My research over seven years persistently shows that the two main business objectives in a contact center are to reduce average call-handling time (AHT) and improve customer satisfaction. It doesn't seem unreasonable to ask why after all this time most companies haven't come up with solutions to these challenges. To find the answer, I think you have to look at the causes. I believe the big two are that "not all agents are equal" - some are more successful at handling calls than others - and that the combination of tools most of them are given - their agent desktop - to support their efforts is a mess.
Let's look at the second cause first. My research into the technology used in contact centers shows that agents on average use four systems to resolve customer interactions, and the worst off have to access more than 20 systems. Regardless of that number, 17 percent of agents have to use more than one desktop, and only 31 percent that can log in only once and easily gain access to all the systems they need to resolve interactions. Even within a single system, agents often have to navigate through a series of screens to complete a simple transaction; for instance, I know of one center where to close an order required accessing 50 screens. When this sort of situation is in force, the inevitable consequences are that AHT goes up, as agents focus on navigating systems rather than serving the customers, and customer satisfaction goes down.
A growing number of vendors try to address this issue by providing what I call a smart agent desktop, which proactively helps agents resolve interactions and hides the source systems they otherwise would have to navigate around. Cicero is one of them: Its CiceroXM is a set of tools that allows companies to build a smart desktop that not only makes accessing systems easier but can mirror the flow of interactions, guide agents in what to do next and provide analysis of what they are doing. To begin, the product allows IT staff to define the systems the agents need to access and then using drop-and-drag techniques to build extractors that can pull and push data from and to these systems. These tools use different techniques to support access to a full range of systems, including APIs and Web services.
After that is done, skilled business users can define what they want to see on the desktop and the rules that define what appears on the desktop and when. They can build automatic logins to any system that the agent needs or simple screens that allow agents to log in easily to each of the systems they need. Users can also build new screens that include only the data they need to see and capture during an interaction, hiding the source systems (screens) from sight, and this "new application" then automatically pulls and pushes data from and to the source system, or other systems according to the rules that have been set up. Users can also build small windows, tabs and buttons that display information or allow agents to enter data. They can build smart scripts that appear according to the rules to guide the agents on what to say and do next, depending on the customer and the context of the interaction. The result of this combination of rules and different displays is to define the process of handling different interaction types, which enables the agents to work more efficiently and effectively.
Using the built-in analytics managers can tell how well agents are handling various interactions. This knowledge helps companies identify improvements to make in handling different interaction types. Furthermore it allows companies to address the issue of not all agents being equal. The system can show where each agent has issues, and this can be used to focus individual training so that all agents follow accepted best practices. The net results should include not only lower AHT and improved customer satisfaction but happier agents, reduced training costs and improved adherence to external compliance rules.
My research into customer experience management showed that companies rely heavily on their agents to provide good experiences for customers; three of the top four factors that impact that experience are the agent's attitude, the ability of agents to understand the customer's issue and the ability of agents to resolve the customer's issue the first time. The best and most experienced agents develop ways to achieve all three of these objectives no matter how complex their desktop may be. But because others are less skilled and most centers experience high turnover rates, ease of using the desktop becomes critical. Good training can overcome some issues, but adopting a smart desktop from vendors such as Cicero can go even further. Do your agents meet your customers' expectations all the time? If not, I recommend you look into deploying a smart desktop and how it can help you reduce AHT and improve customer satisfaction.
Richard Snow - VP & Research Director