugely complex interface that offers all functional and data possibilities all the time. This requires significant training and process expertise to work out which information to use, which procedures to follow and which value adds to introduce, let alone re-keying data or writing things down. Instead the desktop system should orientate around the context – who the agent is, who the caller is, their product holding and the goal of their call – in a way that presents the relevant information and options for the agent in an easy-to-use fashion.
3. Appropriately measured and managed. Too often, call centres are governed by crude measures such as average handling time (AHT) or have sledgehammer style rules such as “you must up-sell on every call”. AHT is a measure of cost and a very useful factor in a business case, but it has no measure of value. Selling a high-value product, servicing a high-value client or performing multiple actions in a call make a mockery of such crude measures. The desktop system needs to record process and interaction value and success – not just time.
The call centre agent often has a thankless task, constantly being set impossible targets. It is time to give agents the tools to empower them to drive genuinely positive customer experiences.
David Davies, VP Product Strategy for Corizon
Enterprise mashups are a new way of making contact centre operations more efficient, by combining the software applications that agents use every day into a single ‘ integrated application’.
Today, a typical agent has to ‘toggle’ between at least six different systems when dealing with customers. This causes many problems: customers have to be put on hold, calls last longer than they should, the agent may appear to lack the information the customer needs, up-sell and cross-sell processes can be derailed.
Enterprise mashups enable business users to define the ideal processes step by step, and then allow them to combine relevant parts of different desktop applications into a single integrated ‘fit for purpose’ application that contains all the information and functionality to deliver excellent customer service in one place.
The kind of things you should look out for in an enterprise mashup platform include:
User-friendliness: can non-technical business staff easily get involved with specifying and creating the mashup?
Integration with existing CRM systems: Does the mashup platform include native support for the CRM and IVR systems you have in place already? This will make it faster and easy to embed mashups into your primary agent desktop environment.
Reusability: Once you have created your visual ‘building blocks’, can they be easily re-used and re-combined to automate other processes, or when your existing processes change?
Guy Tweedale, Senior VP & General Manager EMEA at Jacada
The first thing to consider is… do you need a unified desktop? Are your agents faced with a maze of complex applications and tools installed on their desktop, forcing them to focus on the technology rather than the customer? Does the complexity of the systems mean training and ramp-up requirements are too costly? Are your agents hampered by broken processes? Do you need to improve customer satisfaction scores? If you’re answering yes to these questions, you need to look at your agents’ desktop, making sure it supports your agents – and your business.
Look for an end-to-end solution
When selecting the most appropriate solution, firstly you need to make sure that it connects everything your agents need to touch when dealing with your customers’ queries. Does it bridge all the disparate systems – whether home grown, or purchased; windows, web or mainframe? Does it integrate all the tools that your agents use to do their jobs?
By having a strategic unified desktop in place you are helping to re-engineer business processes, but you are also giving your agents an easy-to-access, intelligent and contextual view of customer data at the right time, for the call type they are dealing with, at the appropriate time during the call flow. And if the solution you are looking at doesn’t integrate everything they touch, and doesn’t address all the broken processes they are impacted by, then you aren’t getting what you are paying for – what your agents need – a truly unified desktop.
Choose a solution tailored to suit you
This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many solutions that, although claiming to be bespoke, are actually no more than out-of-the-box software with some minor fixes or features to suit some of your needs; for anything else you are likely to have to adapt your needs to what the solution offers.
Does the solution provider perform some sort of discovery session, where they will come and talk to you and your staff, and sit in your call centre with agents as they handle calls? From this they see exactly where the ‘pain points’ and problems are and can provide you with a proposal that takes you from where you actually are to a solution that matches to your individual organisation’s needs.
Can it be implemented to suit you?
Many implementations are done in one big hit. This may suit you and your business, but be aware that it can mean significant downtime, ramp-up time and years to wait for a financial return. Instead, you may find that a phased approach works better, integrating different elements at different times.
Colin Whelan, Senior Contact Centre Planning Specialist, Professional Planning Forum
Contact centre desktop applications come in many different shapes and sizes, from integration of legacy systems, GUI front ends, sales support systems or simply real-time management information, through to just a new piece of software on the desktop itself. Regardless of what type of solution you are looking for, you should only deploy your time, money, effort and resource if it actually delivers against the 2 or 3 key benefits (never a list of 20+ as focus will get lost) which support the reason you are making the purchase. In other words, does it deliver against your operational strategy or do you simply think it’s time to keep up with the Joneses?
The first feature any solution must have is a concrete promise to be future proof. Many of us have experienced the incompatibility of a number of our pieces of software when Microsoft Vista rolled out across the global IT enterprise. Who is to say this could not become a problem for us in the future when our existing operation systems and platforms become obsolete and we must upgrade. Future proof should not be a word used just in the sales process, it needs to be a part of any ongoing relationship agreement.
A water-tight support agreement
Calling an outsourced helpline, on a premium rate, often in a different time zone is an experience too many of us in operational and support roles have had to live with far too often. Receiving a holding email at Pacific Eastern Time does not help when the MD is visiting tomorrow morning at 9am. Support is not just about when a solution falters; it should be about ongoing health checks, recommendations and an absence of that feeling that now the supplier has your money, they are simply not interested unless you pay for their time.
Ease of roll-out
If you need to pay hundreds of development hours to get a piece of kit tailored to fit your IT infrastructure, you are likely to increase the risk of the solution not being future proof or being covered by your support agreement. You need to understand the tipping point between the cost of getting the kit into your world against the actual benefits you will experience, including the time and resource to manage the solution following installation. Too often organisations look at the benefits a solution will bring to their processes, customer experience and so on, without actually understanding whether any of these points above will end up leaving your organisation with the purchase of an expensive, and often high-profile, white elephant.
Philip Briscoe, Marketing Director, SmartPoint Software
Connecting contact centre agents to the right information just when they need it makes them more effective and saves time. This is the basic principle of an effective contact centre desktop application.
There are different applications on the market all providing benefits to the contact centre however there are some features that are imperative to a successful and cost effective solution and should be included in any product evaluation:
How quickly can it be implemented?
Any application is only useful once it is successfully implemented. Too often projects can take months or longer before the contact centre starts to realise the benefits and the return on investment. Less intrusive applications that supplement and support your existing systems, e.g. CRM, and are quick and easy to implement will not only produce quicker results but be easier to rollout and adopted by agents.
How flexible is it to adapt and fit to my business requirements?
The ability to modify and adapt a desktop solution to meet the constantly changing demands of your contact centre is crucial to how it is going to provide benefit now and in the future. You should be able to make quick and easy changes to an application yourself without needing slow and costly involvement from the vendor.
It is a very well providing the contact centre agent with information about the customer directly to the desktop but it doesn’t actually help if the agent then has to sift through acres of data to try and find the relevant information for the call. Only by delivering information that is in context to the customer’s call and hiding everything else, is the application really providing active intelligence for the agent.