Your Call is Important to Us: 5 Best Practices for Keeping Hold Time Bearable

By Lisa Durant
On May 30, 2014
Friday, May 30, 2014

Just hours before leaving for a recent vacation, I discovered an error in the reservations I had booked through an online travel agency. I had no choice but to call their customer service call center and hope that we could resolve the issue before I boarded the plane. It’s nearly vacation season, so I knew that I would be on hold for a while. And, I was – for an hour to be exact.

Queues happen; most customers know that long hold times are bound to occur sometimes. While being on hold will never be considered fun, it doesn’t have to be torturous. Unfortunately, my recent experience was less than enjoyable. Here are 5 best practices that could’ve made my hour on hold a whole lot more pleasant:

1. Leverage hold time by playing ads and sharing relevant information – This concept is not new; many companies use hold time to play their own ads, give helpful tips, or to tell customers about self-service options. Just make sure that those ads aren’t advertising the competition. Yep, that’s right; I spent half of my time on hold listening to a competitor's ads and never heard a single one for the company I was trying to reach. I actually had to double check that I'd called the right company; but, it turns out that this company's call center handles multiple travel agencies. 

2. Keep hold music low-key – I don’t just mean to use relaxing music; I also mean to literally keep hold music in a low key and avoid high, squeaky tones. Poor-quality, high-pitched music just makes customers want to screech at whomever eventually answers the call. And, keep the volume on that music to a reasonable level as well!

3. Let customers know how long they can expect to wait – I initially called the travel agency from my house phone hoping that I might get through in the 15 minutes that I had before leaving for the airport. If I’d known the wait was 45 minutes, I would’ve switched to my cell phone immediately. Without that information, I wound up sitting on hold for 15 minutes on one phone, abandoning the queue, and then sitting on hold for another 45 minutes on a different phone. Giving customers an up-front expectation for how long they will be on hold will reduce their frustration and is especially important for virtual queues.

4. Offer a callback option – Speaking of virtual queues, evaluate whether implementing one might improve customer experience. Callback options are especially helpful for high-volume contact centers that regularly have long hold times, which can lead to high abandon rates, repeat contact attempts, and frustrated customers.

5. Make hold time worth it – Actually, the company from my recent experience got this one right! A customer’s time on hold is much more quickly forgotten if the agent who answers the phone is able to handle the interaction and resolve any issues without having to put that customer back on hold or transfer him to someone else. Fortunately for me, the agent who answered my call was able to solve my problem.

Obviously, this final best practice isn’t just about queues. But, it’s important to remember that while hold times do affect customer experience, what happens once that call is answered usually matters more. 

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