The first time I put someone on hold was 40 years ago. It was a summer job in the offices of an iron ore mine in Northern Ontario and there were very specific guidelines I had to follow. The etiquette of how to put someone on hold has certainly been lost over the years and reclaiming it is key to not only creating amazing customer service, but also supporting your company’s brand and improving your bottom line.
How can you create a great ‘on hold’ experience for your customers, prospects and clients? What’s the impact of ignoring this important phone skill?
The truth is … being put on hold is annoying. We’ve called for a very specific reason. In our mind’s eye, our call should be answered and dealt with quickly. We are very busy and we don’t have time to wait. All of these thoughts and realities combine to make us impatient and even anxious when we are put on hold.
The longer we stay on hold, the more impatient and anxious we become and this can turn a pleasant customer phone call into a cranky mess. What to do?
- Take the time to create a picture for your customer of why you need to put them on hold, i.e. “All our lines have rung at the exact same moment …” Or “I’m finishing up with a client here at my desk …” Or “I’ll save the files I’m working on and be right with you …” Everyone is less impatient when they understand the ‘why’ of being put on hold.
- Give your customer an estimate of how long they’ll be on hold. Our interactions with large call centres have made us expect long waits for service. Suddenly 20 seconds feels like 20 minutes and impatience starts to build. Add phrases like, “I’ll be less than a minute …” or “It won’t be long ..” or, perhaps more importantly, “I promise I won’t forget you …” We’ve all had the experience of being forgotten on hold and it is what we dread. By offering a timeline, you create comfort for your customers and support their patience.
- The hold experience can be startling. Suddenly there is loud music on the line or advertising or a radio station that is not quite on the right channel. Let your customer know what to expect. For example, “You are going to hear some classical music while you’re on hold and I’ll be back to speak with you in less than a minute.” And definitely tell them if your hold experience is complete silence. All of us begin to worry we’ve been disconnected when we experience complete silence. Offer reassurance, i.e. “It will be quiet while you’re on hold. You haven’t been disconnected and I’ll be right back.”
- Verify your hold experience. When was the last time you called in and were put on hold? Do you know what type of music is playing? Or what your messaging says (I hope it isn’t saying “Seasons Greetings”!)? Check from time to time to make sure you know what you are offering your customers.
- Speak up about lousy hold experiences. As we’ve seen this week with United Airlines, we do have consumer power. It is possible be a changemaker simply by saying something.
Putting calls on hold is a necessity for many businesses, but the process should be given thought and attention. Otherwise, you are creating difficult, cranky customer conversations and/or inspiring your clients to go elsewhere.