Agent Desktop Complexity is Killing Customer Service

There is so much debate around the most effective way to provide good customer service and manage the volume of calls coming into the contact center via the agent desktop. Is it better to use outsourced agents, skilled base routing or IVR?

Do customers really care how their call is diverted as long as they get to speak to a person at the other end who resolves their issue quickly and effectively?

The contact center is often awash with technology: ACD; CRM; IVR; call recording; sales order processing; trouble ticketing, credit card security and workflow management.

But the lack of integration between these systems means that the two principal benefits that they should bring to the business, improving customer experience and reducing costs and inefficiency, are not realized due to this agent desktop complexity.

Instead, agents time is spent manipulating systems and data rather than talking to the customer and resolving their issues. This inefficient use of agents costs the contact center money, leads to long queues and frustrated customers.

Similarly, across most verticals, the multiple applications typically required to manage customer calls have rarely been designed for the contact center environment; agents are expected to use their initiative and prior experience just to follow the flow of conversation. Here are just a few examples of applications used by those agents:

  • Services or Facilities Management: CRM, workflow, trouble ticketing, ERP (Enterprise Resource Management), inventory, order/purchasing, field maintenance scheduling
  • Telecoms: CRM, customer accounts, field maintenance booking systems, payment history, credit/debit card systems, email
  • Retail: CRM, customer history, payment applications, cross-sell/up-sell, stock, inventory, order/purchasing, distribution, supply chain
  • Finance: CRM, customer accounts, product database, payment systems, email, quotation system (especially in insurance), complaints, sister companies‟ systems, legal and compliance scripts, insurance claims
  • Outbound Sales: CRM, call handling, payments, ordering, delivery/scheduling, offers, lead management (from various sources), campaign management.

The agent desktop situation is often compounded when the contact center is part of a larger group of companies with differing applications or if the company has inherited legacy systems from mergers and acquisitions. Alternatively, if an outsourced partner is used for some call handling, their agent teams will work on a different agent desktop, systems and applications or have very limited access to the client‟s own systems.

Anecdotal evidence shows that in over 50% of call centers, agents are required to access 3 or more different applications on their agent desktop with some businesses using more than 10 systems and databases to support customer services or campaign operations. Agents have to manually navigate their way around these multiple systems, with limited guidance, to complete a request. Customers become frustrated, not only due to the length of time taken for a call, but also with the errors that creep in as agents, unsurprisingly, forget to complete all actions correctly.

But this is not the end of the problem; a customer call will typically trigger a service request which must then be provisioned, potentially involving several back office departments and systems. Examples include initiating or upgrading a maintenance or media service, changing a telephony or utility connection requiring an onsite engineer, sending literature or instructing the warehouse to deliver goods, arranging delivery or manufacture of items. All these types of activity need to be triggered somehow and, if not done automatically during the customer‟s call, they have to be done in post-call wrap up; if the agent has to access multiple applications via their agent desktop and log into each one, wrap up can be lengthy and error-prone.

Recent research indicates that an average of 13.5% of an agent‟s time is spent on post-call wrap up which represents 8 minutes of every agent’s working hour. That could be costing up to £2.00 per hour per agent which is a significant waste of resource. In a 50 seat call center across a year, this is a cost of £200,000 in time alone spent on agents simply juggling databases.

This issue is not unique to customer service focused contact centers; in sales orientated centers, agents face a similar administrative burden, typically spending 10-40% of their time managing lead data, trying to extract the information they need from various campaign databases, emails or customer history. Even if a CRM system is in place, there is usually no integration with the call or email handling system so, when an incoming call is received, agents must search for customer history and lead information which could be in a variety of places such email history, the campaign database or lead sources.

When making outbound calls, agents must juggle between call handling and lead databases. Leads will come in from multiple sources but the lack of integration means that they are usually not de-duped and so time is wasted on unnecessary calls which will only irritate the customer who has been called multiple times. Agents must remember information about available offers and use their initiative to determine cross sell and up sell opportunities which may be attractive to the specific customer.

Why is HTML 5 such a significant technology breakthrough for the agent desktop?

The real breakthrough came about when HTML 5 became available. It brought with it a capability called web sockets. This allows a persistent connection between the Agent desktop browser and the server. What web sockets allow us to do is essentially emulate thick client technology. It provides an “always on” constant connection to the server which allows the server to push information instead of constantly polling the server. This has opened the door to some tremendously creative things that we can do from a web browser perspective. HTML 5 is also a more blended browser technology, for example it has multimedia awareness built in. In general it is much less dependent on external software (plug-ins) to deliver content.

So the ability to have a persistent connection to the server and a much richer delivery mechanism in the browser really opens up the door to do a lot of unique things. For example, the biggest issue you had with older web technology in delivering an agent pop was time. If you’re polling the server every 5 or 10 seconds and the phone rings, and it takes up to 4 seconds for the screen pop to appear on the screen, you’re out of sync. With a persistent connection we have an instant pop and the interaction is happening in sync on the agent desktop.

The technology differentiator is that there is no software in Eckoh’s Coral Agent Desktop that runs on the desktop. There’s no installation, no need to upgrade, no need for an IT department to do a deployment push, no concerns about what operating environment you run, we can deliver the same look and feel on any device for the agent desktop.

Coral Active Agent Desktop allows delivery of the same look and feel to a mobile device. For example, if you are an insurance company and you have roaming personnel such as insurance adjusters that are providing some level of support to customers, they can have access to the same tools, the same techniques that an agent has, all right on their smart phone or tablet.

This technology allows creation of highly customized interactions based on customer type. A credit card company could have an agent desktop screen pop appear with the color associated with that member’s card along with the associated fields for their level of benefits.

Since multi-media can be pushed, if a company were running a radio advertising promotion,you could play that radio promotion when the agent logs in. So the agent can be aware of exactly what callers are hearing in the ad and respond appropriately with the agent desktop.

With this new agent desktop it is possible to increase the agent’s awareness of the customer they have on the phone, the situation they are in, the company they are working with and the corporate messaging environment going on around them. All of this makes the agent more effective and more empowered.

Coral Active thin client HTML 5 is a significant technology breakthrough for the agent desktop.

By: Tony Porter, Head of Global Marketing
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Posted by eckoh at 1:35 PM on May 25, 2015

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