Tips for putting customers on hold

phone.jpgLet’s face it.  There are times in customer service when we just have to put our customers on hold.

If a customer has to wait on hold while “We are experiencing an unusually high call volume”, here is a spectrum of wait experiences for them, from worst to best:

Wait experiences for customers

  • Worst: Dead space.  A customer hearing nothing wonders whether they are even still connected!
  • OK: Messages repeating every now and then.  For example, “We appreciate your business,”  or “Your call is important to us,” usually followed by, “Please hold for the next available agent.”  Just the fact that the customer is hearing a message means they are still connected.  However, hearing the same cliches over and over again is a bit annoying.
  • Better: Music playing between the messages.  Hopefully, calming music. 
  • Even better: An estimate of wait time.  This helps set the customer’s expectations so they know whether they have time right now to wait or whether they should call back later.
  • Best: Estimate given and a choice to wait or have a call-back.  The customer can choose to wait now or have a customer service rep call them back.  See my last post of 2006, New Year’s Musings, for a real-life example of this with a utility company.

Of course, the best wait experience is no wait experience at all!

15 Responses

  1. Becky,

    I hate waiting onhold, which is bad news for the support person who gets me, as by the time they answer the phone, I am in an angry mood.

    But, if I have to sit onhold, give me music, preferably jazz or blues. Don’t tell me how important I am with messaging because by placing me onhold, I already know I am the least important part of your day.

  2. This is what I would prefer to hear (in a calm, non-sappy, honest voice):

    “Sorry we have to put you on hold. We realize everyone in the world hates being on hold, so once again–we apologize. Right now we estimate your wait time to be about 10 minutes (always overestimate here). You can either listen to some mildly entertaining music while you wait, or simply press 2 and we’ll call you back as soon as humanly possible. Seriously. Thanks for your patience.”

  3. Lewis, you are right about how customers feel when they are put on hold. Messaging is better than dead space but not as nice as music!

    Ryan, thanks for the clever comment! I appreciate your honest spirit.

  4. You are so right.. from the customers side being put in hold is a very nasty and every now and then a horrible experience. However as bad as it really is, it is true from a business side that it isn’t possible to have people to attend to each and every single call at every given moment.

    Like you mention, I agree with your recommendations; except with one: I personally don’t like giving out an estimate amount. It is far too trivial and usually not true. It just pushes the customer’s -negative- button and can get her pretty angry and prep’d up for a nice old-fashioned telephone fight.

    Good post,
    Ron E.

  5. Ron, thanks for weighing in on this one! There seem to be a few organizations that don’t leave customers on hold for any length of time (Southwest and Lands’ End come to mind immediately), and I am not sure how they do it. Great resource planning is difficult for contact centers, but it can obviously be done. What gets old is when it is an “unusually high number of calls” every time you call!

    Thank you also for your thoughts on giving out estimates. If the estimate can be fairly accurate, then I think it is a good idea to set expectations. You definitely don’t want to miss on that one!

  6. Pingback : Clients Use Hold-Time to Consider Your Competitors « Fresh Ideas

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