Monday, November 26, 2007

Why is the agent desktop so often neglected in call centres?

I saw this interesting looking Calabrio Webinar ("The power of the unified desktop") coming up on CRMxchange, and it go me thinking. Why is the agent desktop so often neglected in call centres?

Speech technology, agent skill management, routing and so on are all perhaps seen as more exciting. This may be so from a technology perspective (though I'd argue that SOA has made things a lot more interesting when it comes to delivering applications to the desktop) but in terms of agent performance, the desktop remains crucial.

It seems obvious that agents can no perform no better than the information they are given. Developing this further, as well as data, the ease of navigation, integration of work flow and other aspects of a good agent desktop can make a big difference to both agent efficiency and the customer experience. Given that about 70% of a contact centres operating cost is agent costs. the desktop would seem an easy area for improved business efficiency.

Admittedly, the operating cost of an agent is partly why there is such interest in IVR and automating transactions. Yet the number of call centres with an integrated desktop still surprises me.

Part of the problem is running applications on the agent's PC or other client based framework is not appropriate for many legacy applications (such as 3270 and older) and a browser based portal environment is not always suitable either.

Especially for the smaller contact centre this can represent a real problem. A small contact centre may only have 70 agents, but it may be generating large sums of money in a B2B sales environment and may also have multiple back-end systems to use. Even something as simple as payments and shipping information can require multiple systems if the call centre has been grafted onto an existing business. Yet because the call centre is a small area of the business, it doesn't get the corresponding IT investment to do that level of integration. One of the things I like about the Cisco Contact Centre Express is that there is the option to include a desktop environment and one that integrates with the workforce management tool.

Yet I suspect that many of the problems are not that IT neglects the call centre (though it can do) or because of technology platform issues, but that many senior managers do not understand what their agents do. This lack of understanding could be a lack of focus on the customer experience or no real knowledge of the detail of the agent workflow (e.g. just how much does the agent have to do manually, such as data capture?) . The result, though is that simple areas like the agent desktop or virtualising telephony are neglected and more complex solutions are imposed that deliver less.

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