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Does your on-hold experience make waiting better… or worse?

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Nobody enjoys waiting. But providing the right on-hold experience can have a real impact on how your customers feel about your IVR.

Unfortunately, it’s virtually inevitable that your customers will occasionally have to wait on hold for their call to be answered. >/p>\

It’s not something anyone enjoys. In 2011, a survey of 1,000 American consumers ranked waiting on hold as the third most annoying customer experience – as bad as not having their problem solved at all. (Boring hold music and messages also ranked among the top responses.)

 But studies show small changes to the way you treat people while they’re waiting can make a dramatic difference to the way they feel about the experience. You can even influence how long they think they’ve been on hold.

Managing customer expectations

There’s been a lot of research into the difference between real and perceived wait times, and the things you can do to affect that. One study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, showed that giving people accurate information about expected waiting times is three times as effective as hold music alone.

But be careful to get it right. Today’s customers will almost always have a clock – on their smartphone or landline handset – telling them the exact duration of each call. Taking much longer than you’d promised can do more harm to a customer’s satisfaction than the actual wait.

To illustrate this, Disney is widely reported to overestimate waiting times for rides at its theme parks – with the effect that visitors are often pleasantly surprised, and feel positive because a long wait was, at least, quicker than forecast.

As international queuing expert Richard Larson of M.I.T. put it:

“Often the psychology of queuing is more important that the statistics of the wait itself.” 

Choosing the right hold music

Hold music can also shorten perceived waiting time, and make the experience more pleasant. But it’s important to keep in step with the customer’s likely mood: fun or uplifting music can heighten a sense of excitement at a new purchase, but if a customer is worried or angry it will quickly start to grate.

Some experts also believe that music that’s too familiar can increase customers’ perceived waiting time. As James Kellaris of the University of Cincinnati explains: "If you hear an excerpt of a familiar piece of music, it might cue recall of the entire piece."

Are your messages appropriate?

Similarly, on-hold messages can be very effective, but they need to be realistic, and sensitive to the customer and the context. A cursory search on Twitter will reveal how much scorn there is, right around the world, for glib claims that “your call is important to us” during an extended wait.

Customers are also likely to be frustrated by messages that advise them to use the website instead. If they’re calling instead of going online, it’s often for a reason: perhaps they’ve already tried the site, and not found it helpful, or they may even be calling because of a problem that means they can’t access the internet.

At best, this advice is patronizing; at worst, it adds insult to injury.

Quick wins for your customer experience

Taking a fresh look at your on-hold experience is just one way that making small changes to your IVR can give your customer satisfaction a measurable boost, without major investment of time or resources.

It’s an approach that Forrester Research calls “Guerrilla CX”, and we’ve outlined our seven favorite quick, easy wins in our free ebook, 7 Quick, Low-Cost Ways to Take Your IVR from Good to Great. Please feel free to download it, and read at your leisure.

Fix #5: Overhaul Your On-Hold Experience
What problem does it fix?

Waiting on hold is the third most frustrating phone-based customer experience, according to respondents to Consumer Reports’ 2011 survey. If that was ever in doubt, try heading to Twitter and running a search for ‘on hold’. You’ll see hundreds of people venting their frustration at being kept on hold for an hour or more by organizations they just want to have a quick chat with, to resolve an issue. And all that brand resentment is public, for all to see.
But while no caller likes being put on hold, for contact centers there’s often no choice. When there’s a finite number of agents to take calls, customers sometimes just have to wait in line. The good news is that what callers hear during their time on hold can have a significant impact on the way they view the whole experience. If you get the on-hold experience right, our research shows that callers perceive the waiting time to be shorter.

If you get the on-hold experience right, callers perceive the waiting time to be shorter.

What does it entail?
This exercise is about reviewing the current on-hold experience for various types of call (customer service, technical support, sales) and redesigning it to create an audio experience that appeals to the caller in their likely frame of mind for the call they are making. For example, callers may not appreciate repeatedly being told they can go to the website for help – if they remain on hold, they’ve almost certainly already tried that – but may appreciate the offer of a callback when an agent becomes free. And a caller waiting to buy something exciting may enjoy listening to some upbeat music or hearing about a relevant discount code, rather than repeatedly being told that their call is important, or that your brand won Retailer of the Year this year.
What will the impact be?
The impact of redesigning the on-hold experience can vary from reducing call times to improving customer satisfaction and brand perception. At Shop Direct Group, for example, making multiple tactical changes to the on-hold experience – including the inclusion of messages highlighting offers – led to customer satisfaction with the experience increasing from 2/5 to 4/5.

Small changes, big results

As Shop Direct Group learned, making a big difference to customer satisfaction scores needn’t be slow, difficult and expensive. There are seven things you can do, today, that’ll give you instant results.

One is making your on-hold experience more sensitive to your customers’ actual needs. To find out the other six, you’ll need to read 7 Quick, Low-Cost Ways to Take Your IVR from Good to Great.