screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-8-42-43-pm

These days, you may well have an entire fleet of usability experts on staff, from PhD-level human factors engineers to hip, young UX designers. But tell me: when was the last time anyone on your usability team talked — directly — to your call center agents? I don’t mean glancing at the call stats (more on that some other time), or skimming a summary of the latest post-call customer satisfaction survey.

I’m talking about bona-fide inter-departmental feedback and collaboration.

I’m talking about command and control.

Why bother, you ask? After all, you have a brand-new call center analytics software package that can map average call length, keywords, heart rate, and heck probably even emotion, into some pretty impressive tables and graphics, all in real-time. And besides, your UX designers are busy on a product line that’s 2+ generations out from what the folks answering the phones are currently dealing with.

I’ll start you off with three reasons:

One: Those impressive tables and graphics can be misleading

Can your empathic software tell the difference between “I really like this product” and “What would it be like to use this product?” Your top call center agents are your subject matter experts on exactly how and why calls get coded and tagged the way they do. Learning more about that will probably surprise you. And change your mind about some crucial product, and employee management, decisions.

Two: Context is everything

…as your ethnographers will tell you, and your call agents are up to their nostrils in it, 24-7. You want a dozen graphic scenarios about what’s working and what isn’t? Buy a call agent a cup of coffee.

Three: True product innovation and success come from employee empowerment

…which comes from breaking open rigid, top-down management hierarches and departmental silos, which comes from fostering collaboration across those departmental chasms….

The most potentially engaged–and frustrated–employees I ever studied were a group of top-level call center agents manning the phones for a product beta test.  They were brimming with ideas and insights. Critical information was flowing up the chain for once, and for a few short weeks they were making a difference and knew they were contributing. When the trial ended, so did the idea flow. And the motivation. Restoring that flow was one of the top things I pushed for.

Your call center agents are your front line, your eyes and ears, your finger on the pulse, offering you the most up-to-date information about your product’s weakest links, and biggest promises.  Meanwhile, your usability team has the expertise to harness that knowledge and turn it into something pretty powerful.  I’d say putting them in a room together is worth a try.