Sunday, December 22, 2013

Making Customers Wait May Drive Them to Your Competition

While today's customers demand a choice of contact channels, studies have shown that self-service is very effective for the simplest of customer issues or requests, but that complexity drives channel choice.* Customers want to speak with a human about more complex questions or problems.

But what happens when customers do call about a complex issue may not be helping your brand's perception with your customers. In fact, it may be damaging your credibility and possibly even driving your customers to the competition.


Two things happen:
  1. Customers have to wait in lengthy customer service queues
  2. Customers have to repeat information they've already given
Imagine calling your friend Pat to ask a question about this week's PTA meeting, and being told to hold on for a few minutes while Pat's phone repeats how important your call is... then when Pat gets back on the line, you have to identify yourself and your reason for calling all over again. Annoying? You bet. And yet so many brands do this to customers all the time.

According to a study conducted in September, 2013 by Virtual Hold Technology, 64% of customers will hang up after waiting on hold for 5 minutes, and a whopping 91% will hang up after 10.  So, why do companies make us wait and then (96% of survey respondents said) have to repeat information? [Infographic]

The alternative would seem to be to increase staffing to a level they cannot afford, they say. Well, that probably isn't true. Information capture technologies exist that can integrate with self-service (and other channels) to provide call-backs in the place of long hold times, and will capture the relevant information so that customers do not have to repeat it.

If you can stop needless hold time, bring together information from multiple channels, and end the annoyance of repetition for your customers, why wouldn't you? After all, 90% of the consumers in the VHT study said that a positive customer experience will increase their loyalty.

What do you think? Would getting a call back instead of waiting in a queue make you feel better about your own customer interactions with a particular brand?

Give it some thought.

*See the American Express 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer (PDF)


  1. One thing most customer service reps don't do well is HOW to put customers on hold in a way that creates value and a perception of benefit for the customer. Instead of simply and politely asking "May I put you on a brief hold?", consider this: "So that I can pinpoint the exact nature of the problem and limit the amount of time you have to spend on the phone, may I put you on hold?"

    Customers react much differently to the latter, as compared to the former, not just immediately but also during the hold time, since the rep has created the appropriate perception that the hold is not for the REP, but really in the best interest of the CUSTOMER.

    It's a small thing, but it's the small things that collectively make the difference when it comes to the customer's overall experience. The entire conversation needs to be anchored in benefit to the customer.

  2. Scott - Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree that, once an agent or representative has been reached, there are good practices as far as putting someone on hold.

    That's not really the thrust of this post, however. Unfortunately, many organizations leave customers in a queue that stretches for minute after minute *before they can even speak to a rep* --and add insult to injury by playing "Your call is important to us" messages and/or prompting customers to use the website, from which they have likely come. That's where customers drop off or get extremely frustrated.

  3. Reminds me of an Ian Clayton tweet from a couple years back, demonstrating the Outside-In perspective: "Your time is valuable, to request a callback..."

    One thing your message should NOT do is create cognitive dissonance between your message and your behavior. "Your call is important..." does exactly that.

    I also like that you bring up loyalty. Many old school b2c businesses still live in the mindset that loyalty is based (almost) exclusively on the physical product, forgetting that product differentiation is shrinking all the time.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Dan. I agree that getting the message (usually over and over again) that my call is important while I'm on hold is cognitive dissonance; few things annoy me more. I'm sure I'm not alone. "Outside-in" is a better way to look at things, in my opinion, and Ian is certainly a strong proponent.

      Studies have repeatedly shown that customers become and/or remain loyal to brands that provide good service--even to the extent of providing a service recovery along the way.

  4. Thanks for sharing these stats, Roy.

    Overall, I think companies should do whatever they can to avoid putting customers on hold. However, there are certain situations where it's unavoidable. In that case, Scott Heitland makes a great point about how it's done being important. And, as a customer, I like to have a callback option.

    The worst is a looping hold message because it reminds you just how long you've been holding.

  5. Jeff - I certainly agree about loping hold messages, but even they have degrees of badness. If you're waiting to return something or lodge a complaint about a product, it is more than annoying to hear commercials telling you how great the product is. If you are calling after visiting (and being frustrated by) the company website, hearing how you should visit that website for faster resolution is incredibly grating. And my favorite is being told, again and again, how important my call is. Oof.