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Call centre mainframes damage customer service

15th Nov 2006
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Poor customer service can be linked back to the continued use of mainframe applications in contact centres.

That's the conclusion of a report, jointly commissioned by Corizon and Attachmate, which found that more than a quarter of companies using mainframes in their contact centres say that exposing information from mainframes to agents in the form of green screens leads to poorer customer service and more than a third arguing that it leads to inefficient calling.

The research also highlighted a disconnect between the IT and operational arms of contact centres: IT people are reluctant to lose what they see as critical and reliable systems but are far less aware of the negative impact that contact centre managers see mainframes having on the effectiveness of front line agents.

Over half – 56 per cent - of all the call centres contacted for the research used mainframes in their customer service operations, confirming the industry cliché that the mainframe is not dead. In fact, some 93 per cent of respondents said they are mission critical to the running of their contact centres.

But the machines are ageing and not designed to meet the needs of modern call centres. The average mainframe was found to be 21 years old, and the oldest 51 years old.

In a Windows and internet-enabled age, contact centre agents find themselves interacting with mainframes via 'green screen' applications on their desktops. Some 46 per cent of companies say their call centre agents complain that green screens are difficult to use, while 44 per cent said it takes longer to train agents to use green screen applications than it does on other sorts of modern applications.

But despite this, IT departments are reluctant to ditch the mainframe. Nearly three quarters of IT managers surveyed – 74 per cent - felt that mainframes ‘deliver the goods’ while 46 per cent see mainframe technology as risk-free and reliable in an uncertain technology market.

In fact, 72 per cent of respondents have have made not attempt to migrate away at all. Half of IT manager respondents dismissed migrating to a new system as too risky.

"Mainframes have a reputation for providing continuous, reliable performance. They are complex systems woven into the fabric of an IT infrastructure. Migrating away may not be an option for many organisations. Instead, businesses should look for new ways of leveraging data stored on the mainframe into a Service Oriented environment," commented Ian McKay, Director of Sales, UK and Ireland, Attachmate.

But the mainframes continued presence also reflects the divide between business and IT within organisations with IT staff more loyal to the technology than their management counterparts. Half of contact centre managers insist that mainframes lead to inefficient calling, but only 14 per cent of IT respondents agreed, while over a third - 36 per cent - of call centre managers said this resulted in poorer customer service, but only 16 per cent of IT managers agreed.

"Customer service and operational issues that stem from complex applications such as green screen mainframe systems present a real problem to the business, as this study has found," commented Eric Guilloteau, CEO of Corizon. "But, from an IT perspective, the mainframe is often the most reliable part of an organisation’s infrastructure. We clearly have a tension here that is preventing the problem being addressed properly and it’s the end customer that suffers.

"What is needed is a new way to access and re-use the valuable information in mainframe systems which shields the agents from their inherent complexity. Organisations can take a Service-Oriented approach to their contact centre infrastructure, providing mainframe functionality as visual components that could be orchestrated into an intuitive, modern, web-based composite user interface. This would allow IT to avoid the issues of complex mainframe migration whilst addressing the difficulties agents experience at the front line."

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