One of the continually problematic issues with quality of customer service in any given business environment is the average hold time customers must endure when calling in. This is overlooked by many companies as trivial, and this is probably the biggest mistake, aside from breaking laws, that a company can ever, ever make.
Hold times are repulsive to users, and expensive to companies for various reasons, and while they are unavoidable, actions must be taken to reduce them to the minimal, acceptable average hold time possible. Companies must stop overlooking this need, and instead strive to facilitate this at any cost.
With this in mind, let’s take a moment to look at why hold times are such a problem, some ways to possibly reduce them, and, in a few environments, what an acceptable hold time should actually be. Along the way, we can also look at some things to do and not to do during a hold time, which will reduce the amount of annoyance and dismay a customer will experience as a result of it.
First, why are hold times such a problem? Primarily, when a customer calls customer support, they likely have a serious issue, such as a billing concern or question, or to report their service or product malfunctioning in some unspeakable way. With either of these, the customer is already going to be upset and feel rushed, especially if it’s a serious billing problem or a serious, important service or product that’s not working.
When they call in, they’re already on edge. A long hold time is just going to make this worse. While a customer is on hold, if the hold time is exceptionally long, they will continue to become more and more stressed about if the billing or technical problem can even be resolved, and they will begin to worry if your company will be willing to even help, considering they are being made to wait so long. They will feel devalued and deflated by this experience all around.
Second, this can cost them money, as they wait for resolution, rather than continuing with their job or their lives. Time consumed by long hold times is not time spent on anything productive nor pleasant, and it is time out of their lives they can never have back.
Finally, it can simply be psychological torture, and this is where some do’s and don’t’s really come into play the first time. Long hold times are almost inevitably accompanies by generic elevator music and/or intermittent recordings advertising additional plans, services or products. This will begin to drive the customer to distraction after a while. Avoid these recorded advertisements at all costs, and try to go for more soothing classical music if possible. This will extend the length of permissible hold times by about five minutes, which is an eternity in tech support time.
Now that we know why long hold times are a problem, how can we abate them a little? The first is by being proactive, and having contingencies for just about any foreseeable problem or question, regardless how unlikely, planned out before a service or product is launched. If that wasn’t an option, it’s never too late to gather a focus group and work them out after the fact. The sooner a support professional can answer a question or resolve a problem, the sooner they can move on to the next, equally valued customer, and resolve their problem with speed and accuracy as well.
This, coupled with increasing available staff can greatly reduce the average hold time exponentially. Companies skimp on available personnel for this, and that is not good.
So, with these measures in place, and understanding why hold times are such a problem, what are acceptable hold times? This depends on the service and the nature of the demographic in question.
First and foremost, the younger the demographic, the less patience is available for long hold times, meaning parents calling about services or products for children can withstand a hold time of no more than 5 minutes, as their patience is tried constantly by the lack of patience of their children.
Teens and young adults have no patience either, so the same restriction applies here as well.
Adults are generally more patient, but here it depends on the nature of the service or product you render. Utility companies, ISPs and communications providers, adults will have no patience with long hold times with. They need their service restored or their billing issues resolved yesterday, because this is affecting their pocket book badly.
For these sorts of services, 10 minutes is about as much as is acceptable for hold times. Not a minute longer.
For products or services that are less crucial, as long as the mistakes mentioned previously are not made, then the hold time can reach 15 minutes, but should strive for the 5 minute marker as well. However, there is one industry for which virtually no hold time is really acceptable.
Medication providers should avoid hold times entirely if they can, as a customer with important questions about their medication, be it prescription or over the counter, may be in desperate need of the information or assistance right away. It’s unlikely lives will hang in the balance, but it is entirely possible. This is not something to fool around with.
All in all, though, knowing why they are annoying, and how to fix them, there is not a single instance in any business anywhere on the globe where an average hold time should ever exceed 10 minutes, and in most cases, 5 is still far too long.
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