Customer service agents are mentally overloaded because of all their open tabs. The constant switching between them makes it hard for them to pay attention to the customer. Only by giving them intuitive interfaces can we help them focus. This will boost concurrency and customer satisfaction.
Our last blog was about hyper-automation: machines talking to each other automatically. We said that hyperautomation had significant consequences for companies, customers, and customer service agents. In this blog, we will talk more about the last of those three: the customer service agents.
But first, it’s confession time.
We are in the business of helping customer service agents to perform better. We make them type less and search less, bringing down handling times by 10-20% on average and even up to 50% with high-performing agents.
Agents and their companies are pleased with our solutions. Agents, in particular, value the fact that we save them tedious and redundant tasks so they can focus on the content of the conversation and the relationship with the customer, all with lower costs for their employer.
However, in one respect, we haven’t seen the progress we anticipated. Sure, agents work faster and better with our solution. But we also expected them to handle much more conversations simultaneously: so-called concurrency. Theoretically, an agent should be able to handle up to five chats at the same time.
But that didn't always happen. At least not to the extend we hoped for.
Real agents could do two at best and maybe three in rare cases (i.e., exceptional agent and ideal circumstances).
It took us a while to find out why this was.
The problem was: mentally, agents couldn't handle more. They were simply overloaded.
But overloaded with what?
The problem of multiple tabs
The short answer is: all those tabs caused a mental overload.
Let me explain.
A conversation in itself is a complex undertaking. It’s not simply an exchange of information. The agent has to pay attention to the information, the intent, and the emotions of the conversation.
In addition, customer service agents have to work with automated systems during the exchange with a customer; not just one system, but multiple systems, simultaneously :
First, there is the Customer Service Platform they are working with: here, the conversation is displayed with some features around it, like information on the customer, FAQs, stuff like that.
Then there is the CRM with more data on the customers, their history, subscriptions, payments, and so on, all under various tabs.
Finally, the agent often has to consult a knowledge base with information about products, services, and common issues.
All those applications in themselves may cause problems. And they do. Research shows that inadequate and hard-to-use systems are the number one frustration among customer service agents. We are happy to see some improvements here. Many application designers are well aware of cognitive ergonomics: the field of study that focuses on how well the use of a product matches users' cognitive capabilities. But the problem arises when multiple applications are used simulatenously, even if they are well-designed. In two ways:
First, imagine yourself working with Google Chrome to get the picture. If you are a little bit like me, you probably have multiple tabs open and you switch between them. For instance, my browser looks like this right now:
For a customer service agent, it works pretty much the same. During a conversation, the agent keeps switching between those tabs: checking the customers’ postal code, looking up in the knowledge base if there are issues in that area.
And this is for just one conversation: double it for two conversations and so on. Soon, it just becomes undoable: there are too many tabs, and the agent loses overview over the situation.
The Doorway Effect
But there is more to it than just a lack of overview. The so-called Doorway Effect plays a role here: You walk into the kitchen to get something, but you can't remember why you walked in once you are there, : the change of context - in this case, entering a different room - makes you forget what you were looking for. It is a common phenomenon and a consequence of how our brain is wired.
We are designed to make a mental picture of the direct space around us. This is how we remember things. Entering another room means entering another mental space, where everything has its place: you tend to forget the reality of the former space.
This also applies to digital spaces: you pick up your phone to check the weather, and you end up answering your friend on Whatsapp. It takes immense concentration - and the right personality type - to fight the temptation.
Annoying as this is in your personal life, it is devastating for agents’ performance. We know that generally speaking, switching between simple tasks leads to a 40% productivity loss. We can only guess the impact of changing between digital spaces. Some task switching is unavoidable. But switching between conversations becomes almost impossible if each conversation in itself is a matter of constantly switching between tabs.
So, is there a way to solve this problem? Maybe hyperautomation offers an answer.
The solution to the doorway effect is creating one space.
If there is no door, there is no Doorway Effect.
If there is one tab, there is no switching.
The challenge is to provide the agent with an interface that does not make them search to get the needed information but instead enables them to retrieve the data with a simple command.
If you are in the living room and need your car keys from the kitchen table, how convenient would it be if you could say: ‘Honey, can you bring me the car keys from the kitchen?’ Replace 'honey' with ‘Siri,’ and you get the point.
Hyperautomation will make this possible. Time and attention-consuming tasks like searching databases or looking up customer information will all be handled by machines. As we pictured in our last blog: the customer service agents of the future will have a Minority Report-like screen or VR at their disposal. All the information is there - to respond to the customers' needs.
We believe that creating the right interface will help agents to find their flow.
Flow is the opposite of being mentally overloaded and low-performing.
A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
A distortion in the experience of time
Experiencing the activity as intrinsically rewarding
When you are in a flow, everything seems effortless. It is where purpose and situation meet and it feels like time stops: you are here, now, fully present, performing. This is what agents do if they are fully engaged in a conversation with a customer.
The interface should trigger the agents’ flow. It should set them up to be able to say:
I know what to do next.
I know how to do it.
I am free from distractions.
I get clear and immediate feedback.
This is challenging, yet I am capable.
Getting into a flow means the agent is not captivated by the executive tasks -typing, copy-pasting, searching- but is free - on autopilot - to guide the conversation and the customer to the desired outcome.
In our next blog (yeah, we keep adding them) we will look at the consequences of hyperautomation for the role and profile of customer service agents.