What is a citizen developer – and how can they liberate your contact center?

Lake Falconer
16 March 2023

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‘Software is eating the world’, wrote Mark Andreessen in the Wall Street journal in 2011.

Today, 91% of businesses have engaged in some kind of digital business transformation, which means that the demand for enterprise applications has never been higher.

That demand has exceeded the supply…which is a problem that the citizen developer can solve.

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In this article:

What is a citizen developer? The definition

A citizen developer is an employee within a business who creates the applications, processes and workflows that they (or their colleagues) will use at work. 

Citizen developers come from outside the IT department, and often have no prior experience of developing software. They use IT-sanctioned low-code or no-code interfaces to build like a developer, but without having to write any code.

The citizen developer is usually someone with existing knowledge of – and some level of operational responsibility for – the part of the business that will use the new software. In the context of the contact center, we call these CX Makers.

Citizen developers build the structures that will realize business goals (like increased efficiency.) As they’re not coders, they usually do this with a no-code interface.

No-code interfaces – or builders – give the user a set of building blocks (or modules) that the Maker connects to build fully operational software functionality. 

How do citizen developers use no-code builders?

Think of this like constructing a piece of IKEA furniture, but with a difference. 

You have all the pieces (your screws, hinges, wooden panels e.t.c.) and you can combine them all to make (for example) a cabinet. And you don’t have to chop down a tree or know anything about being a carpenter.

(Carpenter means coder here…)

However, unlike an IKEA furniture builder, a citizen developer:

  • will have a vision of what they want to create, instead of an instruction book
  • can assemble the components in any way that they choose

The citizen developer isn’t limited to building an analogous cabinet. They can combine their building blocks to create chairs, tables, desks, wardrobes, or triple-decker bunk beds.

So to return from analogy to reality.

Instead of screws and bits of wood, the citizen developer has pre-built modules of software functionality (like API connectors, speech synthesis engines, automations that update databases, and more).

Instead of making furniture, they combine these modules to make whatever application, digital process, or workflow automation their business needs.

No-code platforms give citizen developers a lot of freedom to create complex functionality. So while they may not know how to code, they are effectively building their own algorithms.

Why should staff outside IT build “algorithms”?

There are a few good reasons to let staff from a range of business functions develop their own applications and digital workflows.

  • It drastically reduces the development time on bespoke business applications, and frees IT resource for more strategic projects.
  • Citizen developers have greater knowledge of their part of the business – so they’ll be better placed to develop software precisely tailored to their own needs.
  • It’s easy to learn, thanks to the low-code and no-code platforms that enable citizen development.

IT and development teams have their hands full

An increased interest in digital transformation initiatives across the business world has created an increased demand within businesses for bespoke software functionality.

Bespoke functionality can mean entire applications designed for a single business or department’s needs.

It can also refer to more specific projects such as automated workflows within the company’s digital landscape. 

In both of these cases the custom functionality is needed for internal use, rather than for resale.

Unfortunately, the supply of software developers has not kept pace with the appetite for software in the business world. 

The business world's appetite for custom software functionality has exceeded the supply
The business world’s appetite for custom software functionality has exceeded the supply, which puts pressure on IT and development resource.

In the USA alone, companies will face a 1.2 million shortfall in developers by 2026. It can take anywhere from three to nine months to develop a piece of software, and an understaffed IT or development team would be a major barrier to digital transformation.

What’s more – even in a fully staffed (and fully caffeinated) IT team, some of their time is already taken up by troubleshooting and maintaining everything else in the tech stack.

Citizen development is attractive to many businesses as a way to:

  • reduce app or workflow development times from months to weeks.
  • satisfy the need for tailored software solutions without overburdening IT staff.

Citizen developers can meet some needs better than IT staff

Let’s say that a major corporation’s customer service manager wants some new functionality to help the staff in their call center. 

Maybe their call center agents are juggling too many tabs and windows while they talk to callers – and this slows things down.

The customer service manager wants an automation that pulls all the relevant information onto one screen for the agent (taking it from things the caller has said, and from integration with a CRM database too.)

A developer would come at this problem from a highly technical perspective.

After all, a developer with 10 years of experience has spent roughly 18,000 hours focussed on all the underlying code that makes software do its job.

The customer service manager, with 5 years of experience as a call center agent before moving roles, has spent roughly 9,000 hours experiencing the work-life of the new automation’s end user.

They’ll know, for example, how important it is that the information is easy to absorb at a glance, and how important it is that the agent can trigger follow-up actions like call transfers with as few clicks as possible.

The citizen developer – or CX Maker – effectively comes pre-equipped with in-depth end-user research, and this is their secret weapon.

Of course, they can only use this to develop a ‘perfect fit’ application/automation if the low or no-code platform they’re building with is up to scratch.

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Low or no-code platforms can turn anyone into a developer

Citizen development is usually made possible by either a low-code or no-code platform.

No-code platforms give the citizen developer a toolkit of pre-built modules which can be combined to achieve the desired functionality.

All the code required for each module to perform its function has already been written when the no-code platform was developed.

With a versatile enough range of modules, the citizen developer can combine and configure them in original ways to develop fully functioning software capability quickly.

After all, the groundwork has already been done.

With the right training, sales people, HR specialists, supply chain coordinators, and anyone you can think of can build their own software or processes.

In the video below, Julian Hertzog describes how – coming from a background in banking and sales – he can now build a fully integrated call center process…that integrates with Salesforce.

How can citizen developers liberate the contact center?

A recent survey found that 90% of consumers are “more likely to make a purchase from a business after a positive customer experience”. 

That’s all very well – but what qualifies as a positive customer experience?

A high bar has been set.

Modern consumers have high expectations of the service they receive when they get in touch with their favorite brands.

Research suggests that 72% of customers expect contact center agents to know who they are, what they have purchased, and to have insights into their previous engagements.

In other words…

The ability of the contact center to provide outstanding service (and that means without several minutes of hold music), has never been more crucial to a company’s overall success.

babelforce's no-code call flow builder
babelforce’s no-code call flow builder empowers CX Makers to build, test and update agent workflows and customer journeys.

This is where – if properly equipped with no-code process automation – the citizen developer can liberate the contact center from the stasis of development bottlenecks.

Armed with their knowledge of customer needs and call center operations, the citizen developer can do two things:

  • build call flows that give customers a frustration free journey when they get in touch so they’re not tempted to stray to the competition
  • build agent workflows that reduce the repetitive manual work that 42% of contact center time is currently spent on

Citizen developers also improve contact center agility. 

When customer needs evolve (or when new products or services are launched) citizen developers can update their automated workflows so that service stays customer-focussed…instead of descending into a tangle of legacy systems and shadow IT.

Leading businesses in utilities, insurance and more use babelforce’s no-code contact center automation platform to scale their operations to their customer’s needs. 

Read our case study to learn how international retailer VidaXL used babelforce to cut AHT, wait times and abandonment rates.

VidaXL and babelforce case study

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