I first noticed the creeping changes a few years ago. In college I majored in comparative literature and averaged about five novels read per week. Even when I entered the hustle and bustle overdrive of the working world, I still rapidly pounded through stacks of books every month. Over the past few years, while I still read more than the average American, the act of actually finishing a book became something of a notable achievement. My brain was more easily distracted, my ability to focus on and engage with complex information diminished, and my capacity to multitask as required by a modern work environment was seemingly illusory.

Of course, I wasn’t alone in experiencing these changes. This distracted mental state has become a common problem among knowledge workers and heavy users of Internet and mobile technologies. Excellent books such as Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains detailed the changes we are all undergoing and described much of the neuropsychological research that seeks to explain the mental modifications that have left us in such a state. At heart, the research shows that our tools have begun to shape our brains just as much as we fashion our tools–and not always for the better.

Such mental modifications would seem to pose some significant and idiosyncratic problems for customer service organizations. Indeed, a new generation of contact center agents has begun to vex application development and delivery professionals. The new agents seem reluctant to learn detailed product and service information that previous cohorts of agents had little problem with. These new agents prefer to learn where to find such information, but have little intention of actually memorizing product support details.

This potential challenge is only compounded by a change in the quality of contact center interactions—because consumers are increasingly using self-service and social media tools to solve simpler issues, contact center agents now typically handle thornier or more complex customer problems. For example, when was the last time you called your bank’s contact center to find out your account balance or called an airline to check on your upcoming flight's status? I certainly remember doing those things 15 years ago, but it would not even occur to me do so today.

To confront the neurological, psychological and demographic changes in the contact center workforce, application development and delivery professionals will need to explore new types of tools that more closely match the way this new breed of agents work. Forrester will be closely watching this topic over the coming months and years. However, for a brief overview of how we view this set of problems today, check out our new report, Retool For A New Workforce Reality — New Technology For A New Breed Of Agent. The report details why current tools fit these new agents as poorly as a cheap off-the-rack suit and what you should look for in future tools to empower these agents to deliver outstanding customer experiences. And, as always, I’d love to hear from you—are you noticing these changes in your agent population? What are you doing to better arm your agents to better handle this more complex work?