What to do with callers on hold?

Dealing with callers on hold is the bane of most contact center managers’ existences. It is something that happens from time to time no matter how well-trained or overstaffed a center is. Utilization and efficiency should be very important to any contact center. So what is the best way to deal with callers that have to hold? Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet or one-size-fits-all answer. An internal help desk scenario is drastically different than a customer facing one. With this in mind, let's discuss customer facing solutions that have worked well for my customers and me in the 10+ years I have dealt with contact centers. The best thing you can do for your customers is keep them informed. This means presenting things like place in queue, informational messages that might direct them to self-service solutions, offering callbacks, or possibly letting them know your less busy times for them to call back when it's convenient for them.

Let's look at what each of these does for your customer.

  • Place in Queue - This gives them a real time update as to how close they are to getting assistance. If they have a meeting in 15 minutes but are next in line, they may not hang up. If, however, they have no way of knowing and get frustrated, they could hang up when they are mere seconds from being taken care of. An agent may even have had the call ringing to them since that's transparent to the caller.
  • Informational Messages - These are great ways to inform callers about other avenues to reach valuable information, other services you offer, and initiatives you have in the works. If they can research their problem using a web-based tool about which they were unaware prior to calling that may solve their issue, they will be able to get answers quicker for their next issue.
  • Callbacks - This one I have mixed feelings about. I almost never use the callback option myself because I always seem to get the callback at the least opportune time. I call when I am available, and I will hold a reasonable amount of time waiting for an answer. That being said, I have implemented this option for so many of my customers, and it has been very successful each time as long as business processes are in place to ensure the callbacks occur in a timely manner. So I usually feel good about doing this since callers seem to appreciate it.
  • Less Busy Times - This is something I have recently started pushing. This entails having a message in the queue such as "traditionally, our less busy hours are Monday and Tuesday from 10-12am and 3-5pm" so they can  decide if calling back during those times would be more convenient. I hate the messages that just say “you've called while we're extremely busy; please call back later.” I always want to know when!

Giving callers this useful information allows them to make an informed decision about how to best proceed based on their needs. Even if they are not taken care of immediately, they are glad to be able to make an informed decision rather than wasting time. This ideally results in spreading a center’s workload more evenly over its agents, happier customers, more utilized agents with less burnout, and an overall better experience for the center and its callers.

I want to point out that I left “Estimated Wait Time” off the list above on purpose. I am very much against this as a setting for call centers unless you have about 100 agents or more on the phones consistently. Smaller contact centers often push for this, and they almost always want it removed after a brief period of time. Without a large number of agents available, it is almost impossible for any system to predict the wait time because of the small data sample size and unpredictable variables. “Place in Queue” is a much better option since “you're the next caller” sounds a lot better, and people will hold longer than if they hear “your estimated wait time is seven minutes or more.”

What are your thoughts? What has worked for you?