Why Channel Blending reduces productivity

Why channel blending reduces productivity in the call centre
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Channel Blending reduces productivity

In a rush to achieve an Olympian-level of productivity, Contact Centre professionals make some all too common mistakes.

In our work with Clients, we see more and more channels of communication being opened – everything from Live Chat to Facebook.

That should fix things right?

We’ll just get call centre agents to handle all the channels at once.

So in this article, we address one common productivity myth.

The myth that Channel blending increase efficiency. 

Why handling multiple channels reduces productivity

Firstly, learn your Erlang C

Yup – your Contact Centre Agents have Available time (sometimes unfortunately moniker-ed as ‘Idle time’).

Available time results from the dynamic of random contact arrival.

In Service level based environments, contacts such as calls, live chats and walk-ins arrive randomly.

So at any point in time, your Team Members are either engaged in handling a contact or are waiting for a new contact to arrive.

The following formula applies:

Occupancy Rate + Available Rate = 100% for any period of time

If your Agent is 85% occupied for any given period that means, by default, they are experiencing a 15% available rate over the same period.

Let’s do the math using an hour as time basis:

  • 85% Occupancy x 60 minutes = 51 minutes
  • 5% Available x 60 minutes = 9 minutes

But those 9 minutes – spread over the course of an hour – come in bits and bursts.

5 seconds here…42 seconds there…1 minute here and so on.

Does it really make sense to ask your Agents to try and handle other contacts at the same time during these fits & bursts of Available Time?

Obviously, when Occupancy rates are very low, it makes sense to switch attention to other work – but in Contact Centres where we aim to achieve Service Level interval after interval, Occupancy rates won’t fluctuate wildly.

Channel blending – handling multiple channels of contact at the same time (i.e. using Available time to handle ‘other’ contacts)

Can Agents viably handle channels such as Live Chat or Emails while being logged in to handle Voice calls at the same time (or over the same time period)?

Smart practitioners and organisations that pursue Customer Experience say no.

It all sounds so good on paper so why not?

It’s simple.

Quality and the Customer Experience (and all that goes with it like First Contact Resolution) will suffer.

Try writing a clear and well-presented reply to a Customer email while being interrupted any number of times by Voice calls.


Try jumping back and forth between a Live Chat (or three) and a Voice call and ensure you handle them all well.

Now try doing this hour after hour, day after day, month after month.

door-bustingI watch a lot of industry recruitment videos and in these videos, you hear a lot about the need for a Contact Centre/Customer Service professional to listen well and give their undivided attention to the Customer.

To create a memorable and positive experience to build loyalty and trust.

All noble stuff.

But the implementation of Channel blending flies directly in the face of great Customer Service and is a bit hypocritical at the end of the day.

Wikipedia gives us this:

Human multitasking is an apparent human ability to perform more than one task, or activity, over a short period of time. An example of multi-tasking is taking phone calls while typing an email and reading a book.

Multi-tasking can result in time wasted due to human context switching and apparently causing more errors due to insufficient attention.

Jeff Toister, a Customer Service expert, writes:

Multi-tasking and Customer Service don’t mix.

  • We can only process one conscious thought at a time
  • Multi-tasking slows us down
  • We make more errors when we multi-task

I recommend reading Jeff’s full article on the topic – it’s a winner!

Wikipedia gives us this gem on the origin of the term ‘multi-tasking’:

The first published use of the word “multi-task” appeared in an IBM paper describing the capabilities of the IBM System 360 in 1965.

ibm-multi-tasking

In this context, “multi-tasking” refers to the ability of a computer to apparently process several tasks, or computer jobs, concurrently.

The term has since been applied to human tasks.

It’s not about the attitude of your Frontline Team Members

Recently I met a Contact Centre Agent at a workshop and she said that yes – it had been hard to handle multiple channels at the same time – but she seemed to chalk it up to attitude.

‘Dan – it was hard – especially at the beginning. But I have a correct attitude so I really tried and got used to it over time…’

But let’s take that argument a bit further.

For those who struggle with handling multiple channels at the same time does this mean that they don’t have the right attitude?

Her statement made me sad because I had to wonder – how many others out there in the industry are confusing attitude with success in Channel blending.

Most Contact Centres recognise that their call mix has changed radically over the past years.

Nowadays the voice channel is not the ‘first choice’ for most and tends to be utilised for only the more complex or challenging situations.

This means the Agent job role has become even more difficult than it was before (just ask an Agent).

Organisations that focus on Customer experience allow their Agents to deliver on the Customer experience – especially when faced with increasing complexity.

Channel blending is not about being Omni-channel

Omni-channel is about the Customer experience.

Being able to maintain a seamless, ‘single’ conversation with a Customer across multiple channels of communication.

But being ‘Omni-channel’ – a Customer experience strategy – is not the same as Channel blending which damages the Customer experience (as well as the Agent experience).

Does it make sense to train Team Members across different channels of communication?

Absolutely!

This is where the work can get really interesting for the Agent and the planning gets much easier for the Centre.

Handling different channels, at different scheduled intervals, is a sign of healthy forecasting & scheduling.

Channel blending, though beautiful on paper, is a misguided attempt to achieve productivity.

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Daniel Ord
About Daniel Ord 14 Articles

Founder and Director of OmniTouch International, Dan is engaged by global, regional and country super brands to help build or expand competencies around their Contact Centres, Customer Service delivery and Customer Experience know-how.


Born in the USA and now based in Germany, over the past 20 years, Dan has engaged with more than 1,500 organisations, across 40 countries and with more than 50,000 participants in workshops & speaking engagements.


When bringing his training down under Dan partners with CX Skills so check their website for the latest courses.

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