When you start work on your first day at any company, your employer gives you a welcome pack or onboarding handbook detailing all the nuances and particulars of life inside the organization. A ‘new starter guide’ typically tells you what the company structure looks like, what the corporate mission statement is, what the diversity and inclusion policy the firm operates with covers and, if you’re lucky, it tells you where the staff canteen is so you can get lunch and cans of soda pop to keep you going throughout your working week.
They also give you your software.
Despite the rise of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), employees in any organization will generally be given a defined set of applications and platforms that the company has standardized upon. If you happen to be proficient with a particular email client application, you might well be asked to use a completely different package in your new role. Similarly, workers often get asked to adapt to new database systems, new Human Resources (HR) tools, new timesheet apps, new expenses systems, new conference call apps, new meeting booking systems and so on.
Users… and user support
The upshot of having to work with troublesome and complex software is a problem for users, but it’s also a problem for the people whose job it is to help the users. The support and frontline customer service people that we all speak to also need to be able to navigate a variety of information systems in the background. Although we never get to see it because it typically happens at the other end of a phone line, customer service staff often need to access several different systems simultaneously in order to help us.
Why do support staff have to access so many systems? It’s because enterprise software is often built in silos by different departments at different times on different platforms. It’s also because we the users often interact with service providers across different channels. If you Tweet at your airline to complain about a delay, would you expect call center workers to know what you’ve said when you make your phone call? If you interact with your bank on email, would you expect staff to know what comments you have made when you walk into your local branch?
This disconnection challenge has been highlighted by customer engagement software specialist Freshworks Inc. The company has announced research results which state that that U.S. sales and service agents waste a combined 516 million hours a year trying to navigate the software they are forced to use.
The wasted hours come about as a result of these agents searching for information, clicking through confusing menus and working around glitches and/or dealing with missing functionality. The suggestion is that US$8.3 billion in lost productivity every year. Freshworks’ ‘Voice in the Choice’ highlights what Freshworks has called top-down ‘software dictatorship’. The company says that this predicament goes beyond the cost and time loss factor and in fact extends to creating a negative impact upon employee morale, retention… and even customer satisfaction.
“This lack of employee involvement is an outrage for those on the frontlines of the customer relationship and should be a wakeup call for companies who are looking to increase both employee productivity and customer satisfaction,” said Freshworks CEO and founder Girish Mathrubootham. “In the face of this software dictatorship, organizations have a responsibility (to their employees, their customers and themselves) to bring the voice of their workers into the technology-buying process. The happiness of their employees and customers depends on it, as does the health of their business.”
The survey questioned 400 frontline customer service employees and found that they feel generally ‘powerless’ to determine which software they use, with 96 percent having little or no influence into its selection. Likewise, 57 percent have no clue who chooses the software they use and 43 percent don’t know why the software was chosen. Respondents indicated that they have greater control over snack selection at their offices than they do regarding the software that they use day in and day out.
Employee’s influence in decisions affecting their working life figures are shown below:
- Personal work schedule (28 percent)
- Seat or desk assignment (20 percent)
- Office snack selection (17 percent)
- The software they use (7 percent)
Conversely, when it comes to the biggest impact on end users’ ability to do their jobs well, software becomes the top factor. Forty-seven percent say the software they use has a major or complete impact on their ability to do their jobs well.
“Sales and support agents at the front line of customer care often deal with the negative implications of a bad software selection,” said R “Ray” Wang, principal analyst and CEO of Constellation Research, Inc. “This happens not by malice but often because the vendor selection team fails to include the input of frontline employees. In fact, the selection team is often limited to managers who prioritize business requirements over end-user needs. The result is hours of lost productivity each day for every employee with a negative impact on customer service.”
Freshworks claims that the pain of software dictatorship has both quantitative and qualitative ramifications. Half of the customer support agents the company spoke to say that when they have to use software they hate, it is harder for them to satisfy their customers. One in five report that when they are frustrated with software, they are more likely to be rude to customers. The risk of employees leaving their role due to exposure to clunky software systems is (perhaps unsurprisingly) more acute with millennials, with 30 percent reporting that handcuffing them to bad software makes them want to pack up and leave.
Freshworks has said that more enlightened managers are adopting a more democratic approach to selecting software for net positive gains. CEO Mathrubootham suggests that organizations can enact a more democratic selection process through a number of best practices, including employee surveys, pilot programs, employee committees and other similar tactics to ensure worker voices are heard.
So then, users are force-fed applications and platforms in software dictatorship scenarios and, worse still, customer service support staff experience the same pain and that makes it even harder for them to help us, the users, when we need help in our everyday lives. But it’s important to ground ourselves here i.e. this is a customer engagement software company conducting a survey on how users feel about software experiences… so there is understandably a certain ‘support agent user experience’ agenda Freshworks is attempting to table.
Freshworks latest product Freshsuccess gives customer support professionals a detailed analysis of past [customer or user] behavior to create and configure customer health scores, allowing companies to grow an established customer base, identify any red flags and increase customer retention rates.
Looking at how Mathrubootham has grown and developed his business and market-facing commercial proposition, he explains that the company developed a go-to-market strategy that spanned two separate streams. Created from a core technology freemium model (where base software functionality is free, but additional extended functions have to be paid for), Freshworks developed a Small to Medium Sized Enterprise (SME) offering alongside a higher end mid-market offering. In order to differentiate the Freshworks product between the two types of market customer, both segments get what is essentially the whole product, but some of the functionality is masked for customers who haven’t paid for the more fully functional version. So how does Freshworks work in practice?
“Real design excellence is understood when we look at how difficult it is to accomplish a simple task for any user. If that task takes 7-clicks rather than 2-clicks, then it’s harder to do than it should be. In these 7-click scenarios, users might also have seven different screen windows open in order to get all the information they need to resolve a customer issue. I coined the term ‘multi-screen syndrome’ to describe this…. and we know that support agents hate having to work like this,” said Mathrubootham.
Disconnected silos of information
We know that information inside any organization is often held in disconnected silos, so why hasn’t this kind of issue been solved by Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) specialists long before now? The Freshworks CEO suggests that it is because the big software integrators were established before the time of cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Freshworks is a younger firm, it was founded in 2010. Mathrubootham insists that this allows his firm to be a more effective SaaS player.
“Much of the customer data plumbing [and integration grunt work] today is available through open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), so Freshworks has concentrated on providing more of the front end functionality, yet still driven by an increasing degree of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Solving issues for the frontline actually also means that your upstream data is better able to serve upper management. We’ve spent too much time in the past training users to fill structured forms in a way that gives managers data in the shape that they want. But why should a customer service agent have to work to denote what level of severity every request should be classed as? This is a human process based on human intelligence, but we live in a world of AI, which can help. That kind of information filtering can be based on machine intelligence… and that’s a key part of why we are developing as an organization,” said Mathrubootham.
The disposable society
The key takeaway to take away from this discussion is the X factor… and that’s the X in eXperience. Often now written with CAPS X inside, user experience software has become a business in and of itself inside of the wider realm of software application development. If we the users aren’t happy, then the people making the software want to know about it because (rightly or wrongly) we live in a disposable society where people will drop a bad app as fast they will change television channels.
Perhaps next time you call your airline, bank, tax office etc. and make a query, you might stop and ask the agent if they are struggling with multi-screen syndrome and that’s why it’s taking so long to resolve your query.
While you think about that, I’ll just put you on hold.