A Complete Guide to Reducing Hold & Chat Wait Times in Contact Centers

Keeping a customer on hold for too long is a great way to ensure they start looking around at your competition. A customer’s time is valuable, and that means every company needs to determine their stance on keeping customers waiting.

But here’s the tricky part: How long is too long? And what can businesses do to improve their call hold times?

How long is too long to put customers on hold?

The statistics on call hold times can be startling:

  • A study by Medallia showed that while some customers might be okay holding for a few minutes, waiting for five minutes or longer was considered unreasonable by the majority of participants.
  • The British public agrees. A recent One Poll survey of 2,000 people in London found that the top time-wasting activity in their lives was being stuck on hold.

While live chat may be a bit more forgiving—because it’s easier for customers to do other things while waiting—it’s pretty clear that getting wait times right is important. When your customers hate something badly, it’s smart to avoid that thing as much as possible.

Improvements in technology over the past few years means that every support team should now be more effective (assuming you’ve invested in the right tools and resources for them). A fairly common service-level agreement (SLA) today is 90/30—where 90% of phone calls are answered in under 30 seconds. If you’re struggling to achieve that mark, it may mean you’re falling behind in creating a good customer service experience (but remember, service levels and hold times vary by industry). 

Finding an acceptable hold time for phone calls

In a perfect world, you’d never make customers wait. Unfortunately, no call center leader has ever had an unlimited budget or the capacity to hire as many agents as they want. That means sometimes you’ve got to make hard decisions around when it’s okay to put customers on hold (and for how long).

The best way to tell if your customers are unhappy with your hold times is to analyze what you’re hearing from them. Consider questions like these:

  • Are customers often expressing frustration about hold times to your team members?
  • Has your average wait time increased or decreased over time?
  • Is your call abandonment rate high? Talkdesk’s global survey found that the average call abandonment rate in 2020 was just below 6%.

If your customers are frustrated or are often hanging up before getting the help they need, that’s a strong signal that you need to invest in some changes to create a better experience. One way to uncover opportunities is to implement a quality assurance program, which will help you understand how your agents are performing and where there are inefficiencies you can address.

How long will live chat customers wait on hold?

The average waiting time for live chat in our study was 1 minute and 58 seconds. While some customers may be willing to wait that long, we generally recommend companies aim to respond to new chat conversations within 20 seconds, similar to a phone call. During a live chat conversation your customers will also have to wait between messages (because your agent will need to troubleshoot and type responses), so it’s best to respond to their initial message as quickly as possible.

Omnichannel availability is becoming an increasingly popular way to stay connected with customers. Live chat, WhatsApp, and other channels give customers the freedom to reach out for support while continuing with their day-to-day life. Customers are often much happier communicating via digital channels, but this usually means they also expect a faster connection to the help they need.

Delivering a great live chat experience

Live chat creates a very different customer service experience than a phone call. To make sure you’re giving your customers the best chat experience possible, follow these best practices:

  • Set expectations for customers by letting them know where they’re at in the chat queue and about how long their wait will be
  • Make it easy for customers to share their email address in case they need to disconnect from the chat. If this happens, they can then easily continue the conversation via email.
  • Be strategic about where you position your live chat widget. The more visible the widget, the more chat conversations you should expect, so start by putting it on key pages, then add it to additional pages if you have the capacity.
  • Be clear about the hours you provide live chat. When your team isn’t available, enable customers to use the widget to submit a ticket via email.

We’ve written an in-depth guide to implementing live chat, including the benefits, tools, and metrics you should know about.

Four strategies for reducing hold time

There aren’t any compelling reasons to keep your customers waiting for long. Doing so will only hurt your business. If customers have negative experiences or trouble getting the help they need, you’ll feel the impact in areas like high churn rates and negative customer reviews.

If you’re struggling with long hold times on phone or live chat support, there are four proven strategies you can pursue to finally put those issues to rest:

  • Add more staff
  • Improve the productivity of your existing staff
  • Reduce call volume
  • Add call-back technology
Add more staff to reduce call waiting times

In some situations—especially for fast-growing companies—the best way to improve your hold time is to bring in some help. This is especially true if you’re in a highly seasonal business where call volume includes significant peaks.

Adding new staff is nothing new to customer service managers, but there are two ways to approach it:

  1. Hire more team members. Bringing on new internal team members gives you complete control over the entire process—recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, and more. That can be a big benefit, but it comes at a high cost in terms of the time and energy you need to invest. If you’re in a highly seasonal business, it can be hard to find high caliber candidates for roles that will only last for a few months.
  2. Work with a customer service outsourcing company.  Outsourcing your call center operations can bring a nearly instant impact. Because it’s their speciality, many outsourcers—like Peak Support—can add experienced new team members within days or weeks. This makes it easy to scale up for seasonal volume, or to quickly alleviate long hold times.
Improve the productivity of your existing staff

Another way to reduce customer hold times is to help your existing team members be more efficient and productive. Process improvements and coaching team members can have a big impact on their ability to solve customer issues faster.

The tactics you can use to improve your team’s productivity vary depending on the issues that are causing slowdowns. Giving additional product training, adding macros or templates, and automating repetitive tasks are some popular approaches to take. Start by analyzing your team’s existing workflows and asking them about bottlenecks, then address any problems that surface.

Reduce call and chat volume

You can’t magically fix all of your product’s issues—but you can take actions that will dramatically reduce call volume to your team. With less calls in the queue, you’ll have less need to make customers wait on hold.

The best way to proactively reduce call volume is to offer effective self-service options. As you’d expect from the name, self-service empowers customers to do things themselves wherever they can. And they appreciate it— 67% of customers say they favor self-service options over speaking to a support agent.

Most companies start offering self-service through creating a customer help center or knowledge base with useful resources. Your help center is an investment that grows over time: the more resources you add to it, the more valuable it becomes for helping customers to self-service. Once you’ve built up some knowledge base resources, a second step might be to implement a chatbot that automatically serves up those resources to customers in need.

Assuming you offer multiple support channels—like text, chat, and email—then promoting alternative channels can also help reduce call volume. These customers may still need to reach out to you, but if they’re willing to email you instead of call you, then you’ll have shorter hold times and more flexibility in managing your responses.

Add callback technology

This strategy only really applies to reducing call hold times (not chat), but it’s an important one. Automatic callbacks put more power in your customers hands by letting them choose how they prefer to wait for help from your team.

Although customers are still waiting for a callback, investing in a tool like this is a great way to show you value your customer’s time. One survey found that 63% of customers preferred to wait for a callback rather than to sit on hold.

If you implement callback technology, it’s critical to note that you’ll still need to effectively manage your team’s time to create a good customer experience. If a customer requests a callback and doesn’t hear from you for hours, chances are they’ll still be disappointed in their experience. But if you can give them the freedom to choose a callback and then reach within a few minutes, you’ll be in a great position to keep them satisfied.

Creating a better on-hold experience

Tackling the four strategies above are the best way to ensure that you aren’t putting customers on hold unnecessarily. Despite your best efforts, sometimes you may find that it’s still necessary to put customers on hold. This might be a brief hold while troubleshooting something, or it could be an initial hold while waiting for an agent to come available.

Whenever hold time is necessary, it’s important to get the experience right. Using music or informative messages to fill the time has the psychological effects of making the time go faster, whereas silence makes the wait feel longer.

Muffled or annoying music, repetitive messages, or silence can cause discomfort and confusion, which may lead to customers abandoning the call or growing more frustrated.

Three tips for a better on-hold experience

No customer wants to wait on hold, but some basic principles can help make the hold experience far better for your customers when holds are unavoidable:

  • Make sure customers are aware of their position in the queue or have an idea of the current call wait time.
  • Offer the option of a call-back from an agent (as mentioned above). To make this experience even better, try to set a clear timeframe around when they can expect the all important call-back (and make sure you deliver on your promises!).
  • If you offer live chat, remind the customer of its existence. Depending on the steps your customer took before calling you, they may not be aware that chat is an option. Chat still gives a real-time support experience, but waiting a few minutes during a chat often feels less frustrating for customers.

Get help with reducing your hold times

Here at Peak Support we can often launch a new outsourced customer service team within a few weeks.

Whether you want to outsource your whole support operation or just add some additional team members to create a better customer experience quickly, we’re here to help. Contact us today to explore ways that outsourcing can empower your company’s future growth. 

Written By:

Peak Support