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.

Beware! Customers Are Watching These Private Moments

I really enjoy The Profit on CNBC.

It's a reality show where entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis invests in struggling businesses. In each episode, Lemonis investigates a business and then tries to make a deal with the current owners to help them turn things around. 

A recent episode featured a gourmet marshmallow company called 240sweet. Lemonis invested $100,000 in the business, but his relationship with the owners dissolved when he realized they were being dishonest with him. 

One owner in particular came across as abrasive, egotistical, and unethical. I won't spoil the ending, but you can watch the full episode on for a limited time.

The fallout after the show aired was amazing. 

Viewer Backlash

The Profit takes viewers behind the scenes to see how businesses really work. Lemonis goes through the company's financials, their operations, and even their customer service.

If an ordinary investor was doing due diligence on a potential business acquisition, most of those moments would be private. On The Profit, everything is on camera. 

What was shown on television was very unflattering.

240sweet was hit with an avalanche of 1-star reviews on Yelp and Google. Most of these viewers had never done business with 240sweet. They simply wanted to punish the company for what they had seen on television.

You may not have any plans to appear on a reality show, but you still need to beware of private moments when customers are watching.


The World is Watching

240sweet isn't the first business to look bad after their appearance on reality television. (Remember Amy's Baking Company?)

Your actions may still be recorded even when you aren't appearing on a reality show. Who could forget the FedEx package tosser or the sleeping Comcast technician?

You may not recognize the name Anjali Ramkissoon, but you probably remember seeing this video of the Miami doctor going nuts on an Uber driver. Her employer certainly noticed as she was placed on administrative leave after the video went public.

Customers may still be watching even when employees aren't being recorded. Here are just a few examples:

  • Employee break areas that are visible to the public
  • Employees who commute to work in uniform
  • Employees having private conversations in customer-facing areas


Be Careful

A friend of mine recently had an embarrassing moment on her way to work. She was annoyed by another driver and laid on her horn to share her displeasure.

The other driver turned out to be her boss.

These incidents are a reminder to all of us that we never know when a customer, a boss, or anyone with a camera might be watching. 

Introducing a New Course on Innovative Customer Service Techniques

People often ask me what's new in customer service.

They're looking for advanced techniques, cutting-edge research, and frankly, short-cuts. Everyone wants to find a faster, smarter, better way to serve their customers.

If you subscribe to this blog, you know I publish a lot of that research here.

Now, I'm excited to announce that I've just created a new training video on called Innovative Customer Service Techniques.

This post will give you an overview of the course, a preview of the content, and I'll let you know how to watch the training video for free.

Jeff Toister on the set at

Jeff Toister on the set at


Companies often want their employees to think outside the box when it comes to great customer service. Managers and frontline employees, in turn, often want to learn new techniques to boost customer service ratings. 

The Innovative Customer Service Techniques course delivers new and cutting-edge research that can be used to take customer service to new levels.

Topics include:

  • Influencing customer perceptions
  • Enhancing service senses
  • Building teamwork


Sneak Preview

This course was a lot of fun to create because it allowed me to share some of my favorite customer service lessons. I've included links to blog posts that detail the research behind a few examples:

Here's a short video from the course. It provides some tips for improving your powers of observation:

Watch It For Free

You generally need a subscription to view these training videos. 

They're available on a monthly basis starting at $24.99 per month. Discounts are also available for teams of five or more. You can view their plans and pricing information here.

However, you can drop my name and get a 10-day trial account.

Your trial account will allow you to watch all of my training videos. You'll also be able to check-out's entire library of courses. They offer a wide range of topics including business skills, computer skills, and creative skills like photography.

Five Ways Weekly Customer Service Tips Can Boost Your Team

You can get a lot of great ideas from listening to customers.

A few years ago, I met a client for coffee. She had sent her entire team through my Delivering Next Level Service training program and the results were looking good. Still, my client was worried.

"I want to keep my team sharp by continuously reinforcing the skills they learned in training," she said. "My challenge is I don't always know how to do that. I wish I had an easy way to remind them... and to remind me."

We brainstormed a little until we hit upon a simple solution. 

I created an automated system that emailed one customer service tip per week to each person on her team. My client would get the email too so she could follow-up with them.

My Customer Service Tip of the Week email is now available to anyone. Here are five ways you can use it to boost your team's customer service:

#1 Team Meeting Topics

Many customer service teams have regular meetings. You can use the Customer Service Tip of the Week to generate discussion topics to share with the team.

Let's say the current tip was Use Positive Body Language.

You could lead a discussion with your team to brainstorm ways that body language can positively impact your customers. Then, at the next team meeting, you could ask for people to share success stories and challenges they experienced when being mindful of the body language they displayed.


#2 Address A Specific Need

You can also use the tips to address a specific need. My Customer Service Idea Bank page allows you to search for tips by category or keyword. 

For example, you could search the Solving Problems category to come up with a list of tips that were useful for working with upset customers.

Clicking Solving Problems will bring up a list of tips in that category. You could then select three to five tips that were really applicable and share them with your team.


#3 Generate New Ideas

The tips are designed to be reminders, but many of the tips contain helpful new ideas that your team can use to elevate their service.

For instance, the Five Question Technique is a terrific way to build rapport with customers while simultaneously identifying additional ways to serve. Best of all, even introverts can use this technique to become skilled conversationalists.


#4 Reinforce Training

The tips were originally designed to reinforce concepts taught in my customer service training programs. The reminders help participants retain what they learn long after they attend the training.

These reminders work well whether you're team attended one of my onsite training courses, live webinars, or even took one of my courses on The reminders can also be used to reinforce other training programs because many are so general in nature.


#5 Feed Your Curiosity

Some people just want to know the most cutting edge ideas in customer service. That's why most of my weekly tips contain a link to a blog post or a helpful resource.

One of my recent tips was Tell The Truth. The email contained a link to a bonus blog post that detailed how a service failure and a lie created a customer service uproar that briefly grabbed national headlines.



You can use the form below to sign-up for my Customer Service Tip of the Week email. Or, pass this blog post on to your team and have them sign-up too.

Name *

What Gift Baskets Taught Me About Customer Service Trade-Offs

When I was in college, I worked for the Boston chapter of a nonprofit organization called AIESEC. Our mission was to foster international and cultural understanding by finding short-term jobs in our local area for members from other countries. 

One of my responsibilities was running a fundraiser. We sold gift baskets to parents of undergraduate students at Boston University. The parents gave these baskets full of fruit and snacks to their kids as an encouraging care package right before Spring finals. 

I was only 18 and very inexperienced the first time I ran it. Through a combination of hustle and luck, the fundraiser was a huge success. 

I was much smarter the second year. We made much less money, but the program was far more successful. We scrapped the program entirely by my third year, and we were happy to do it.

Why step away from a successful program? It's all about trade-offs.

Year 1: Financial Success and Operational Pain

The gift basket program was pretty simple on the surface. 

We sent a direct mail letter to the parents of all undergraduate students at Boston University. The parents were offered a chance to buy a gift basket for their student right before Spring finals. We fulfilled the orders and kept the profit.

Operationally, it was a lot for a college freshman to manage. Keep in mind this happened prior to the internet's rise in popularity. Most people didn't even have email yet.

The direct mail piece had to be written, copied, and sent to the post office so it could be mailed out to more than 10,000 recipients. We had to buy address labels from the University, which required a mountain of red tape.

We saved a ton of money by making the gift baskets ourselves. I bought all the supplies in bulk at Sam's Club and then gathered volunteers to assemble the baskets.

When an order came in, we sent the student a post card letting them know their parents had purchased a gift basket for them. We had an on-campus office, so we set-up pick up dates and times when students could pick up their gift. This was a lot cheaper than mailing gift baskets to each recipient.

Financially, it was a huge success. The fundraiser paid for our entire annual operating budget.

Operationally, there were a few drawbacks. First, it took a ton of time. I spent untold hours on the project, but I also had to get other people to volunteer their time to help me out. This time commitment took us all away from our core mission of getting local companies to hire our members from other countries for short-term job assignments (up to 18 months).

Second, I had to deal with a lot of customer service headaches. Some students didn't bother to come pick up their gift baskets. We instituted a calling campaign to remind students to pick up their gift baskets, but that took up a lot of extra time. 

There were still plenty of students who didn't pick theirs up. This led to a lot of calls from upset parents. They didn't understand (or care) that it was their kid's responsibility to pick up the gift basket. They didn't understand (or care) that we couldn't deliver it and we also couldn't hold pick-up hours indefinitely because we all had finals too. 

These parents were really angry to hear we didn't offer refunds because it was a nonprofit fundraiser. Our direct mail piece stated this explicitly, but it didn't matter. This was my first lesson in the old axiom, "Customers don't read the fine print."


Year 2: Smart Trade-Offs

The fundraiser was an important source of revenue, but I wanted a solution to our biggest challenges for year 2:

  • Too much time spent on the fundraiser
  • Students were inconvenienced
  • Parents weren't happy if their student didn't pick up the gift basket

I realized I could solve all of these problems by outsourcing the entire program. There were companies that specialized in this sort of thing, and they handled everything from sending the direct mail piece to order fulfillment.

Best of all, they shipped the orders directly to each student so there would be no issues with delivery.

The trade-off was there was no way that we'd make as much money. The margin we got running it ourselves was significantly better than we got from the outsourcer.

Here's why those trade-offs still made sense:

The time spent on running the fundraiser could be re-directed towards fulfilling our mission. In fact, we used our time wisely and wound up among the Top 10% of US Chapters in terms of jobs raised that year.

We also avoided a significant risk. You see, if enough parents complained to the University about poor customer service from our in-house gift basket program, the University would shut the program down. So, by improving service through a professionally-run program, we mitigated the risk of losing the program entirely.

The outsourcing plan worked beautifully. Parents and students were happy and complaints fell to almost zero. (The outsourcer handled the handful of tiny issues that did happen.) And, we still made some money, though not as much as the year before.


Year 3: No More Gift baskets

Redirecting saved time towards our core mission worked really well in Year 2. So well, in fact, that we no longer needed the fundraiser by Year 3. 

We had raised more than enough money to cover our operating budget through a combination of raising jobs (companies paid us a fee) and corporate sponsorships. These activities were all a core part of our mission while the gift baskets never were.



Frances Frei and Anne Morriss wrote an outstanding book called Uncommon Service in 2012. The book details how businesses must choose to do poorly in some areas so they can excel in areas their customers really care about. 

I could immediately relate to the trade-offs discussed in the book. It reminded me that revenue isn't everything, especially if that revenue comes with an opportunity cost.