Multi-sourcing is Good for Customers – But is it Good for Agent Performance?

In an effort to provide better customer service, contact centers have added more channels of communication. But how do channels like e-mail, chat, Twitter and Facebook impact the agent?

Ultimately, it’s a balancing act, says Jim Rembach, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Customer Relationship Metrics, an award-winning contact center managed analytics services company.

Jim tells us, “When you look at the ability of human beings and what we can handle, multi-tasking isn’t always possible. Studies have shown the brain ends up inefficiently switching focus from one activity to another. When you have all of these channels, you increase the likelihood of poor performance from your agents.”

Over the past few decades, organizations have gone back and forth between segmentation and universal agents. When too much is put on agents’ plates, the degradation of the customer experience begins and the roles are often separated again to turn around poor agent performance.

“There’s a lot of back and forth,” said Jim. “We’re riding the wave of universal vs. dedicated agents – it’s a balance.”

So, what is the best way to handle this challenge? One way, Jim says, is through technology. While technology exists to help agents more efficiently multi-task, it is important to remember that agents are not machines. The best run centers use technology to augment and support their agents’ ability to serve customers by automating processes.

“We often lose sight of the overall employee experience and what the agent actually can do to deliver a good customer experience,” said Jim. “There are several elements at play including desktop and application integration, even how breaks are scheduled, for example. When an agent handles more complex customer interactions, studies have shown they may need to take a (shorter) break more often.”

The type of customer interaction isn’t the only thing that affects agent performance and the ability to handle multiple channels, Jim says. Some factors are physiological and can’t be overcome.

“Women, for example, are more physiologically equipped to multi-task than men. We joke about it, but there is science behind it – it’s just the way we are made,” Jim explained. “So when you start thinking about this in the context of the contact center environment, there will be gender-based performance differences when attempting to create universal agents.”

Despite these differences in agents – and the multiple channels they serve – quality must be monitored across all channels to ensure a consistent overall customer experience.

“If we don’t measure the quality of all our channels, customers can get stuck. They won’t call because the knowledge base is outdated and the agent doesn’t have the correct information, or they stop using social channels because the response time is too slow or supported by unskilled agents,” said Jim. “When this happens, companies begin losing control, customers start complaining, and the herd grows. Ask yourself: are you generating volume in one channel because of poor service in another?”

The goal is to create a multi-channel contact center that is good for both the customer and the agent – and ultimately, good for the enterprise.

As Jim says, “If everyone doesn’t win, we all lose. If the customer loses, that speaks for itself. If the agent loses, it leads to low morale, burnout and turnover – and the same is true for supervisors and call center leaders. If they are high performers, they will go somewhere else and you’ll be left with just warm bodies.”


Jim Rembach is a twenty-year contact center veteran, SVP for Customer Relationship Metrics and Principal for Beyond Morale. “…His past experience in operations builds the credibility that follows.” Jim is a Certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner, Certified Contact Center Auditor, and is a CX Expert panel member for the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). He is the author of nine books, introducing leading insights into contact center quality, analytics, surveys, employee engagement, customer experience, and leadership development. Jim helps his clients develop the fearless pursuit to engage customers and employees. You can connect with Jim via LinkedIn or Twitter.


About the author

Matt McConnell

Matt is chairman, president and CEO of Intradiem. Matt co-founded Intradiem in 1995 with a vision of helping companies increase the level of customer service they deliver by improving the performance of their agents. Today, Intradiem is a leader in its market with more than 300,000 call center agents around the world using Intradiem every day. Matt is the author of the book Customer Service at a Crossroads and holds 11 software patents. He graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in industrial and systems engineering.

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