Alt-Tab or ⌘-Tab is not an integration

It was almost 10 years ago that I visited a Tesco Customer Engagement Centre in Dundee (Scotland) and another one in Cardiff (Wales). Tesco is the 3rd-largest retailer in the world. The company turns over more than 60 billion GBP, employs 450,000 people, and (at the time) had almost 20 million Tesco Club Card customers.

Of those employees, 2,000 were customer service representatives (aka “agents”) working in those two locations and from home (c. 300). They were receiving tens of thousands of contacts every day, via phone, email, chat, social media, etc. And despite their high Average Handling Time (AHT) they had a low Customer Satisfaction (CSAT).

i.e. they were neither being efficient, nor resolving customer’s issues.

I had been in several contact-centres before, but this was the first time I realised how Herculean was the task performed by customer service reps. Each one of them had a phone, a headset, a keyboard, a monitor. And in that monitor I counted circa 15 different applications opened. One of them was a web-browser with several tabs open.

Among the applications were: CRM (home-grown), Commerce (from Oracle), Fraud & Finance (undisclosed), ERP (various home-grown and off-the-shelve), Chat (from Bold), Telephony (from Cisco), CTI (for telephony), Workforce Management (from Verint), Email (MS Outlook), Collaboration (MS Lynch), Knowledgebase (various wikis and MS SharePoint pages), Scanning (MS Document Imaging), and more apps like a Notepad (and all of them also had a physical notepad and pen by their keyboard).

And in the web-browser, the various tabs had opened the various Tesco websites (for clothing, wine, groceries, mobile, etc.), Tesco internal portals, Google, and at least 9 different tabs for delivery company pages like Yodel, Hermes, Mojo, DPD, Ceva, Metapack, Middlewich, Click-Spares, FIRA.

I sat down with a few of their agents, watching them deal with customer contacts. I could not believe the amount of effort they had to put, only to reply to a question that had a straightforward answer. And the unbelievable pain they had to go through when the enquiry was not simple to resolve.

And I noticed in their keyboards, how the “Alt” and “Tab” label had disappeared from those keys. Such was the amount of time they flicked through screens. It was actually difficult for me, at the start, to keep up. My eyes were aching – and I was only watching, not even trying to read a thing.

The truth is almost 10 years later, many companies still work like this. And research has shown that 20% of customer service agents time is spent searching for data in the various siloed systems (be it customer, transactional, or operational data, as well as knowledge to resolve queries).

Companies need to have different systems to store and process different types of data. And companies need to have different applications to manage and analyse that data. Actually, the bigger the company, the likelier it is the need to have a complex tech-stack and architecture.

However, what companies don’t need, is to ask their front-line employees to go through hell, logging into and using all those systems, whilst on the phone with a frustrated, hopeless, or angry customer. Agents need to focus on empathising with the customer and focusing on resolving the problem.

Customer service teams need ONE simple and easy-to-use application / user interface that provides:

  1. unified conversation-focused workspace
  2. channel-agnostic workflow
  3. quick and easy channel-switch
  4. contextual knowledge at the fingertips
  5. interface to surface data from back-end systems

Off-the-shelve software applications already offer most (if not all) of the above. The challenge doesn’t lie with technology. On the contrary, technology is available to resolve that challenge and support the needs of companies, employees and customers.

What companies need to do is stop thinking that Alt-Tab or ⌘-Tab is an integration and invest in providing their employees the one tool that will allow them to become more efficient and effective, ultimately delivering a better customer service and experience.

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