On hold... yet again

No efficiently run call centre ever has enough agents to cover all of their incoming calls all of the time.  This brings up the issue of what to do with valuable customers and potential customers when they can’t get through immediately to an agent.  One common solution, which is despised by a large majority of callers, is to put the caller on hold. 

Being ‘on hold’ can send many a normal, calm individual into a hair-pulling, eye-rolling, fist-shaking frenzy.   So what are the most annoying on hold experiences?  We put this question to the Vicorp staff and here are some of the more common points made. The average caller will recognise most, if not all, of these on-hold experiences and have their own stories to tell.

  • “Your call is important to us, please continue to hold.”  Yes, that gem of a phrase which after the fifth time of hearing it starts to raise the blood pressure.  It just begs the response “Then please just pick up the phone!”
  • Lack of information about how long it will take for someone to answer the call.
  • Being charged premium rate for a call that the caller has to make and being made to hold for long periods of time – the record for which in our office was for 70 minutes!
  • Waiting on hold for a long time to then have the phone answered by someone who is not the right kind of agent who then puts you back into the call queue.
  • Dreadful inappropriate, annoying music which sometimes has poor audio quality and is often on a loop, so you end up hearing it over and over and over again.
On-hold music

Finding the topic of on-hold music interesting and amusing we investigated a little further.  What music is generally inappropriate and what music might be ok?  Some of these inappropriate songs bring a wry smile to our faces, but if we heard them on the phone they could render us temporarily insane with the irony.

Here’s our top 10 most inappropriate songs for on-hold music:

  1. ‘Hanging on the telephone’ by Blondie
  2. ‘Born of frustration’ by James
  3. ‘Hold the line’ by Toto
  4. ‘Hung up’ by Madonna (“Time goes by so slowly…”)
  5. ‘It’s so funny how we don’t talk any more’ by Cliff Richard
  6. ‘Shut uppa ya face’ by Joe Dolce
  7. ‘We have all the time in the world’ by Louis Armstrong
  8. ‘Talk dirty to me’ by Poison
  9. ‘Ring Ring’ by De La Soul
  10. ‘Things can only get better’ by Dream

And as for appropriate music, that all depends on the industry and audience, for example a utility company may wish to steer clear of songs such as ‘Firestarter’ by The Prodigy or ‘Boom! Shake the Room’ by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, but ‘She’s Electric’ by Oasis or ‘Whatever you want. Whatever you need’ by Status Quo, might work.  Perhaps the safest music bet would be a piece of light, classical, orchestral music that offends few and is complex enough to not have an annoying chorus that could increase the stress levels of the caller.

The alternatives to being on hold

So what’s the alternative to being on hold?  How can organisations offer their customers better service and avoid the on-hold scenarios outlined above?  There are a few ways in which companies can improve the callers’ lot and reduce the levels of frustration.

  • Introduce self-service automated services.  From simple call routing where the caller is sent to the most appropriate agent, to checking a balance or making a payment, a caller can be offered the opportunity to interact with an automated system rather than wait for an agent.
  • Offer the caller voicemail.  There are systems through which the caller can leave a voicemail that is converted into text and sent as an email to an appropriate agent.  This helps to ensure that agents respond to the voicemail and deal with it appropriately and in a timely manner.
  • Implementing a call back service.  By enabling the caller to indicate when is an appropriate time for a call back the organisation is recognising that the caller’s time is precious and this makes everyone’s life more pleasant.

100% call resolution, or first call resolution (FCR), is the Holy Grail for contact centres around the world.   It banishes the on-hold experience and increases caller satisfaction.  Although few companies have the perfect solution, increasing numbers of organisations are now embracing the alternatives in a bid to offer their customers superior customer services.  Particularly in today’s economic climate the right service can make all the difference.


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