Repetitive stress injuries in customer service

24th Jul 2020

Customer service representatives spend nearly 90% of their time repeating answers to the same questions and helping customers with the same problems over and over again (HubSpot).

The issues with repetitive work are well documented when it comes to hands. “Repetitive strain injury” is a general term used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repetitive movement and overuse. Symptoms develop gradually and can increase from mild irritation and tingling to severe pain, weakness, cramp.

At first, you might only notice symptoms when you're carrying out a particular repetitive action. But without treatment, the symptoms can become excruciating.

It’s not only the hands that suffer from repetitive tasks: the brain suffers too. According to Norman Doige: “Nothing speeds brain atrophy more than being immobilized in the same environment: the monotony undermines our dopamine and attentional systems crucial to our brain plasticity.”– 

Repetition in the workplace leads to boredom which leads to distraction which leads to a lack of productivity.

As often quoted, repetition can be the key to success, but it’s also the door to business failure. When Elizabeth Arden spoke about repetition making reputation and reputation making customers, she meant a repeatedly great customer experience. This experience can only be brought about by staff who are engaged, helpful, and in good spirits.

Researchers say we have between 50-70,000 thoughts per day. Yet constant repetition can lead to a 5% drop in overall brain activity. Our brains are tuned to pick out the new. It’s a survival instinct (in a jungle of a thousand leaves, the only leaf that matters is the one that moves because a tiger is behind it). The brain releases dopamine every time it discovers something new, which causes excitement. 

When new is replaced by constant repetition our brains either atrophy or become distracted, they wind down or they escape and neither state is helpful to customers seeking a reply to their email query.

“The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom.” - Arthur Schopenhaur. 

A customer service agent’s boredom leads to poor performance which results in customer pain. Repetitive Stress Injury of the brain saps moral and substantially increases staff churn. CX personnel stuck in the unrelenting avalanche of password resets, track order requests, return labels. The result is that customers aren’t getting great service, and CS staff are suffering from stress and misery, especially around holidays and times of peak volume. When this stress becomes too much to bear, they leave, and all their training and institutional knowledge leaves with them.

The typical CX department spends at least $4,000 hiring a new worker and an additional $4,800 training them, according to Response Design Corporation. CX call centers have one of the highest turnover rates of any industry; 45% of customer service employees will quit their jobs within one year. The cost burden finding, replacing and retraining staff could be helped by shifting the boring and mundane tasks to technology. Machine Learning can and will consign this madness to history. Automated Intelligent Agents are more than capable of dealing with most repeated enquiries. They can answer more quickly and efficiently than CX staff, leaving their human counterparts to deal with more complex customer problems.

In a matter of hours, the repetitive CX grind can be transformed into happier staff who are better equipped to handle unique enquiries from high-value customers because they’re no longer sabotaged by repetitive stress injuries. To sum up again: it’s all about repetition!

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