Improving the Contact Centre Hold Time Experience


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While hold times are inevitable in some instances, if there is a consistent trend towards long hold times in your contact centre, you must take steps to alleviate the problem. This is an enormous point of frustration for customers and is entirely avoidable. Customers don’t understand what is going on behind the scenes of a contact centre, so their patience for wait times is very limited. Being kept on hold for a long period of time can turn a neutral or positive customer very quickly into an angry one, so shorter hold times should be a major priority for improving your contact centre.


There is no single solution to reduce hold times, but there are a number of steps you can take that will collectively lessen them or make them more manageable for the customer.

Improve training

This is often a solution to most issues within a contact centre but it can make a really significant difference to reducing hold times. Training needs to be a priority, not only for new employees but to also ensure that existing employees are always up to date on best practices. Analyse what your agents with the lowest hold times are doing right and incorporate those key learnings into your training modules as best practices. Attrition is a common problem for contact centres, so check in with your employees to make sure that they are happy, reducing the need for the constant training new employees who aren’t equipped to handle customer queries.

In addition, do not use real customers to train new agents. Customers do not expect to be guinea pigs for untrained, inexperienced agents and this can really cause frustration for those who just want to get the call over with. Think about when you are in a shop and the new staff member doesn’t know how to work the till and needs to call upon a manager to help them. In face-to-face interactions, you can empathise with them. Over the phone, there is no context for that kind of interaction so patience from the customer’s perspective will be virtually non-existent. Wait until employees are properly trained before letting them near real customers.

Call back option

One method to reduce wait times is to allow an option for customers to be called back (in a timely manner or at a time of their choice) rather than placed on hold. This solution is particularly helpful at busy periods of the year when hold times are inevitable or in difficult situations when not enough staff is present (i.e., flu season). This will enable them to go about their days rather than sit tethered to their phone for some undetermined amount of time. It is best to inform the customer when they should anticipate a call back so that they are best equipped to answer when they receive the call as it would, of course, be best that they aren’t driving or in a busy place so that they can safely and conveniently engage with the call centre representative.

Empower your agents to make decisions

Allow your employees to make decisions on their own rather than escalate issues to managers. Train them to understand what a manager’s thought process for decision-making would usually be so that they are equipped to execute decisions on their own. It wastes time when an agent needs to contact their manager, and oftentimes managers have better things to do. Customers are much more satisfied when they aren’t placed on hold or re-routed to someone more senior. This is also important to improve your employee’s motivation as it shows that you are confident in their ability to be fair and you trust that they know what is best for the business. Empowered employees are known to create great customer experiences and increase customer loyalty, so have faith in your agents’ competence to make them feel secure and reduce hold times.

Reduce the need for calls

Oftentimes, basic customer questions do not necessitate speaking to an agent. Many questions can be answered through a well organised and detailed FAQ page or online knowledge base or by listening to an IVR recording. Optimise the information on your website and your IVR greeting or on-hold message to ensure that key information that your customer may be calling about is easily accessible and comprehensive. To really reduce the need for calls it may mean investing in improved self-service technology as customers would frequently prefer this method. Ultimately, the implementation of sophisticated self-service tools can reduce operating costs as well as call frequency, but it must be a best-in-class, easy to use solution or else you may see an increase in frustrated callers, which negates the investment in the first place.

Consider your on-hold sounds

While it’s doubtful that anyone will find being on-hold actively enjoyable, how can you restructure it to make it more pleasant? All too often the on-hold music is too loud, repetitive and of poor sound quality. It can make the waiting time a bit miserable, giving your customer ample opportunity to tweet about how awful the wait is! You need to either pick music that matches your brand identity and is of decent quality or if you decide to have no music at all, consider what will be played instead. Silence gives the impression that nobody is there and interspersed beeps are alarming and unpleasant. It’s good to give your customers the option to opt-out of music being played while on hold. And if no music is to be played, use an automated voice to notify your customer every so often how long the wait will be or where they fall in the queue. You should also include these messages if music is being played to keep the customer in the loop. To improve the on-hold experience, you need to consider what it is actually like for the customer. Listen to the hold music or sounds (both on and off of speakerphone) and try to make it as non-irritating as possible.

Sarah-Nicole LeFlore
Sarah-Nicole "Nikki" is a Customer Success Manager at CX Index, a Dublin-based Voice of the Customer (VOC) Vendor. She contributes her insights on the many benefits of prioritising customer experience to the CX Index blog. She is currently based in London but has lived in New York, Dublin and Paris. She has a B.A. from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT and an MSc from Trinity College Dublin.


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