Former Apple & Microsoft executive Linda Stone coined the term “continuous partial attention” to describe the growing phenomena whereby we split attention between multiple sources of interaction such as pulling out our iPhone to check a text message chime instead of continuing to interact with friends or customers. There is something about a phone call, text message chirp, or an indication that “you’ve got mail,” which seems to compel many people to drop face-to-face personal contact and rush to the summons of the electronic intrusion. Literally, I have had to encourage a former staff member to move on to better suited employment, after repeated instances in which I observed him engage in text messaging in the presence of clients.
Before I sound like I am “holier than” those who frequently begin a service interaction with me only to interrupt it to respond to some other information source, I realize that I also suffer from “continuous partial attention disorder” (not with external customers) but when it comes to my own staff. Sadly, it is all too common that I will interrupt a call with my SVP of operations to jump on an incoming call from an unknown number. More often than not, I fail to give my team member full respect and attention and instead frantically rush to a caller trying to sell me a newspaper subscription. That serves me right but servers my team member wrong!
I see “continuous partial attention” as an emerging challenge for service providers; particularly, with the proliferation of mobile technology. I have now been misserved by people who have done everything from continuing to listen to music through one earbud while interacting with me, to individuals who have failed to cease a personal mobile phone conversation to initiate service, and even those who were playing drawing games with friends during a business meeting. What examples have you encountered?
Imagine how you would stand out, if your business was devoid of “continuous partial attention.” I am redoubling my commitment to create a “fully present zone” within my business both as it relates to my internal as well as external customers.
I just wonder if there is any hope for encouraging my teenage daughter to do the same during dinner?
Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.
Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli
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