Why your customers hate you: the hold time curse

Spoken | April 30, 2010

Frustrated man on phone To begin, let’s all agree that no caller likes to be on hold, no agent enjoys taking a call from a caller who’s been on hold, and no call center really wants to have long hold times. And no one wants for callers to hate the company they are calling exclusively because of their experience of waiting too long on hold whilst listening to the instrumental version of a song they thought was cool in high school.

Recently, the Stella Service blog posted an entry on the importance of accuracy when estimating hold times for customers, complete with an illustration from our favorite call center humor site, Call Center Comics. The key takeaway from the post was this:

“Giving consumers a heads up about how long to wait is a convenience to the customer, who may decide to call back at another time or to leave a voicemail with the company if that is an option.”

As much as some may grumble about IVRs, when we ask customers what they want from a voice response system, we invariably get the same response: “I want it to understand me and answer my question.” Hey, that seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Back to hold times. If we can empower the customer to choose his interaction time and style, we’ve arranged for a better customer experience, no matter the hold time. It’s a measure of convenience for the customer, as the bloggers at Stella so aptly pointed out. So while it’s great to consider tools to reduce hold times, it’s wiser to give the caller alternatives he can use right now, at point of use. Put him in charge of his own destiny and away from the hold music.

For example, if the hold time is over, say eight minutes, why not empower the caller by having the IVR give some alternate options? Such as:

  1. Stay on the line and wait
  2. Use an automated self-service queue without ever speaking to an agent (if it’s a common issue (password reset, tracking a package, paying a bill, etc.)
  3. Redirect to the website
  4. Receive a call back from an agent later

Not all options may be practical for all providers, but offering at least one or two as alternatives to waiting on accursed hold does something amazing within the customer experience: it empowers the caller to choose when and how to take care of the issue. Need it now? Go to self-service. It’s complicated but it can wait an hour? Receive a call back. Only had 10 minutes to begin with? Visit the website once she gets home.

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