Putting Customers on Hold is a Bad Idea

“If you wait for customers to tell you that you need to do something, you’re too late. Good business leaders should be half a step ahead of what customers want, i.e. they don’t actually quite know they want it. That’s what innovation’s about. With Plan A, we didn’t wait for the consumers to tell us.” – Stuart Rose

According to the quote, this is possibly one of the best ways to ensure that your company is never putting customers on hold or making them wait for anything. Proactivity is the key to understanding what customers need. What do customers feel about being on hold or made to wait? According to surveys, they hate it – the average customer spends about 13 hours being on hold, which is about 43 days of the customer’s life. No wonder customers up and leave companies that do nothing about reducing hold times – they do not believe obviously, when a recorded message tells them that their call is important, and yet no one attends to them for what seems like an eternity. Customers do not have the patience and time anymore to stay on hold, especially when all they need is an answer to a simple query. Customers now, with so many choices and living in the age of instant gratification, it would seem highly imprudent on the part of a company to expect that they would wait around for service or a response.

Data shows that at least one third of the customers that call in will hang up mid-call if they are on hold for too long. Putting customers on hold is a bad idea since customers who feel they may have been waiting for too long, will never call back and would much rather associate with a company that actually takes their calls. It is annoying and frustrating for customers especially because they cannot see or know whether the representative they were speaking to is making an effort to help them or simply wasting the customer’s time doing something else.  Do you believe that such customers would stay? The answer is no – and not only would they leave, they would let others know about the shoddy service. Such sharing of experiences not only changes the perception of existing customers, but also blocks out potential new business for the company. A company may have self-help means on their website and or other sites, but if a customer does not find what they are looking for, she or he is bound to call. Research shows that when customers are distressed or frustrated, they need human interaction and expect that a real person from the company would help.

Most companies are unable to see things from the customer’s perspective, and putting customers on hold is normal practice within the customer support realm. However, these are the companies, which have possibly not realized all the reasons why putting customers on hold is a bad idea. We know that among the top reasons for a customer to stay or leave a company is the service the company provides. Shoddy service leads customers to competition – surveys reveal that at least 72% of customers, say that service is what would drive their loyalty and at least 48% of them confirm that the first impression they get of a company will make them decide in favour of or against a company. When customers are happy, they would spread the positive word of mouth, encouraging others to give their business to a company. This is possibly a big enough reason for any company to stop putting customers on hold, and ensure that they improve their operations and update their technology such that customer hold time is minimal.

The customer journey, as discussed earlier, is the sum total of the experiences they have. The more pleasant experiences customers have, the longer they stay with a company and keep coming back with more business. Poor experiences have a diametrically opposite effect – putting customers on hold for too long is one such experience. A company can claim to provide superior customer service, but if attending to customers via the contact centres over the phone does not match up, customers are bound to get frustrated. As this frustration grows, it turns to anger, which customers then vent by letting everyone know of their experiences, especially via the very visible social media platforms. Such negative comments are not erased, meaning that they are permanently there, and easily ‘searchable’, and too many such comments will certainly hurt business – sometimes beyond repair.

Putting customers on hold has a snowball effect for a company too. Long wait times over the phone means that agents would have far too many calls in queue – increasing the wait time for each customer. This is in turn adds to frustration, which customers would vent on the service agents – despite their best efforts. As a result, this would seriously harm the morale and self-esteem of the service agents, who would eventually leave. Those agents that do remain would not be happy either, which would reflect in the kind of service that they would provide to the customers – the result would be unhappy customers too constantly complaining and shouting at the agents and spreading word about the shoddiness of the company. As mentioned, irate customers would vent their frustration on social media where a much larger number of people can easily view the comments. As negative word spreads about the company, it would affect the market share and reputation of the company, scaring away good talent, investors, and other stakeholders – time to shut the company.

Putting customers on hold is certainly not the way to attract customers or keep them happy. They are unwilling to put up with any kind of poor experiences, and being on hold certainly tops the list. The strange part is that companies now have access to so many simple and cost-effective solutions that could help provide customers with great experiences, but seem to ignore them or not utilize them well. This is despite the fact that statistics reveal that of the customers that call a company, at least 90% of them would get easily frustrated and 60% of them would abandon the call after only about 45-60 seconds. This is some serious loss of potential business and yet many companies continue to leave money lying on the table.

It would prudent to instead invest time and effort in training the service agents, bringing in updated technology, and making customer service the responsibility of everyone in the company. If a company needs to hire more agents or extend its working hours, such that putting customers on hold becomes a thing of the past, it should. In addition, FCR (first call resolution) and lowered AHT (average handle time) must be made an important KPI (key performance indicator) for all service agents. This would ensure that service agents would take time to develop their skills and increase their knowledge to ensure they provide swift and efficient responses, bringing down the hold time for customers to the minimum. Putting customers on hold would become easily avoidable even during peak hours, holidays, festivals, new product launches, and other such times of the year, if a company made the effort to forecast the number of queries and calls it would receive during these times. Companies may need to hire temporary staff to manage the workload, provide more intense training to their agents, change shift timings and make service available 24×7.

Despite the preparation and added resources, there would be times when putting customers on hold would be unavoidable. However, it is the onus of a company to ensure that these wait times do not seem cumbersome and the abandoned call rates are low. A company must ensure that when customers are on hold, they would have something to listen to – music and or recorded messages letting them know about the latest offerings and products of the company. These messages might not be the answer to their question, but would still be helpful to the customer. Alternatively, if the wait time could be long, the company could request the customer to call them back – and then make sure it happens. Reducing the number of times and length of time, your company is putting customers on hold will keep both customers and service agents happier. Happy employees and customers translates to increased sales and profits, and a much more successful company.

Create interactive decision trees for customer service management, cold call scripts or self-service. Improve sales performance metrics and customer delight across your call centers.

Interactive Decision Tree