When Cisco sought to update their contact center agent desktop application, they knew that it would be a challenge to differentiate their offering from competitive offerings. Contact centers represent a mature market with tight linkages between technology, people, and processes that make it difficult for contact centers to adopt innovative solutions.
So Cisco set out to create a new contact center solution that would outshine the competition and reduce the cost of ownership, all while integrating well with the other applications that agents and supervisors use. Specifically, the project focused on understanding:
- What functions are needed by agents and supervisors for an out-of-the-box contact center application?
- What other applications do agents use to support their work, and how are they used in conjunction with the contact center application?
To invent an exciting new design, Cisco wanted a fresh look at the problem and a deep understanding of the day-to-day work of contact centers. So Cisco teamed with InContext to create a user-centered design. The Contextual Design process (Figure 1) is a user-centered research, concept, and design process that uses field research to ground new design in existing work practice and problems, and then uses a visioning process to invent high-level solutions. Finally, low-fidelity paper mockups are used to test, iterate, and work out the detailed behavior of the new design (Figure 2). Using this process, the team conducted 12 field interviews with agents and supervisors, traveling to users’ offices to see them in action. In the interviews, the team focused on:
- Identifying the tasks agents and supervisors perform and the information they need.
- Exploring communication and collaboration between agents, supervisors, and other employees.
- Understanding how supervisors use data to manage their agents and queues.
- Finding the extra steps existing tools impose on the workflow.
Figure 1. Contextual Design Process
The team followed these steps of the Contextual Design process:
- Contextual inquiries: The team conducted field interviews in the users’ workplaces, observing, listening in on calls, and discussing them with the agents between calls.
- Interpretation sessions: The whole team conducted internal debriefs of each interview, identifying and recording critical findings and insights.
- Sequence models: The team created representations of the tasks done by users, showing how each task was actually done – including interruptions and deviations from policy.
- Affinity diagram: The team organized the important interview findings to show common concerns and approaches to the work across all users interviewed. Figure 3 shows a portion of the team’s affinity.
- Visioning: The team reinvented call center support using a brainstorming process that responds to critical user data while accounting for technology possibilities and business limitations.
- Storyboarding: The team retold the stories of how specific tasks will be done in the new system, using pictures and text to illustrate the users’ new work practice.
- Paper prototyping: The team created mockups of the new system on paper and tested and discussed them with users in their workplaces, using examples from their own situations. Paper prototypes were tested with eight agents and supervisors.
Figure 2. Cisco Finesse Desktop Application Paper Mock Up
Getting close to customers brought home important insights into contact center work and suggested possible design changes:
- Most agent work is not done in the contact center application itself. Instead, agents spend time in ticketing systems, information systems, and other systems related to the content of calls, email, and chat. The most important thing for the contact center application to do is to streamline contact handling and providing quick access to agent tools buried in the application.
- People who become contact center agents tend to enjoy helping people – yet contact center tools focus more on monitoring agents than on helping them serve customers.
- Companies change products and services often, and agents must support the new products. Getting new and updated information into agents’ hands and making it available for quick reference makes a company more nimble.
These findings helped set a clear design direction for the new product – and the detailed information collected in field visits guided the design of individual features.