Home » Why is being “on hold” on the telephone not made less annoying?

Why is being “on hold” on the telephone not made less annoying?


A few things that haven’t really been covered in the other questions, but which I have personally had to work around in my career…

Technical Limitations

  • Simple MOH queuing is very easy to configure and every system that handles call queues has some mechanism for providing it.
  • Setting up a queue that provides feedback on position and predicted time remaining is not possible on a lot of the phone systems out there. Period.
  • Phone systems that do provide that information are expensive.

Social Limitations

  • Telling me that I have to wait 20 minutes at the start of a call, then making me listen to 30 minutes of updates to my expected time, is going to aggravate me more than not telling me how long.
  • Telling me that I am first in the queue (or fourth, or whatever) and not answering my call (or updating my position) for 10 minutes is pointless.

The reality is that 90% of the time the queuing systems that play music with occasional breaks to tell you that you’re still on hold (as if that weren’t obvious already) are simply lazy implementations, generally because the company didn’t want to spend the time and money on a full implementation.

One client I work with updates their MOH recordings regularly and I often get requests to update their MOH files. They spend on the order of $3,000 per year on scripting, recording and composition for these recordings. I spend about half an hour on re-coding the provided files, uploading them to the phone system and changing the recording sequence each time they make a change. And that’s for a simple MOH system with no position or wait time feedback.

Another client has a similar system, same capabilities, and they never bother to change their MOH recordings. They get me to flip a switch for outages and that’s about it.

I’ve spoken with both of these clients (and others) in the past about improving their on-hold experience, and the main feedback I’ve received is that the only complaint they get is length of time on hold.

This lines up with a post-call survey we ran for a year at a call centre, where the most common complaint was length of time not what was being played (which was basically a series of adverts for the company’s services).

Reducing the length of time on hold – by reducing operator inefficiency or increasing operator count – seems to have the best effect on caller satisfaction.

It’s just a matter of costs and resources.

In germany for example it’s really common these days to get:

  • approximate waiting time in minutes

  • news regarding other products to keep you “busy” and maybe sell you something else

In my opinion companies still underestimate the impact of waiting time when calling. If you frustrate customers or even worse potential customers you will make less money.

I was at a meetup a few weeks ago and a little startup integrated Amazon’s Alexa to their waiting time, so people could talk/interact with Alexa while waiting, which made the time waited less bad since you were really busy to try out the AI.

I think this is the right direction, lessening the perception of waited time in the line.

But of course, Alexa integration for example is technically harder.

Very practical reasons:

  1. It is worth more investing money in actually fixing the wait times (i.e. hiring more personnel), than investing in infrastructure that needs to be maintained/connected to provide all this information.

  2. Companies are not interested in keeping people on the line. They want each interaction to be as cheap as possible, and want to keep out “undesirable” calls (like people who call just to chat, a common problem).

  3. Source of income for paid hotlines. If you know how many people are ahead of you, you won’t stay on, thus not pay for connection fees (the latter is prohibited in many countries though … many prohibit charging for hold times.

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