The Dilemma of Acceptable Call Holding Time on Busy Days

The Dilemma of Acceptable Call Holding Time on Busy Days

Long waiting queues are the bane of a call center. Customers do not like waiting. Whether they are tapping their fingers while being put on hold or staring at their watches in a checkout line, the time that they spend waiting definitely diminishes their customer experience. Long hold and wait times mean big service issues when they come up, lost sales, and customers wouldn’t mind switching to another service provider at a moment’s notice.

58% of call center callers feel frustrated when they are put on hold, according to an industry study. It is often manifested in a lack of patience on the part of the customer. Another study showed that close to 15% of the callers tend to hang up after being on hold for 40 seconds. Companies pay quite an amount to generate lead sales. If you calculate the amount of money that’s lost because of the 15 percent callers who hang up, it is enough to keep your marketing director up at night.

Hold times not only increase the frustration of the customers but directly affects the amount of money that they are willing to spend. A study conducted in the Kellogg Management School concluded that, in the fast food industry, every extra second of waiting time tends to reduce the amount of money that customers are willing to pay.

What steps can be taken by organizations to reduce the waiting times on busy days? Here are a few tips that work for the industry:

  1. Identify the choke points – Hold times are often the result of bottlenecks. Even the most efficient and automated process has choke points where it tends to slow down. A small number of constraints usually tend to create limitations in the system. Once it is identified, the impact could be mitigated. In his seminal work “The Goal”, author Eliyahu Goldratt gives the example of an out-of-shape child who slows down a group of hikers. Look for the areas where the process tends to congest the most. Evaluate its effect on customer wait times.

  2. Restrict the holidays – Do not allow holidays for representatives during the busy season and get senior management to agree on overtime that can be used to save on delays. Make the staff members understand that the overtime will only be used as it is needed. Proactively call and inform customers ahead of time to warn them of incoming call volumes.

  3. Add information to the queue messages – If you know that there is going to be a spike in call volumes, like during the tax season, add a message when the customers are on hold that will answer their queries.

  4. Call-back – Callers can choose to spend time waiting in the queue or go about with their daily tasks while the system does the queuing for them. A scheduled call-back can be arranged when it’s their turn or at an hour chosen by the customer. It leads to a lower abandonment rate. It also increases the productivity of the call center by leveling out the peak periods. It lowers the frustration of the customers as they are surprised that the agent called them back and is able to assist them. Care should be taken that an agent is secured before the customer is contacted. If they are put in a queue again, it will only be more frustrating.

  5. Use temps – You can have a detailed IVR that boils down the options and temps can be used on peak days to handle the calls on lines that are easy to handle. They can be recruited on flexible hours so that they can be used when the need comes up. If the temps are good at the job, they can be trained on more complex skills.

  6. Coordinate better with marketing – People working in the marketing department should understand the impact their campaigns are going to have and how that’s going to affect the call volumes. Regular meetings between operations, marketing and planning to discuss future campaigns can lead to a better understanding of the changes in call volume, call length and arrival times. A new sales process that is complicated can increase call times and have an impact on staffing levels and queue times.

  7. Flex for changing demand – The ability to deal with staffing levels and call volumes is the key. Having an agreed set of triggers according to the fluctuating demand is critical. For example, when ten calls are queued, postpone all the team meetings. When twenty calls are queued up, postpone the training sessions. It can be compensated for when there are no calls on the queue with additional training and communication sessions. The triggers tend to be different according to the time of the year. So, they need to be reviewed regularly.

Remember to focus on the key changes that will yield the best results. Smaller details can be refined once progress has been made on the key drivers.