Emotional Intelligence in the Age of Interruption
by Jeremy Payne, International Group Marketing Director, Enghouse Interactive
American journalist, Thomas Friedman neatly encapsulated the dilemma of today’s office worker when he wrote in his New York Times column: “We have gone from the Iron Age to the Industrial Age to the Information Age to the Age of Interruption,
All we do now is interrupt each other or ourselves with instant messages, e-mail, spam or cellphone rings. Who can think or write or innovate under such conditions?”
So, have you been interrupted today?
Historical research conducted by Microsoft has suggested that the average employee experiences 56 interruptions a day and spends two hours recovering from distractions per day. In today’s increasingly digital and multichannel environment, it is likely that this figure is growing all the time.
The amount of time wasted by the average employee inevitably has a significant impact on what they want and expect when engaging with other businesses. 55% of respondents in a recent survey we carried out at Enghouse said it was important to them to get quickly routed through to somebody within the business who understands their needs.
Today, therefore, most people are looking for that kind of effortless customer service. This is being driven at least in part by the need for speed. If people are interrupted multiple times during a day, they will increasingly want and need to get their own issues and concerns rapidly resolved.
Need for speed and resolution
There is also increasingly a subconscious, subliminal expectation of fast, efficient customer service that has been created because of the environmental factors and the way that people now work. The customer service culture has changed enormously over the past decade. What was acceptable ten years ago in terms of customer service and waiting in call queues for example is no longer acceptable today.
Yet, there is no written rule around all of this. Many of the drivers are subliminal and emotional rather than conscious and rational. What it ultimately comes down to is that business employees, working in ‘the age of interruption’, increasingly value their time. And that, in turn, means that if they are frustrated in achieving their goals through the interaction process, they are likely to react in an emotional manner.
What this means, by extension, is that if you understand what the customer is trying to achieve within any interaction, you can then start to tailor and tune the customer service process to deliver them. But how does the technology that supports this process fit into this picture? You might think it would only be capable of engaging with the rational and conscious side of any interaction but in thinking that, you would be wrong.
Take, for example, the real-time speech analytics technology in use within many contact centres today. These highly sophisticated software systems employ methodologies similar to those used in neuro-linguistic programming to infer what individuals engaging in a business interaction are feeling – whether the customer, in particular, is happy, or agitated, whether they want an answer quickly, whether the language used is becoming clipped and curt.
There is a growing volume of customer interaction technology out there in the market today which can also go a lot deeper into the emotional side of what individual customers are looking for from a business interaction than many people realise.
Emotional Vs Rational Response
Some of this should be intuitive, of course. At a high level, most people’s emotional response to situations is quite similar. The difference in the emotional impact on a customer being unexpectedly upgraded from economy to business class as against being downgraded at the last minute into economy from business should be clear to all. Equally, most people will have an overwhelmingly negative reaction to having their time wasted; having to repeat their postcode and address several times to different people, having to repeat their query because of a language gap.
Of course, it’s not always that simple. When you are dealing with the emotional element of customer interaction, just as you might when dealing with the rational element, you need to segment your customers and be aware of the kinds of customers you are dealing with. If you are providing digital games to a young tech-savvy demographic your customers’ proposed channels of engagement and emotional reaction to the interaction will be very different from that of somebody looking for advice on cashing in their pension, for example. Businesses need to be aware of this and tailor the tone and style of engagement accordingly.
Moments of Truth – Rise to the challenge
Ultimately too, they need to be aware that in any long-term customer engagement, there are likely to be what global management consulting firm, McKinsey defines as ‘moments of truth’, “those few interactions (for instance, a lost credit card, a cancelled flight, a damaged piece of clothing, or investment advice) when customers invest a high amount of emotional energy in the outcome.”
That customer may have been with you for ten years, with no issues or problems during that time. They may have cost you nothing for a decade and engage seamlessly with you for the next ten – but only if you as a business get this moment of truth right, rally the right resources and people and make sure that customer is handled as well as they can be.
In such scenarios, customer service needs to have a process in place that should be clearly pursued.
Take the loss of a mobile phone, for example, that is something that in today’s digital age could easily be an emotionally fraught situation for the customer. The owner is likely to have a raft of personal and financial details contained on that phone. That individual wants and needs you as a business to sort the problem out for them. So you have to rise to the challenge – and look to turn them from a loyal customer into a customer for life.
It’s another compelling example of why customer service is about so much more than the purely rational. So, remember the golden rule, the next time you have a customer service issue – show a bit of emotional intelligence.
So, are you showing your customers emotional intelligence?