We have all been there at one point or another. You have a customer service issue that needs a quick resolution and you're finding it difficult to get a real person on the phone. Instead of getting a live agent quickly, you land in a queue and are forced to listen to boring elevator music— or worse yet, you are told every 60 seconds how the company appreciates your patience and how your business is very important to them.
In a recent study of 2,500 consumers, nearly 60 percent of respondents believe that one minute is too long to be on hold. In addition, 32 percent believe that customer service departments should be answering immediately – with no hold time. Thanks to a separate study earlier this year by J.D. Power and Associates, we know that customer satisfaction drops by as much as 40 percent when a caller is on hold for longer than five minutes.
What does all of this mean for the bottom line? According to a 2012 study, customers are more likely to share a negative experience with their friends and social media sphere than they are a positive one, by a margin of nearly 2:1.
Companies that engage in the practice of leaving customers on hold for several minutes or longer are not only neglecting and underestimating their customers, they are also demonstrating a lack of concern for the well-being of their employees. Here’s how:
In terms of a company's relationship with its customers, the company sends a very clear message when it forces customers to extensively navigate a seemingly non-ending loop of phone prompts, where the aim to avoid having to incur the expense of speaking to a live agent is very clear. Customers are savvy and this nugget of information does not go unnoticed.
When customers are forced to hold for several minutes the message they are hearing is “Your question or concern is not that important to us. We have your money and we will only begrudgingly incur the cost of servicing your questions, comments or requests.” Forcing customers to listen to the prompts professing how appreciative they are or how important you are comes across as inauthentic and patronizing.
Once a customer does reach a live agent and if they happen to voice their displeasure with being on hold for so long, the answer they will most often get is “We have an unusually high call volume today.” The customer knows this is a standard response tailored to make it seem that a long hold time is not the norm. Make no mistake about it, even the most basic call center technology is sophisticated enough that customer service centers can pinpoint with stunning accuracy how many calls they will receive in any given minute, hour, or day.
If a customer service agent is required to help customers who have been preconditioned to be more irate or vocal because of extended hold times, instead of being in a frame of mind to provide the best customer service possible, they will feel the need to be more defensive which will translate to the customer as combative.
Long hold times are a vicious cycle that not only inconvenience the customer but also create a difficult and stressful environment for the employee who has to deal with them. Compound that variable with a six minute hold time (or longer) and you have a recipe for disaster. Take an ambivalent company, toss with an irate customer and sprinkle in an anxious agent and you get an untenable situation where everybody loses and walks away with a bad taste in their mouth.
Edited by Rory J. Thompson