man on phone

Why shouldn’t you put your customers on hold? Because studies show that they don’t like it and they tend to hang up. Companies shouldn’t like it because hold time costs money and can lead to lost business.

These days, businesses increasingly turn to alternative solutions like automated voice, live agents, and callbacks to improve call center service. As this trend snowballs, customers expect lower wait times and better overall service, and why wouldn’t they?

I’ve touched on this topic before in 5 Ways to Avoid Putting Customers on Hold, but it merits a deeper look.

Hang Ups

According to research from live-chat software vendor Velaro, almost 60% of customers will hang up after waiting on hold for one minute.

In a survey of “more than 2,500 consumers, nearly 60% of respondents believe that one minute is too long to be on hold,” PRWeb reports. “In addition, 32.3% of consumers believe that customer service departments should be answering immediately—with no hold time.”

The question posed was: “For customer service, how long are you willing to be put on hold?” About a third said they’re not willing to wait at all, 27.6% said 1 minute, and only 4.1% said they’d wait as long it took.

“Today’s consumers expect an efficient interaction and are no longer willing to wait unnecessarily,” Velaro VP Jeff Mason told PRWeb.


Software review website SoftwareAdvice.com did their own survey exploring customers’ preference between waiting on hold or receiving a callback when a customer service rep becomes available. Not surprisingly, most customers preferred a callback.

With virtual hold technology (callback), an automated voice system provides callers with a choice. If they choose a callback, the system can interact with the call center system to call customers back when an agent is free—automatically, via outbound calling.

In their survey of over 1,100 consumers, Software Advice found that the “majority—63%—preferred callback. This data suggest that companies that are often forced to make customers wait on hold should consider adding a callback option to their phone system.”

According to Software Advice’s Craig Borowski, call centers have been at the forefront of technology use, employing advances like auto-dialers, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) and computer-telephony integration (CTI).

“A large portion of the developments, though, focus on streamlining call center operations, increasing efficiencies and boosting the bottom line,” Borowski wrote via email. “Other areas of development, such as those that focus on improving customer experience, have sometimes taken a back seat.”

It’s Not Going Away

If anything, customers will expect more in the future, as technologies and services continue to improve, wait times decrease, and overall customer experience emerges as an important differentiator between competitors.

Take this article, for example, by CBS News’ MoneyWatch: 10 Companies that Don’t Keep You Waiting on Hold Forever. “Nothing says, ‘We care’ quite like picking up the phone on the first ring or answering an email quickly,” the article reports, before listing the companies with the fastest callback and return email times.

Another study, this one from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, entitled “Structural Estimation of Callers’ Delay Sensitivity in Call Centers,” examined caller patience. Or as the press release for the study stated: “Hang Up or Hold On? Study Helps Call Centers Know When Patience Is Running Out.”

In the study, researchers Baris Ata and Che-Lin Su looked at 1.3 million calls to a bank’s call center and used that data to develop “a more accurate approach to modeling caller patience than ever before.”

“Knowing when a person decides to hang up or hang on is vital to streamlining call center operations, minimizing caller frustration and maximizing each customer service encounter,” said Su. “The previous models used assumptions of caller abandonment that were easy to apply and analyze but didn’t provide a reasonable picture of people’s patience.”

So, in our data-driven world, call center performance analysis gets even more complicated, forcing businesses to take it more seriously.

“When a call center alters its discipline to improve speed and service, add agents or change call routing and priority, we theorized those things should influence caller patience,” said Su. “And our model shows that such improvements do indeed make a difference in whether people decide to hang up or hang on.”

More Important Than Ever

With all sides paying more attention to wait times and customer experience, in general, it’s more important than ever for companies get ahead of this wave of change.

Whether they choose automated voice, live chat, callback, adding call center reps, or any combination of these, companies need to put caller wait time on their radar. Soon.

Contact Plum Voice


Former Director of Communications at Plum Voice with 20 years experience writing primarily about technology and customer service, the customer experience, voice of the customer, market research and communications.

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