Why multitasking is the enemy of active listening

The Takeaway: While it’s tempting to multitask, agents struggle to have authentic interactions with customers. Active listening is a useful tool to improve engaging with customers.

Sometimes it feels impossible to not multitask within a given workday. When on the phone with a customer, agents are responsible for juggling the incoming information that a customer provides while processing data presented on the screen in front of them. Have you ever noticed how exhausted you feel after doing that for several hours?

The reason, wrote Olivia Goldhill for Quartz Media, is that your brain is really switching between tasks, not accomplishing them simultaneously. In addition to feeling tired, individuals who multitask also feel more stressed – which is counterproductive in a contact center, when agents are assisting customers. There are additional drawbacks to multitasking: When our brains attempt to juggle multiple projects, we lose the ability to separate important information from mindless chatter, noted Forbes’ Travis Bradberry.

Agents may have more success by practicing active listening when working with customers. The Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Bernstein laid out the definition of active listening: Fully interacting with another person, without distraction. However, this can be difficult to do when worrying about average handle time and resolving the call quickly.

Nip the problem in the bud when hiring agents. CJ Silva of the International Customer Management Institute recommended seeking out agents that are empathetic. In practice, that means these agents are good at identifying certain emotions in a person’s voice or speech. Active listening can help agents strengthen their empathy muscles. They have the opportunity to ask open-ended questions – and without any distractions, can pay attention to a customer’s tone.

Technology can also help agents become more empathetic. In a previous article, we highlighted AI that can identify when calls are going off-track. This technology can pick up on a customer’s faster speech pattern or language that suggests anger. The human element – in the form of the agent – can use this information to slow down the conversation and check in with the customer, to ask if they feel listened to.

In addition, speech analytics software can help managers understand and measure their agents’ empathy. The software can look for open-ended questions. When paired with other metrics – like average handle time or first call resolution – managers may be able to get a better sense of whether an agent is actively listening with a customer.

Active listening is a skill that requires dedication and maintenance. While it’s tempting to multitask, both agents and customers will benefit from active engaging

How will you increase active listening?