At a time when customer service calls are more complex than ever, the workers who specialize in them are more distracted than ever. Here’s why this matters to you, and what can be done about it.
Ever called a customer service number and experienced an excruciatingly long hold time? Or once you got through, the rep seemed frazzled – or often needed to consult notes or with others to find your answer?
The reasons may trace back to the employee’s work environment. Call-centric workers have long indicated that distractions in the workplace are preventing them from being as productive as they can be.
New research seems to back up their claims.
Call-centric employees are indispensible both to their organizations and us as consumers. More than merely offering a means of contact or friendly service, they harness the power of conversation to deliver a wide array of vital services over the phone – everything from resolving our issues and taking emergency calls to providing IT or HR support and offering accounting and financial advice.
Yet a recent survey of 3,200 call-centric workers across seven countries finds their productivity negatively affected by workplace factors beyond their control. Apart from the business issues it causes, this reduced productivity has far-ranging ramifications for all of us consumers who rely on these workers.
Noise, Obnoxious Colleagues and Too Much Work
According to the study, the five issues that most negatively affect performance and productivity in today’s call-centric workplace are:
#1. Too many interruptions from colleagues.
Whether looking for advice on resolving an issue or just wondering if they watched the big game last night, interruptions from colleagues tied as the top complaint among call-centric workers, with 25% citing it as the biggest issue they face.
#2. Noise level.
Noisy office environments make concentration difficult and reduce productivity. A noisy office tied colleague interruptions as the top complaint among 25% of call-centric workers.
#3. Too many emails.
Receiving too many emails during the workday causes stress and reduces call-centric worker productivity. 22% of call-centric workers cite an overabundance of emails as the biggest issue they face.
#4. Too many calls during the day.
Being asked to handle too many calls during the day also impacts productivity, and was cited by 19% of call-centric workers as their biggest issue.
#5. Lack of personal privacy.
Workspaces that are too small reduce privacy and have an impact on call-centric worker productivity. 19% of workers surveyed cited a lack of personal privacy as their top issue.
Why This Matters (to Everyone)
At this point, it would be easy to dismiss these findings with a cursory, “I don’t work in a call-centric workplace, so this doesn’t matter to me.”
But it does, and here’s why.
While conventional wisdom suggested that email, chat, text and other technologies would make phone calls obsolete, that hasn’t happened. Quite the opposite, in fact. Before, a detailed conversation with your bank, consultant or lawyer was almost certainly held in a face-to-face meeting. Today, these complex interactions routinely take place over the phone.
Add to this the large amount of information available via the Internet. With it, consumers have become more knowledgeable about the topic at hand and able to ask more complex questions. A full 73% of decision makers in call-centric environments have seen an increase in the complexity of customer interactions.
Thus, at a time when conversations are more complex and valuable than ever, the people charged with conducting them are more distracted than ever, and have less time to prepare for and concentrate on them. This is unwelcome news for all of us consumers, because it shows up in bigger hold times, longer searches for information and slower resolution times.
What’s An Organization to Do?
Overcoming this issue is possible but won’t be easy. After all, distractions in the workplace have been “business-as-usual” since the dawn of time.
The organizations that will be successful will be ones that invest in helping their workers better concentrate so they can deliver outstanding service over the phone. With the average organization dedicating only 12% of its marketing budget to servicing existing customers, there is plenty of room for action.
Organizations need to recognize the importance of call-centric customer service, and organize it under the right strategic leadership. Then they need to invest in the right package of supportive technology and back it with behavioral and cultural changes to eliminate distractions, increase job engagement and satisfaction and drive greater productivity.
Because the power of conversation is important to everyone.