• April 1, 2016
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Unified Agent Desktops Connect Reps to Essential Apps

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Are your contact center agents relying on too many applications to serve customers? Ventana Research reports that 44 percent of contact center agents need to access three or more applications to resolve a single customer issue. Adding more customer issues could increase the applications needed to 20, according to some estimates. And in many cases, the bulk of that data would reside somewhere far outside of the contact center.

All the time that agents spend alt-tabbing and copying and pasting between applications not only invites error but also introduces unnecessary wait times and has a negative impact on call resolution, customer satisfaction, and agent productivity.

Luckily, companies are finally starting to see the need for converged systems that marry the tools their contact center agents use every day with other business processes and applications outside of the contact center. Called unified agent desktops, these systems provide connectivity to all sorts of disparate enterprise systems and applications and bring them into one coherent view. Unified agent desktops can connect to phone, email, and ERP systems as well as customer case management, video chat, and other applications, making it easier for agents to quickly traverse from one task to the next.

Having a unified agent desktop offers agents a 360-degree view of every customer, showing all prior interactions, activities, and related information in real time. Whatever app or information agents might need, it is always available right on their desktops, even if it is housed in CRM or ERP systems, internal or external knowledge bases, Excel spreadsheets, or on the Web.

"Access to information, no matter where it's housed, becomes part of the agent solution," explains Matt Kresch, director of product marketing for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which introduced the Unified Service Desk as part of its spring 2014 release. "It all happens within the course of the agent's regular workflow."

The key to making this work is orchestration, a technique in which a single action can call multiple applications in concert. Not only can the orchestration layer pull customer-specific information into the app itself, but it can open those apps in tabs on which the agent can work. These tabs can indirectly communicate with one another and even push data back and forth between them.

Ideally, a unified agent desktop should be able to open each component contextually within the conversation, with information that is relevant for each unique interaction and customer, explains Ashish Kothari, program manager for Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Another benefit, as many organizations struggle to handle multichannel interactions, is that the unified desktop provides the same interface to handle every type of interaction. Agents don't need to go into one system to respond to email and then close out of that system and enter a separate voice-based system to handle phone calls. It's the same desktop for every customer interaction channel.

For all its promise, though, a unified agent desktop is not right for every company. "Because of the complexity of stitching all these systems together, this type of orchestration really only makes financial sense for large customer service organizations and, obviously, only for ones that use multiple applications," says Ian Jacobs, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.

"It's good for high-volume call centers, with half a million to a million calls per month," Kothari says. "A unified agent desktop is probably overkill for contact centers with small call volumes or simple interaction types."

But for those organizations that meet the above criteria and are looking to provide better customer experiences on a more consistent basis, a unified desktop can be "nirvana," says Brent Leary, cofounder of CRM Essentials.

Jacobs agrees. "Companies need a more unified tool set if they have any chance of fulfilling that broader view of what customer service can be."

Unified systems, he adds, "can allow a single agent to handle numerous functions in a more seamless manner. All the tools that agent needs are linked together, look similar, and work alike."

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