Coauthored with Kate Leggett. 

I’ve asked before if it’s a given that employees should use frustrating systems. Should employees be forced to endure extra effort just because they choose to work at a company? Do their managers believe workers have to strain to feel like a full days’ work has been done? 

Kate lives this with her contact center and CRM clients. We heard from one client that agents use over a dozen disconnected applications in the course of their workday. They have to cut and paste data from disconnected systems and follow complex processes through different applications. It takes nine months to train an employee, but they often leave after 12. Imagine that: three months of full productivity, delivering the expected quality of service after investing in all that hiring and training time. 

Agents are plagued by not understanding where to look for information, how to complete tasks, and even being asked to jump into other programs. Data from [24] shows that agents spend up to 35% of their time searching for information; 15% of their time duplicating data from app to app or performing repetitive, manual tasks; and 10% of their time trying to get in touch with subject matter experts. 

It’s impossible to do a good job when faced with such staggering design debt. As a result, agents are less productive, less happy, and less likely to bring their creativity to work. And it’s harder to meet business service level agreements (SLAs). Their managers spend time enforcing company and regulatory processes instead of coaching agents so they can grow in their role. Plus, our data says workers who are dissatisfied with their technology will leave earlier — turnover that is highly costly and damages customers’ experiences. 

Does it have to be so bad? And if not, what should companies do? 

  • Care about the problem. Don’t laugh at how basic this advice is; many companies just demand that their agents “try harder.” They hold agents’ feet to the fire in terms of meeting efficiency metrics, like speed of answer and handle times, making them feel even more frustrated. The key to better design is admitting there is an issue and taking steps to correct it. We’ve got a general guide for designing for work here.
  • Quantify the impact of the issue. Better-managed agent desktops handhold agents through predefined processes, letting them focus on the conversation that they have with the customer instead of struggling with their toolset. This impact has real value. Agents are better able to deliver the quality of service that keeps customers satisfied and loyal to your brand. They are more productive and stay longer in their jobs. Companies also avoid regulatory fines for noncompliance that is often the result of agent error. Even if you can’t develop an exact calculation, create an estimate through agent observation, and extrapolate until you can conduct a formal study. 
  • Employ dedicated designers focused on your agents’ workflows. More teams are dedicating design teams to employee tools. Our last survey identified 30% growth in dedicated design teams focusing on employee software between 2019 and 2020. One financial services company I talked with has dedicated user experience designers and researchers focused on agent tools and plans to double the number this year. That company is not alone. Outside design firms are also hired more often because this issue has become so pressing. 
  • Demand more from your vendors. Contact center vendors should address your agents’ desire for a single pane of glass and step-by-step guidance. And there are signs this message is being heard. Last year, Salesforce named a chief design officer, Justin Maguire, and is now partnering with IBM to “unlock more value by design.” Genesys, a contact center agent software vendor, quadrupled its design staff in the last 18 months. Zendesk’s VP of Product Design and Research, Kim Lenox, quadrupled the product design team over the last four years, adding roles like software development kit and API designers to improve developers’ experience. Expect real, meaningful change from your vendor partners, and look elsewhere if you’re not getting help. 

Our colleague Ian Jacobs proposed one future vision: Waze-inspired agent desktops that provide personalization, guidance, and proactivity. That’s good, but don’t try that without real design effort and human understanding or you’ll get an automated disaster. 

Have questions? Schedule an inquiry with me or Kate, or get in touch on LinkedIn.