We are Experiencing Longer than Normal Hold Times. Now that’s a Bad Excuse!

by Jeff Wiener on January 9, 2012

I’m sure we’ve all heard this before, “Your call is very important to us. Please hold and an operator will be with you shortly,” often accompanied by the explanation, “We are experiencing longer than normal hold times.” I’m likely not alone when I say to all companies out there that this has got to be one of the most frustrating messages to hear when trying to call your business.

Truthfully, if my call was as important as the automated voice says it is, you wouldn’t put me on hold for an eternity while your call centre announcement spews out this verbal garbage in regular 30 second intervals. Again, I’m sure many people reading this can sympathize with my frustration, sitting on hold for minutes if not hours waiting for an operator to help with the same nonsense playing ad nauseam.

I will admit at the outset that our company, Digitcom, is the reason that may of these announcements exist in the first place, as we’ve installed many such automated systems over the years. That said, I certainly don’t advocate putting customers on hold for anything longer than 30 seconds and I would argue that long hold times and repetitive automated messages are results of the misapplication of a helpful communications tool.

In many cases the ACD is used as a crutch for hobbled service departments to lean on or a screen for mismanaged service departments to hide behind…too many calls, too few staff, “Heck, let’s install an ACD!”

The fact of the matter is that many businesses believe that installing an ACD (automatic call distribution) system will fix an already broken service department, when the truth is that unless you do something about effectively handling calls during your peak periods, an ACD will only serve to mask the problem, not solve it. So while an ACD—and in particular the statistics it produces—can certainly help effectively manage the call centre, in many cases companies use this system as an excuse to not answer their phones.

As an example, I’ve been working with one particular organization for many years now that at one time provided fantastic customer service, answering their phones in a timely manner after never more than 5 or 6 rings. They recently installed a new phone system with an ACD and now when you call you not only hear, “Your call is very important to us, please hold” message,” but worse, the system is so poorly designed that I’ve often waited on hold for upwards of 6 minutes after which the system drops me into voicemail.

If you haven’t guessed already, I quite frankly find this sort of business practice to be absolute garbage. Do companies really think that telling customers repeatedly that their call is very important will make anyone happier or more inclined to believe the incessant verbal diarrhea?

My point in all this is that while communication technology like an ACD can demonstrably improve call centre management, misuse of the tool can actually hurt your business and infuriate your customers.

Now what does proper use of an ACD system look like? The key to remember is that the ACD doesn’t replace a human voice at the end of the line and so endeavour to answer all calls within 30 seconds. An ACD will provide you with the necessary statistics to determine your peak calling periods and then staff those hours accordingly.

Any company that knowingly makes customers wait for extended periods of time—and there are some exceptions of course—doesn’t truly respect their customers. The good news for such companies is that they’ll generally lose enough customers through sheer frustration alone that the resultant drop in call volume will reduce the net waiting period to more reasonable hold times!

So if companies aren’t listening to their frustrated customers let me be the one to say loudly and clearly that NO it isn’t okay to leave customers on hold for 6, 10, 20, or 60 minutes. Repeating the phrase “Your call is very important” doesn’t lessen the sting of having to wait on hold for the next available operator. While there is some justification for providing the explanation, “We are currently experiencing heavier than normal call volumes,” if your company uses this phrase more than 1 percent of the time then you aren’t experiencing heavier than normal call volumes, you’re simply using this phrase as an excuse. Fix the problem!

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