Are Dual Monitors Bad For Customer Service Agents?

You've probably heard about the research.

The line goes like this, "Studies show that employees are more productive using dual monitors than they are using a single monitor." Many contact center leaders believe this strongly enough that they've got their agents all set-up on dual monitor rigs.

There's just one problem. This research isn't really so conclusive.

Many of these studies were commissioned by companies that make monitors. There's this white paper from Dell. NEC produced another study. There's even a study from Fujitsu that suggests we actually need three monitors to get work done.

Then there's Farhad Manjoo. He wrote this article for the New York Times in 2009 championing the need for dual monitors. It was influential enough that Dell quoted Manjoo's article in their research report.

In 2014, Manjoo wrote another article for the New York Times claiming he was wrong. Two monitors really weren't better than one. He realized that using just one monitor allowed him to be much more focused.

Productivity is important in contact centers, but so is focus. So, can these studies be trusted? Or, is the dual monitor trend actually bad for customer service agents?

Source: Joe Grigg

Source: Joe Grigg

What The Studies Actually Say

The actual studies are very muddled.

The Fujitsu study claims that three monitors increase productivity by 35.5 percent. Unfortunately, the document I found doesn't detail what was tested or how.

The Dell white paper references a 2011 study they commissioned, but I spent some time trying to find the actual text and couldn't locate it.

They did package the results in a white paper that included results from other studies too. The 2011 study measured productivity where participants had to simultaneously work with multiple documents. The activities involved reviewing information in one document (a spreadsheet, text document, website, etc.) and adding information into a second document.

Oddly, the Dell white paper doesn't report any productivity gains from their 2011 study. They instead reference this study from the Georgia Institute of Technology that revealed a 15 percent productivity gain when participants used two monitors instead of one.

The Dell study conspicuously left one big detail out of their report. The Georgia Institute of Technology study also showed that single monitor users performed tasks slightly faster than dual monitor users the second time they engaged in a similar activity. 

Finally, there's the NEC study. 

Like the Dell study, they tested participant productivity while working on multiple documents at the same time. Their surprising conclusion was that a larger single monitor provided even better productivity gains than a dual monitor set-up.

What the studies don't describe is also telling.

None of them that I could find measured productivity when participants were only engaged in one task at a time. And, none of them specifically focused on contact centers.

 

Dual Monitor Danger

Using dual monitors has one clear drawback: they encourage multitasking. 

Multitasking causes a few problems:

All of these issues can negatively impact key contact center metrics:

  • Decreased CSAT due to poor customer focus
  • Increased handle time due to poor focus and memory
  • Increased turnover due to increased DAF-related burnout

Worst of all, multitasking is addictive. The more we do it, the more we crave doing it.

Giving a contact center agent two monitors is liking putting a huge plate of cookies in front of the Cookie Monster and telling him to eat slowly. It ain't gonna happen.

 

Contact Center Applications

It seems there are plusses and minus to a dual monitor set-up. There are situations where two monitors make sense in the contact center. There are also situations where they don't.

Let's look at both, using data from the computer monitor manufacturers' studies.

Dual Monitors = Good. Having two monitors can help when agents need to look at two programs or screens simultaneously. For example, an agent might need to view a knowledge base while entering data into a CRM.

Dual Monitors = Bad. Having two monitors can hinder service when agents only need to look at one screen at a time. For example, an agent handling phone calls and using a CRM to handle the entire transaction.

Jeremy Watkin wrote a great post on the Communicate Better Blog about the distinction between using dual monitors and not using dual monitors. One suggestion that Watkin makes is to turn off the second monitor when you're not using it. It's an effective way to discourage multitasking, while keeping the second monitor available for times when it's needed.

My suggestion is to spend some time watching your agents interact with their dual monitor set-ups. Note whether they are truly productivity machines or if they're constantly bouncing their focus from one screen to the next.

Just for fun, here's a survey to see how many contact centers are using dual monitor set-ups.