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A friend of mine works as a landscape gardener and he recently told me how frustrating it is when people wander off his carefully-laid pathways. The work he puts into designing and putting down the paths is wasted because visitors decide to find their own way through the gardens, often trampling through lawns and flowers and muddying up the terrain. To solve the issue he decided to spend some time observing the routes that people actually walk.

The results were interesting – he found that the things people wanted to see, and the order in which they wanted to visit them were consistent, but they were not what he would have originally planned for. As a result, he has now rearranged the old pathways such that they more accurately reflect the walking habits of visitors, dramatically reducing the amount of “off-path” destruction.

It struck me that my friend’s problem is actually very similar to the one facing those responsible for “smoothing the path” of end users of IT in customer service situations. Here, the end user of IT (usually a customer service agent) is often expected to puzzle their own way through the systems on their desktops to get the information and functionality that they need to deal with customer enquiries.

Observing the optimum path

For example, a billing enquiry will require accessing both the CRM system for basic customer information and the billing system to field the query – and possibly further applications if the customer wants to lodge a complaint, add a package, or have their contract mailed to them. Recent research has shown that in one of the most intensive customer service environments – the call centre – 66% of agents use three or more applications on an average customer call. A quarter use five or more.

This represents a key pain-point for agents; as they struggle to manage IT application overload, agents are unable to interact with customers successfully, their productivity falls and they are forced to deflect the customer’s frustration – at an overall cost to the reputation of the business and customer loyalty.

Like watching visitors walk through a garden, watching the way in which experienced agents interact with these different IT systems should help to reorganise and simplify the systems in place. The objective would be to create an optimum path that suits the way that the majority of agents need to interact with IT on typical calls in order to deal with customer queries. Being able to do this would be in the interests of both the customer, who doesn’t have time to waste, and also the agent, who becomes more productive as he or she resolves queries more rapidly.


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