The Multi-Channel and Multi-Tasking Balancing Act

By Lisa Durant
On Feb 25, 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It goes without saying that written communication requires a different skillset than spoken conversation. However, today’s contact center solutions integrate both voice and non-voice channels into one platform and provide companies with nearly unlimited options for how to delegate these channels. Contact center managers can choose to have agents handle both phone calls and non-voice contact requests (sometimes simultaneously). But, should that agent who is so great at handling phone calls also handle live chat and respond to emails? The answer: probably not.

In Nemertes’ 2014-15 Enterprise Technology benchmark, we are investigating whether multi-channel contact centers tend to have specialists for certain channels or have their agents handle multiple channel types. More importantly, we are looking at how the way channels are handled affects contact center success.

An IT Manager at a large manufacturing company explains his organization’s foray into multi-channel management. The company currently uses single-channel specialists and also ensures that, no matter what that channel might be, its agents deal with only one transaction at a time. But this hasn’t always been the case; the company began by having its agents manage multiple channels.

The multi-channel program seemed successful at first. “The failure is not obvious,” says the IT Manager, “it appeared as if the contact center was handling more contact requests with fewer people.” But then, quality monitoring revealed a big problem: the multiple-channel handling approach was affecting customer service. Agents were mistakenly entering incorrect information, which was causing customers to return product.

“We did it, we failed, and we corrected ourselves,” says the IT Manager. “We decided that there really is no such thing as a multitasker.”

This story is not unique; other IT executives have echoed this lesson and made similar decisions to opt for specialist over generalist agents. “We definitely have certain specified skill types,” says a Director at a large financial services organization. “We started off by having generalists and then decided to focus on specialization based on specific skill sets.”

Many organizations are still adding new channels to their contact centers and may find it necessary to begin by having agents handle multiple channel types. But, managers should pay close attention to how this affects customer service quality and adjust their programs accordingly. 

Care to weigh in? If you are an IT practitioner in an end-user organization and are willing to give us a one-hour confidential interview, please contact us at In return for your participation, we will share the results of this year’s benchmark once data is available.

Research Tracks: