The Meaning of Multitasking in Customer Service

“Putting the customer at the heart of the business means that every procedure, process, and system keeps the customer in mind.” – Shep Hyken

With so many customers, and their increasing demands it is not surprising that multitasking in customer service is becoming a norm and an essential requirement. We believe that multitasking has always been a part of service to customers, but with the rise of competitors vying for the same customers and workforce, companies no longer have a choice. Service representatives are now expected to manage several tasks at one time – speaking to a customer over the phone, while jotting down information the person may provide, responding to an email, or writing to a customer on a chat session.

The argument to the hype around multitasking in customer service is that most jobs today require such handling given the frenzied pace of everything, and some people are uncomfortable if they are not managing more than one thing at any given time. It is a common sight, of people using their electronic gadgets while watching television, driving, and even talking face to face with people. Research has shown that while multitasking is a common phenomenon now, it is not beneficial in all situations, and can even have some rather negative results. Further research reveals that only about 2% of people are able to multitask effectively, while the remaining chunk of 98% people actually suffer. Their productivity falls, and they could even suffer brain damage.

Research therefore states that trying to do several things at one time reduces productivity, increase the number of errors we make, and would need to put in intense effort to concentrate. The result is a feeling of extreme exhaustion, both mentally and physically. Let us look back now at the meaning of multitasking in customer service. If we read the quote above, it would mean that all a company needs to remember is that they are in business because of customers, and hence must put them at the centre and focus of whatever the company and its representatives do. Customers do know that it is not humanly possible for a service representative to perform several tasks at once, and neither would customers be happy to be served by someone who appears distracted and struggling to stay in control. What does multitasking in customer service actually mean and refer to, and why is it such an important part of service?

The truth about customer service is that by its very nature it is a stressful and high-pressure job. Now with the rise in technology, and the many channels of communication now accessible to customers and companies, the expectation of customers has risen. They want to be able to connect with a company when they want and how they want, and expect quick turnaround and responses. This, for service representatives means a constant ‘movement’ between the channels, identifying the most important and urgent messages, responding to them, while remaining cognizant of unfinished tasks as well. Research shows that it takes a person about 15 minutes to refocus once they lose concentration, making multitasking such a tall order. Therefore, multitasking in customer service would seem like several swords were ‘hanging by a thread’ over the heads of the service staff – that is scary and emotionally draining. It would be prudent for a company to find ways to help service staff improve their performance, by reducing stress, and by ensuring that each person understands the true meaning of multitasking in customer service.

The number of simultaneous tasks each service representative needs to perform must be kept to a minimum. Too much and intense multitasking can, over time, take a toll on the physical and mental well-being of the staff, reduce work performance, and result in burnout. The fact is customers want undivided attention, and hence expecting the service staff to perform many actions at one time could be a company’s undoing. The fact is that customers cannot see and nor do they care about how many tasks a company representative is doing at one time – in fact if they could see the multitasking, they would probably be extremely offended and annoyed, simply because it would mean that the company was not paying attention to them as individuals.

To reduce inefficiency and stress, it would be better to do each task well at one time, keeping the customer’s best interest in mind at all times. This will prevent the service staff from feeling overwhelmed and overworked, and would allow them to complete each task with a high level of efficiency and to the satisfaction of customers and the company. It is imperative for a company to train their service staff to work smarter and faster, rather than trying to do several things poorly at once. For example – when talking to a customer, we know that it is extremely crucial to listen to every word, expression, and tone. If a service staff, were simultaneously responding to an email or surfing the net while speaking a customer, the result would be disastrous. There would be no way the representative would be able to pay complete attention to what the customer would be conveying, and hence the end service delivered would be substandard.

We believe that multitasking in customer service means that service staff recognize the ‘dangers’ of distracting themselves with too many tasks at one time. They would need to understand that multitasking would not benefit them, and they must resist the temptation of trying to do too many things at one time just to finish off their work soon. Multitasking instead should be about focusing on doing one tasking excellently, especially if it would directly affect a customer. The customer’s needs and preferences is what should take precedence, since they are the reason that the company would be in business in the first place.

While it may be prudent to stick to one task at a time, there do arise occasions where multitasking in customer service becomes inescapable. For example – a live chat agent could be ‘chatting’ with several customers, and could lose track of the conversations, which could prove extremely annoying and frustrating for customers. The trick however, could be to use some scripted text to save time, and ensure that no customer feels left out. Even though the customers may not be able to see the representative attending to other ‘chats’, they can perceive distraction, and not complete attention to them.

It is imperative for a company to ensure that it is staffed adequately and that each service representative would have enough time to take breaks and have their meal between their working day. Companies must ensure that staff is trained in relaxation techniques, and are able to unwind in their breaks before they return to their desk. Relaxed and stress free persons have higher productivity, more concentration, are more cheerful, and able to understand things a lot faster. Employees tend to check their mobile phones, social media, and emails during ‘breaks’, which does not allow them to feel rested. A company must take into consideration, all the aspects mentioned, if they expect their staff to perform well and keep up a certain level of multitasking in customer service.

Develop proper and accurate strategies for your company’s customer service, to avoid employee burnout, stress, and to encourage high productivity. Check first the benefits and quantum of multitasking in customer service that would be possible, and formalize your strategies around making things better for customers.

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