To my mind, former Microsoft executive, Linda Stone, captured the essence of 21st Century business life better than anyone before or since when she coined the term ‘continuous partial attention’. According to Stone, “we pay continuous partial attention in an effort not to miss anything. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, anyplace behaviour that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis.”

Whether you like it or not, it is a condition that has become the norm and is increasingly widely recognised and accepted as such. Most of us recognise the symptoms of working in a world where people expect to be able to get hold of you at any time of day or night, where you sleep next to your smartphone and put up with being bombarded continuously with messages from your desktop. The result is that many of us are turning into ‘skimmers’, keeping lots of plates spinning but not doing any jobs really well.

While there are many business benefits to the ‘always on’ world digital technology has created, it also has some significant downsides. When it comes to customer interaction, what’s been lost is a sense of personal service – a human touch. And this is important. After all, even today, certain customers, executives or senior members of staff are looking for some of that VIP treatment.

Many such business people continue to want personal service backed by a focused line of communication that routes them to a person that understands their requirements and can answer their questions quickly and efficiently. Such individuals are typically highly-valued customers and it is therefore crucial that the business nurtures them in a concerted bid to keep them loyal. But how can this be done? Of course, interactions can be triaged, routed and prioritised through an automated mechanism, but for these types of customers this is unlikely to be the right way forward.

The existence and indeed critical importance of this kind of customer is one good reason why the role of the attendant console operator, far from going away, remains as key to businesses today as it ever has been. For some organisations and some of the customers they engage with, the ideal will always be a VIP concierge experience where the customer comes through to a receptionist who knows them, understands the problem and can route them through to somebody they either already know or who has the necessary awareness and expertise to deal with their issue there and then.

What Makes Technology Key

Human interaction is critical here, but it needs to be supported by the right technological applications. The kind of operator console technology chosen is vitally important if the business wants to provide the optimum caller experience, enabling the customer to have a rich and informative conversation with the person on the other end of the line.

With the help of the latest systems, receptionists can use real-time presence and calendar information to select the back office contact best placed to engage with the caller and answer their questions. Screen popping caller information can be used to ensure more personalised service. For larger organisations who are likely to employ people across a wide range of different geographies, business units and departments, the ability to create a global directory and view of who is available and best placed to assist the customer is vital.

When linked with quality and performance monitoring tools comprehensive real time reporting and coaching can be brought into play to maintain a consistently high quality operator performance and caller experience. Ultimately, this is a way for the business to enrich that singular form of communication, today typically voice-based but likely, in the future, likely to also encompass video, and to provide their distracted customer base with a service that is memorable and compels them to keep coming back to the organisation to repeat the rewarding experience they have enjoyed.

The approach typically generates several other measurable business benefits. Time to answer is reduced as customers are routed to someone who can provide them with the assistance they need with the help of applications like caller prioritisation and skills-based routing and through associated techniques like centralisation which allows calls to be dealt with efficiently while delivering economies of scale.

Presence & Availability

As part of the process of designing an attendant console, you also have to create a contact directory across the organisation which can be kept 100% up-to-date and is also rich with details about people’s availability, presence, and information about everything from the time of their next meeting to how they can be contacted next week. This kind of information helps customers to be routed immediately to the right person.

If such a directory exists, it can then be propagated out to staff who then have presence information at their fingertips, driving efficiencies and reducing costly internal calls into the bargain. Ultimately though, in a world that continues to suffer from the curse of continuous partial attention, where so much needs to be done but so little is done well, it is that human touch, the ability to provide a focused and a rich customer experience that is and is likely to remain console technology’s greatest legacy.