The Challenge of Multitasking in Customer Service

Multitasking in customer service
Multitasking in customer service

It’s no secret that for many customer service jobs multitasking is an essential requirement. A common example of multitasking at work is a representative juggling numerous tasks at once like talking on the telephone, taking notes and checking emails at the same time.

You might even wonder what’s so special about it – nowadays with the hectic pace of our daily lives, many of us get used to something like this. People talk on the phone while driving, text while keeping conversation with friends, and constantly check emails while watching favorite shows.

Indeed, in today’s information-saturated world multitasking is a widespread phenomenon. There has been numerous scientific researches published in recent years investigating human multitasking abilities. Some of the projects intended to determine the benefits it can bring, while others were carried out to study the negative consequences of multitasking.

What Studies Reveal

Put it in a nutshell, almost all of the research found that there is no benefit at all, and brought considerable concerns about its negative effects. Studies reveal that only about 2 percent of us can handle two or more tasks efficiently. For the other 98 percent, multitasking is just a bad habit which kills productivity and may even damage your brain.

We can only process one conscious thought at a time. And when we try to do more, our thoughts are flipping back and forth between the tasks, and in fact, this can reduce our performance level to that of a drunk or high on marijuana – slowing down reaction time, increasing errors and requiring extra effort to concentrate. As a result, we feel mentally and physically exhausted.

Getting back to customer service job requirements, no one would expect customer service reps to perform a few different tasks at once. None of customers would be satisfied to be served by an agent struggling to cope with the barrage of inbound phone calls and emails at the same time. So what is conceived as the multitasking requirement in those more than a thousand customer service jobs on

Customer Service is Stressful

Multitasking in customer service implies stress. With multiple communication channels and heightened expectations for timeliness, customer service agents have to constantly switch between instant messaging, emails, social networks, phone calls – making choices in identifying priority activities to focus on at every given moment and trying to keep in mind the tasks left uncompleted.

It is said that it takes up to 15 minutes to regain focus once it has been lost, and that’s why it’s so tough. There is an interesting post on which suggests to compare numerous projects you are involved in with felling a stand of trees by making three passes of the saw on each tree before moving onto the next. How would you feel about spending the whole day roaming back and forth in the woods and dragging the big saw along for only several cuts? I bet you’ll start looking for ways to make it less challenging.

5 Ways to Improve Performance

1. Recognize the Impact of Multitasking

Another interesting article on indicates that we tend to overrate our ability to multitask. When more than three hundred students at the University of Utah were asked to rate their ability to multitask and then got those ratings compared to their actual multitasking performances, a strong relationship was found: an inverse one. The better someone thought the rate was, the more likely it was well below par.

Multitasking effects should be kept in proportion. Be aware of the negative consequences it has on your working habits, job performance and personal health. Think of how you, handling multiple tasks, look like from a customer’s perspective (even when they can’t physically see you) – probably, you’ll find yourself feeling ignored or neglected.

2. Prioritize and Focus

The key to reduce stress and increase efficiency is to work through your tasks one by one. When you feel overwhelmed and almost unable to squeeze everything into your day, take the effort to concentrate on the priority task at the given moment. While on a phone call, withstand the temptation of surfing the web for irrelevant information. While handling a live chat conversation, avoid responding to email messages or checking your company Facebook or Tweeter pages. Don’t pile on more work to prevent brain overload. Keep calm and carry on.

3. Cut Down on Distractions

Yes, you can do it. Now that you are conscious of the fact that switching tasks incredibly hurts your productivity, call a spade a spade. Resist the needless urge to switch to another browser tab or app while responding to an email. Tell yourself you are at the point of interruption of an uncompleted task, and this will do no good but slow you down and turn your attention elsewhere.

4. Have Tricks Up Your Sleeve

Whenever you find yourself in a situation that puts a great deal of pressure related to multitasking, consider it as a valuable lesson and think about what you can do differently next time to get a better result. For instance, to successfully handle multiple conversations in Live Chat you can come up with some useful “canned phrases” to save your time while asking customer’s permission to put them on hold or give you a moment to describe a solution. If you would like to find out some great examples of responses in Live Chat you are welcome to check our Customer Service Cheat Sheet for Live Chat Operators here.

5. Take Breaks

Take a deep breath, stretch and step away from your desk every once in a while. Walk around outside or have a snack. Can you do it without your cell phone? Make no mistake: checking your personal emails, Facebook and Twitter won’t do as a rest. To get a full recovery spend a few minutes completely away from the computer. Short breaks away from connectivity will help you get through the day, and your brain will feel better after getting some rest.

Over to you

How good are you at multitasking? What are your best multitasking tips? Please leave your advice and insights in the comments below. Thank you for making it to the bottom!

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Julia Lewis