When Apple released the first iPod in 2001, the product was a game changer. MP3s were already the music format of choice, but the iPod was the first powerful and accessible portable player that penetrated a general consumer audience. It was revolutionary in its simplicity: The layout was minimalist and the interface intuitive. It easily synced with desktop-based music storage programs, it was small and convenient, and it quickly became the essence of cool.
Apple's commitment to simple design has not wavered in the last decade and a half. As one tech consultant explained, "Apple is the only company I deal with where ease of use is more important than the product itself. Apple makes this a critical goal of its approach to creating anything for the market." It strives to make products that are compelling for techies yet still accessible for senior citizens. As a result of this strategy, the MacBook, iPhone and iPad have all revolutionized consumer technology around the world.
Ease of use for the enterprise
Apple's team uses top-notch design and ease-of-use standards. An easy-to-use product or tool is natural and can be learned with minimal effort. It achieves its purpose with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction. In modern tech parlance, ease of use, or usability, is also linked closely with UX and UI.
Ease of use can be elusive. There is no magic model, no obvious metric. A designer can only evaluate ease of use with research and user feedback, just as Apple did as it grew and developed its service offerings. Unfortunately, most organizations have fewer R&D resources than Apple, which Forbes ranks as the most powerful brand in the world.
In the past, that limited access to R&D resources has constrained many companies' access of the highest quality and easiest-to-use enterprise technology solutions. In the contact center environment, that has translated to instead relying on manual processes and spreadsheets that hinder growth and frustrate users.
The argument for usability
Many small to mid-sized contact centers are balancing a complex patchwork of platforms and tools for their workforce management functions. In the long run, this type of "complexity drains efficiency and ultimately hobbles competitiveness," explains Lynn Wu, a Wharton professor whose research specialties include IT productivity. Additionally, working with (and learning about) a clunky, complex system is frustrating and demoralizing. In customer service industries, in which attitude and friendliness have a clear impact on the bottom line, employees and the customers they engage with need fun, simple solutions.
Some of the strongest evidence for the importance of usability comes from consumer research. Psychologists apply principles of human behavior and conduct studies to explore best practices in areas like visual processing patterns and memory capacity. Studies have found that every dollar spent on UX brings in between $2 and $100 dollars in return. That is reflected in the stock prices of companies that invest in design; they outperformed the S&P 500 index by 219 percent between 2004 and 2014, according to the Design Management Institute. Ease of use is not even limited to technology: The Arthritis Foundation has developed an Ease-of-Use Commendation Program that recognizes products usable by individuals suffering from arthritis.
In the contact center, simplicity and ease of learning are pivotal. Clear and intuitive workforce management systems increase efficiency and improve employee morale. Employees can work faster and handle more customer interactions and back-office functions. What's more, intuitive systems can lessen the amount of time spent on onboarding. Losing and replacing an agent can cost as much as $20,000, which includes income lost while employees are being trained and the lowered efficiency of peers who train and support them. An easy-to-use workforce management solution can lower that time, increasing the bottom line.
The path forward
To maintain a competitive edge in today's marketplace, contact centers need to provide their employees with tools that improve efficiency, limit errors and increase satisfaction. New, flexible solutions can bring even those contact centers with fewer than 500 employees out of the Dark Ages by facilitating shift scheduling and staffing management. Agents and supervisors have access to schedules on any browser anytime, anywhere. It's never been easier to avoid short staffing or overstaffing, freeing teams to ensure peak customer service around the clock. The best solutions are quickly realized, because cloud-based technology can be deployed within minutes rather than the months often required by on-premise solutions. New customers begin to use the solution immediately, without lengthy training.
"Simple can be harder than complex," Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously said. "You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains." Ease of use can make the difference between failure and success in the contact center. It's time for small and mid-sized organizations to offer their employees a usable solution that simplifies and streamlines planning and forecasting, for increased efficiency and profits.
Paul Chance is a senior product marketing manager for NICE EVOLVE WFM, the leading software solution used by small and mid-sized contact centers to plan and manage the workforce anywhere from the cloud. For more information, visit www.nice.com/websites/evolvewfm.