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How may I help you? An ethnographic view of contact-center HCI

Howard Kiewe

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 3, Issue 2, February 2008, pp. 74-89


This study used an applied ethnographic research method to investigate human-computer interaction (HCI) between call center agents and agent-facing software in the context of contact-center culture. Twenty semi-structured interviews were completed, along with non-participant observation at two contact centers, one that followed a user-centered design (UCD) process for software development and another that did not. Agent productivity and satisfaction at the non-UCD center were hampered by poor task-UI integration, ambiguous text labels, and inadequate UI standardization. Agents required multiple applications to complete a single task, leading to long task times and cognitive strain. In contrast, the UCD center used a unified UI that reduced task times and decreased cognitive strain. In both centers, the workflow was reported to be stressful at times; however, management at both companies employed high involvement work processes that mitigated this stress. Implications for possible high-involvement UI design are considered and a strategy for applied ethnographic research is discussed.

Practitioner's Take Away

The study revealed several practical implications for practitioners to consider:

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How may I help you? An ethnographic view of contact-center HCI