How to Multitask Efficiently with Live Chat

You’re having your morning coffee, a regular day on chat service with an incoming request every 10 minutes or so. Then while you are talking to one web visitor, another chat comes in. Then another, and yet another! Before you realise it you are chatting with 5 web visitors at the same time, each with different or similar questions. How do you handle such chat pressure?

Multitasking is a rather entertaining topic for cocktail party discussions. Yet instead of taking the discussion’s regular path to which of the genders is better equipped for multitasking challenges, we'd like to stick to what we know and explain how you can efficiently multitask with live chat.

Actually one of the main benefits of chat versus phone is that it allows you to effectively serve multiple customers at the same time. Yet the quick shift between one task and the other has its dangers. It takes skill and practice to not get caught up in confusion, which in our case would result in poor service. Fortunately, there are some tips and techniques that can make you more successful in managing multiple chats at once. In this post we’ll go through what we teach our own chat agents.


"Multitasking"

What we think of as multitasking is not actually happening in customer service. “Real” multitasking only takes place when...

  • one of two actions has been learned to a level of mere automation, like walking or moving a computer-mouse, and
  • both actions occupy different regions of the brain.

In our example of two or more simultaneous live chats, what should actually be happening is a quick on-and-off of focus. The agent’s focus shifts from one task to a similar task and neither can be automated completely. Chatting cannot be done on autopilot, no by a human being anyways. Obviously, this applies to combining chat with other tasks, too. If the other task is not as basic as sipping on a straw, then the label of ‘multitasking’ is actually misplaced.

What’s important to understand here, is that every shift of focus takes time, always. A routined multi-chatter will need less time for changing focus. To optimize time usage, it may seem like filling gaps in your agents’ occupancy makes good sense. It might, but only when taking into account how often your workers have to switch to a new task.

photograph picture of workplace with several keyboards on a desk

There are broadly two types of multitasking in chat service:

  • Handling multiple chats simultaneously
  • Combining chat service with other tasks

Handling multiple chats simultaneously

Imagine you find yourself confronted with an unusual high number of Webvisitors and chat traffic as described in the first paragraph. These are high-risk situations for one or more of the following mistakes:

Mixing up issues: A chat with a Webvisitor can be like an on/off-conversation, sometimes interrupted for a longer time. It can be especially confusing when you are forced to hop back and forth between chats that require immediate answers. Now imagine this with five active chats that focus on similar issues. There is a risk that you get confused and give the right answer, but in the wrong chat tab.

  • Tip: You can use our summary function by using the $session command to see the entire conversation in a compact view. This way you will get right back into the picture.

  • screenshot of userlike chat widget

Keeping a visitor waiting for too long: When several chats are consuming all your focus you’re in danger not only of losing track of what was communicated with which Webvisitor, but also of losing the visitor when you don't show any sign of life within an acceptable timespan. To deal with this common issue we implemented a function with colored time indicators in the chat tabs, showing which Webvisitors have been waiting for a response the longest.

  • Tip: To buy some more time, you can use standard phrases such as ‘I will have a look, one moment please’ or ‘I understand, let me look that up for a moment’. Save such phrases as Chat Macros to come up with them quicker. If you are waiting for answers, use the time to make a round past your ongoing chats, just in case you missed providing an answer.
screenshot of userlike chat widget

Chat combined with other tasks

This approach is especially popular among smaller sized users that don't have the resources for a dedicated support team. To use time most efficiently they assign the chat to one or a few employees instead to do alongside their regular tasks. The trick then is to do a non-chat-related task until a new chat comes in, similar to how smaller businesses handle phone support.

photograph picture of man with tennis racket typing into his laptop

These are the main risks when chat is not the only task you or your employees are occupied with:

You miss a chat: When you are fully engaged in another activity and working in a different window it can be easy to miss a chat.

  • Tip:use the browser and sound notification features. You can set these up for a whole array of events. We recommend that you definitely set them up for the “New Chat” and “First Chat Message” events.

You forget to put yourself On Away when you take a break: When you haven't had a chat for a while and have been fully engaged in your side task instead, the fact that you have chat duty will not have been stored in your working memory, making it likely that you forget to turn of the chat when you go for a smoke/lunch/toilet run.

  • Tip: Stick a post-it on your screen, informing you that it is ‘Chat Panel day’. This basic action prevents you from walking away from the desk while forgetting to set yourself to “Away”.

You lose a lot of time getting back to your task: As noted above, chat multitasking is in reality a quick on-and-off of focus of multiple activities. The difficulty of combining chat with other tasks is that it can be hard to get back into your original task after a chat. It takes time to refocus and remember what exactly you were doing again.

  • Tip: Use a To-Do list, so you can always look down to see what you are currently working on.. Once the task is finished you classically cross it off and note down the next one. Whenever you finish a longer chat and have lost track of what exactly you were working on before, you simply look down at your list to remember and quickly continue.

A chat comes in while you are doing an incompatible task: Imagine you are working on a presentation while on chat duty. Then your phone rings: it's that major deal prospect! Without a second thought about your chat duty you pick up. While on the phone however, you see that a chat comes in. No way that you can pull in that prospect when he notices you are doing something else on the side. What to do?

  • Tip:Set yourself on ‘Away’, as you should have done when your phone rang of course. This will at least prevent any more chats from coming in. Then you should have a specific Chat Macro for such times. Such a macro enables you to slide in an elaborate sentence that can convince your web visitor of your best intentions, for example: "I am very sorry but I am in a call at the moment. Could I call you back/send you an email with the answer to your question(s) after I finished the call?”
screenshot of userlike chat widget

General Tips

Then there are some general tips to protect you against the downsides of multitasking:

  • Hire or assign younger people for the chat, preferably below 30. They are most likely used to multitasking because they grew up as part of a generation that grew up with computers and smartphones. They’ve beenonline and “available” for most of their lifes.
  • Lower your chat slots to 5, unless you're very experienced. It’s better to help 5 visitors well, than to help 8 poorly. Start with just a few chat slots, and work your way up as you're becoming more proficient in chat multitasking.
  • Use a texter app, for example aText, so you can efficiently use shortcuts. You will be able to identify many words or phrases as being used in almost every chat. Define them with shortcuts using a texter app.
  • Close conversations up. The last impression counts, so close up your chat conversations in style. Make sure that your last phrase puts a definite end to the conversation to prevent it from lingering on. Have a set of closure sentences as Chat Macros. Here are some suggestions: “Glad I could be of help. :) If you have any other questions just get back to me.”; “Glad to help, have a nice day!” or “Great, we’ll get back to you!”

The best way to deal with multitasking is to refrain from multitasking as much as possible. Fully focus on one task at a time, and be ready to switch rapidly. A well-timed interchange of tasks, an organized serial of them, results in much higher productivity than constantly pushing your mind’s capacity to its limits. By that logic, those who multitask the worst are arguably best at it.