How long are you willing to wait on hold for? Five minutes? 30 minutes? More than an hour? We are all familiar with the hold time ‘jingle’ that at some point we find ourselves humming along to. Not to mention the mini heart attack felt when the music stops, we anticipate a welcoming human voice, only to be met with ‘your call is important to us…’ and the tune starts again.

As a customer, at what point do we turn around and say ‘this isn’t good enough!’ and hang up? Your question remains unanswered and you’re left with a bad taste in your mouth towards the brand that has let down your customer service expectations. Ultimately, you’ve just had a bad customer experience (CX).

In this instance, you are just one customer. While one bad customer experience isn’t enough to completely ruin a brand’s image, how can you know that other customers aren’t experiencing the same? If your organisation started earning a reputation for lengthy customer hold times, that’s when alarm bells would ring and by then, the damage is done. 

In this blog, we discuss how hold times affect your customer experiences and the ways in which you can optimise your contact centre operations to minimise caller frustrations.

Hold times and customer experience

Why do customers get put on hold? Popular reasons include the agent-to-customer ratio being off meaning the contact centre cannot handle the surplus of calls, or the agents themselves do not have the information readily available to answer the customers' questions resulting in needing more time to find the solution. 

Both of these reasons highlight a lack of resources. From poor workforce planning to account for heightened call periods to inefficient CRM systems or training that makes it more difficult to find the answers. Regardless, the end result is frustration; for the agent, the customer and the organisation. 

So what happens when you put a customer on hold? From an agent’s perspective, a popular KPI, average handling time (AHT), measures the average length of a customer call. According to Call Centre Magazine, the average AHT standard sits at six minutes and ten seconds; understandably this can vary depending on the industry and the complexity of the question(s). Not having resources to answer questions quickly makes it hard for even the most skilled agent to meet this KPI. 

From the customer’s perspective, longer hold times can lead to a lower customer satisfaction score (CSAT). Data collated from comparing the CSAT scores of 130,000 customer calls across 120 companies found that hold times under three minutes didn’t affect CSAT scores, but anything more translated to a drop.

From the organisation’s perspective, the repercussions of longer hold times are multiplied as they incorporate both the frustrations of the agents not feeling supported and the poor customer experiences. With 60% of customers stating that one minute is already too long to be on hold, it’s time organisations reconsider their contact centre operations to avoid the consequences of increased negativity towards the brand and higher abandoned call rates.

How to reduce long hold times

These are the facts: the average person spends ten to 20 minutes per week on hold; 13 hours per year and around 43 days per lifetime. With more than 80% of customers being put on hold every time they contact a business, if your organisation was to implement the following initiatives to lower hold times, your customer experience would be ahead of your competitors.

Review training and best practice procedures

After investing in best practice training for their customer service agents, 81% of organisations saw an increase in customer loyalty, revenue and cost savings. Facilitating training opportunities for agents can also lead to improvements in employee retention, with 94% of employees stating they’d stay with a company that invested in learning opportunities for them. 

It’s important that your agents understand how to handle frustrated customers who may have been on hold for a long period, but ultimately just want their answer quickly and efficiently. Ensure they understand how to calmly address the customer’s pain point while keeping them abreast as to why the hold time is high and what is being done to minimise the remaining time it takes to get them the information they need. This can drastically improve brand reputation as while only 35% of customers share negative feedback online, 53% share positive comments instead.

Update contact centre software

A survey by Amex asked customers how they think organisations can improve their customer experience. 40% responded with ‘take care of our needs more quickly.’ Just because you have great hold music, doesn’t mean they won’t hang up. Abandoned call rates are another popular contact centre metric. Talkdesk’s 2021 Global Benchmarking Report found the average abandonment rate to be 5.91% across a variety of industries. Essentially, the higher this percentage is for your organisation, the more customers you'll have that have left the phone feeling dissatisfied with their phone service and still in need of answers. 

To fix abandoned call rates and ultimately reduce hold times, invest in contact centre software that can incorporate information from your CRM to help identify customer issues quicker. To do just that, the following are feature examples that you should look for in an ideal platform:

  • Intelligent call routing: used to determine caller intent and ensures huge volumes of calls received by contact centres are quickly matched to the right outcome every time. 
  • Automated KYC verification: automatically asks and confirms identification questions without agent involvement.
  • Voice biometrics: allow callers to be validated by simply stating identity numbers, adding an extra layer of security.

Improve self-service options

Harvard Business Review found that 81% of all customers will first attempt to source the answers to their questions themselves before reaching out over the phone. 40% of these customers only called up a contact centre when the self-service options failed them.

Self-service options can be anything from FAQs, a customer knowledge base, customer support articles, chatbots, virtual agents, web forms, or any digital service that allows customers the ability to find the answers they want on their own. By just implementing virtual customer assistants, organisations saw a 70% reduction in call, chat and/or email enquiries.

Callbacks or virtual holds

50% of customers on virtual hold are willing to wait up to 20 minutes for a callback before considering the wait time as unacceptable. What is a callback or virtual hold? It refers to the ability of a customer to ‘save their place’ in a call queue by receiving a call back from an agent when they are available. It removes the need to be placed on a traditional hold (staying on the phone, listening to hold time music) and instead is referred to as a virtual hold. 

In order to incorporate this into your contact centre, investing in interactive voice response (IVR) systems is a great place to start. These platforms already have this function inbuilt into their service offering. A traditional IVR setup requires callers to select from fixed push button menus; ‘press 1 to be directed to sales, press 2 to be directed to customer service…’ and so on. 

The ‘next-level’ approach, also known as customer experience platforms, can create call flows that lead to the best outcome using technology that accurately identifies caller intent from natural language responses. This means the platform can gather data from all over the contact centre and understand if the best practice would be to offer a caller a callback or virtual hold to minimise the chances of increasing hold times.

Want to reduce hold times? Why not start by reducing AHT?

Customers expect a seamless and positive experience when they interact with your business, even when you’re dealing with seasonal peaks or global economic fallouts. In this case study, you will learn how utilising artificial intelligence and complex call routing solutions helped a leading Australian retailer achieve a reduction of up to 30 seconds on their average call handling time.

How AI-powered technology can help transform your contact centre

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