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Hold, Please: Managing Your Customer Service Wait Time

Written by Ian Landsman, published on 10.18.2016

Your customer just picked up the phone. She’s dialing the numbers to call you.

You see, she was using your product/service when it stopped working in the middle of her task, putting her behind schedule. Frustrating! Now she’s calling your support desk for assistance so that she can get back to work and keep things moving. She’s managed to maneuver her way through your overly-complicated phone tree (fix that, okay?) and has reached a living, breathing customer service representative.

Finally, she thinks to herself, someone to help.

Your service rep picks up, “Hi, one moment while I place you on hold.” Click.

Sigh. Meet your newly-frustrated customer.

No one likes being placed on hold. Consumers wants quick, uncomplicated answers, but holds happen. As a business obsessed with delivering delightful customer service, how can you create a pleasant hold experience for your customers? One that gives you the time you need to properly handle their request, but doesn’t make them feel put off or like they’re being herded around like cattle?

Placing customers on hold doesn’t have to alienate or annoy them. Below are some tips for better managing your customer service wait time.

Ask Permission, Then Place On Hold

You can’t always control needing to put someone on hold, but you can control the manner in which it is done.

Instead of placing me on hold the moment you answer the line, properly greet me. Say hello. Ask how I’m doing and allow me to respond. Then, ask my permission to place me on hold and allow me the time to grant you that permission. This subtle change not only shows customers that you respect them; it provides you the opportunity to explain why they are being placed on hold in the first place. Whether it’s because your product is so popular that there is a wait or if it is to pull up their account information to properly answer their question – they will appreciate that you value them enough to both ask permission and to give their problem the attention it deserves.

When a customer is introduced to the hold properly, they are less likely to get frustrated with the process. It’s also a good idea to specify how long they will be placed on hold to help set expectations.

Offer a Callback Option

Taking the time to ask permission opens the ability to offer alternatives to waiting. For example, if call volume is unusually high or you know it will take more than a few minutes to resolve the customer’s problem, ask them if they would like to leave a phone number (or an email address) for you to call them back instead of continuing to wait. This shows the customer that you value their time and that you take their problem seriously. People are busy – they don’t want to wait around. In fact, 63% of survey respondents said they prefer a callback option instead of waiting on hold.

In the same survey, 50% of respondents said they would wait between one and five minutes before choosing the callback option. All customers are different, yours may not even be willing to wait that long!

When it comes to how long customers will wait for that callback? The majority say within 30 minutes, so don’t drag your feet.

Entertain Customers with Hold Music

You have placed your customer on hold and have assured them the wait time won’t be more than a few minutes. For this reason, they’re willing to stick it out and wait. How do you reward them? Cue the generic muzaky hold music!


Many businesses use hold music to keep their customer’s attention, but not many businesses use it well. Instead of boring customers with mediocre, generic-sounding tunes, opt for music that reveals a little something about who you are or the way you do business. Don’t look at hold music as a virtual waiting room; think of it as an opportunity to delight the person on the other end.

For example, maybe you’re a Seattle-based company with mostly-local customers. Instead of hold music, opt for the sounds of the Seahawks 2015 Super Bowl win. Or maybe you know the majority of your audience listens to classical music – make that your background soundtrack. Or, why not just have a little fun with it?

We’re fans of UberConference’s approach to hold music which offers a “delight and entertain” vibe. Not familiar? Have a listen.

Fun, right?

Customers sure love it.

Say ‘Thank You’

Never take for granted that a customer has given you permission to place them on hold and is patiently waiting for you to get back to them. Time is valuable, and the fact that they are spending theirs with you means they value you and the product/service you offer. A simple “thank you” goes a long way to showing your appreciation. Say thank, and mean it.

No one likes being placed on hold. It’s a detour from the goal we were trying to accomplish. However, customers understand that it happens. As a business, you can help take the frustration out of the hold experience by changing how you look at it. Turn it into an opportunity to show much you value customers and to put an unexpected piece of delightenment into their day. Remember to ask permission, offer an alternative, find ways to make being on hold fun, and always remember to say thank you. Sure, being put on hold may not be ideal, but on one said it couldn’t be fun.

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