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Call on hold tactics:
Best practices for
on hold messages
for SMBs

Author: Shane Schick

All of your agents may really be currently busy. Their call may indeed be important to you. Even so, putting a customer call on hold can be one of the easiest ways to damage your relationship with them.

According to a recent Airkit survey of 1,000 consumers, the average consumer waits between five and 10 minutes on hold for customer support. Similar research from TCN suggested it was much worse, with customers spending an average wait time of 17.4 minutes listening to on hold messages and music. Nearly one-quarter of the 1,000 consumers TCN surveyed said they've waited on hold for half an hour or longer.

The business case for improving the 'call on hold' experience

Contrast those numbers with what customers expect, and the opportunity to win based on offering a more positive service experience becomes obvious.

For example, 83% of consumers surveyed by Salesforce said they want to engage with someone immediately when they contact a company. That's probably because, regardless of the reason for their call, the matter is urgent.

This demonstrates how much customers value and appreciate the companies who change their operations accordingly. A study from Microsoft found that 95% of consumers cite the quality of customer service as important in their choice of (and loyalty to) a brand. The upsides include increased revenue as well: a report from NICE CXOne said 55% of customers are wiling to pay more for an exceptional experience.

Best practices for call on hold messages for business

Business experts have been studying the potential impact of offering music and messaging for customers with a call on hold since at least the late 1980s. Dr. Jim Will published a study, "The Psychology of Telephone 'On Hold' Programming," which found that music and messaging helps customers perceive wait times as shorter than they actually are.

Will's research suggested that hold music should be long enough to not seem repetitive if customers are waiting for a prolonged period and that it should be upbeat. More recently, a study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that standard pop songs made people less upset than instrumental music, but that "prosocial" lyrics about helping people might make them even more aggravated by the time they speak to an agent.

Developing the right on hold messages for business can also help keep impatient customers calm and even engaged. While you do want to assure customers that their call is important to you and that you will answer them as soon as you can, these messages should express more than the basic or template language, "Your call will be answered by the next available agent." For best practices with keeping the call engaging, you could take the following examples into account for on hold messages:

  • Messages should begin with a warm greeting that tells your customers what they can expect, like "Thank you for calling [your business]. We will answer your call just as soon as we can, and in the meantime you can listen to some of our newest deals/answers to frequently asked customer questions."
  • Messages should be short enough for customers to grasp the key messages and necessary information. For example, "We're glad you called us, and we're committed to providing you the experience you deserve."
  • Messages should provide value. This could include the availability of other channels to seek assistance, such as a website or even social media accounts. "You can also chat with us 24/7 by visiting [URL]," for instance.
  • Messages can also share promotional offers, such as, "For a limited time, we're offering two-for-one pricing on selected items. Visit our website for more details."
  • Messages can provide answers to a few frequently asked questions, using plain language and even redirecting callers to online services when appropriate. For instance, "Many of our callers often ask about how to access their account information. Try logging on to our secure website and navigating to the 'My Account' tab at the top right of the main page."
  • Messages can define your customer profile by offering a brief survey at the end of a call, helping you collect critical data about your customers' lifestyle showing them that you care about their needs. You might try, "We appreciate your call today. If you would like, you can stay on the line at the end of the call to answer a few brief questions about yourself and to help us learn how to provide the best customer service possible."
  • Messages should be updated at least once each quarter to reflect details such as holiday offers, updates to frequently asked questions or tips to help solve common issues. For instance, "Do you need help finding the perfect gift? We've got all the ideas you'll need in our online guide."

In addition to these tips, you might also allow your customers to provide their telephone number so that they may wait for a callback, assuring them that they will not lose their place in line, just as if they remained on hold. The ideal on hold messages for business might be those that convey a feeling of progress to customers who are left waiting. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that people who received status updates about where they were in the queue were happier than those who heard music or static messages.

Ultimately, keeping customers waiting is never ideal, so look into mobile calling business systems that will help reduce missed call on hold opportunities and make it easier to connect with customers.