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Interruption Management for Customer Service Teams Vasudha Deming

For as long as I've done cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing, clients have asked for guid­ance on how front­line employ­ees can best man­age their time and tasks. Never has this issue been more urgent (and con­fus­ing), how­ever, than in the last year or so. With nearly uni­ver­sal adop­tion of tech­nol­ogy such as Instant Mes­sag­ing (IM), opt-in alerts, Twit­ter, and more, employ­ees and their man­agers are strug­gling to strike the right bal­ance between "caught up" and "caught in."

The March 2010 issue of Entre­pre­neur mag­a­zine has a great arti­cle titled E-mail Is Mak­ing You Stu­pid. The arti­cle cites var­i­ous stud­ies show­ing that not only are these tech­no­log­i­cal "advance­ments" hurt­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity, but they're also increas­ing stress, scram­bling brains, and under­min­ing the qual­ity of what­ever work employ­ees do man­age to churn out in the midst of these distractions.

Along these same lines, IBM Busi­ness Con­sult­ing Ser­vice issued a report back in 2004 (but still rel­e­vant today) on the issue of  "inter­rup­tion management."   

Work­ing at a com­puter is now a lit­tle like play­ing tennis—a near con­stant vol­ley of dings, beeps and pop-ups, each of which neces­si­tates an instant deci­sion of how best to swat it. Per­haps the aim should be to work more like a golfer who focuses, proac­tively moves the ball toward a goal, and seeks the absolute min­i­mum of dis­trac­tions and imped­i­ments toward that end.

While this dis­trac­tion epi­demic is by no means lim­ited to cus­tomer ser­vice teams, fol­low­ing are some tips designed espe­cially for con­tact cen­ter man­agers who are strug­gling to mas­ter "inter­rup­tion man­age­ment" in their workplace.

  • Be clear about your poli­cies. You can't expect employ­ees to curb their use of gad­gets until they know exactly what's expected of them. Many employ­ees wel­come some struc­ture and guide­lines (and even restric­tions) regard­ing  appro­pri­ate use of use of tech­nol­ogy; after all, they're the ones who are falling behind in their work. If you don't yet have a pol­icy in place with rela­tion to IM, Twit­ter, Face­book, and mobile phones on the job, now's the time to estab­lish one. (Quick, before more tech­no­log­i­cal "advances" flood the market!)
  • Ask each employee to carve out a period of time each day when he or she dis­ables IM, turns off ringers, and avoids check­ing e-mail. Just two hours or so of this silent time can have a big impact on productivity—and on employ­ees' sense of accom­plish­ment in get­ting through tasks. If it makes sense, you can stag­ger the quiet peri­ods among employees.
  • Reward employ­ees' pro­duc­tiv­ity rather their abil­ity to work long hours.
  • Pub­licly praise those employ­ees who are demon­strat­ing focus, effi­ciency, and pro­duc­tiv­ity. This will prompt their peers to strive for the same kind of attention.
  • Train employ­ees to use best prac­tices in their e-mail communication-things like avoid­ing "reply to all" when it's not nec­es­sary and strate­gi­cally struc­tur­ing mes­sages to be effi­cient for both the writer and the recip­i­ent. One such pro­gram is Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems' Get­ting to the Heart of E-mail Com­mu­ni­ca­tion.
  • Empower employ­ees to con­vey to col­leagues (not cus­tomers, of course!) that they aren't always inter­rupt­ible. As the IBM study I men­tioned ear­lier states, "In the real world, peo­ple tend to gauge how inter­rupt­ible some­one is before inter­rupt­ing them. Is their door open? Are they on the phone or meet­ing with some­one else? Deeply con­cen­trat­ing on some­thing and rapidly typ­ing? And then there can be a sub­tle nego­ti­a­tion of the inter­rup­tion. Based on what I'm doing and what the other per­son needs, I might decide to han­dle the inter­rup­tion right away or defer it to later." By allow­ing employ­ees to be sim­i­larly guarded in the vir­tual envi­ron­ment, you'll help them to man­age distractions.
Vasudha leads the Per­for­mance Solu­tions Team at Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems, reg­u­larly work­ing with lead­ing com­pa­nies to improve per­for­mance of their customer-facing ser­vice, sup­port, and sales teams. She is a lead devel­oper of Impact's suite of train­ing courses and has authored four books, includ­ing the pop­u­lar Big Book of Cus­tomer Ser­vice Train­ing Games, all pub­lished by McGraw-Hill.
5 Interruption Management for Customer Service Teams
Vasudha Deming
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    What a breath of fresh air to bring a lit­tle sun­shine after a stress­ful day. Very good arti­cle that really gets the point cov­ered. Thank you for sharing.

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    Def­i­nitely. Glad you enjoyed it! :D

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    Very good post. Will you please write much more about this subject.






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