Easy On Hold | Blog - frustrated on hold

Frustrated and On Hold: Is Your Contact Center Ready?


Have you ever been so frustrated with a product (or perhaps a website) that you picked up the phone to demand answers? You followed the instructions to a tee, but there’s still a problem. You tried the online support chat and the wiki, but you’ve got to draw the line. At some point, you need to talk to a person! You’re about to test a company’s preparedness to handle a customer that is frustrated on hold.

What’s the problem?

Are customers angry or frustrated before they call or is it the customer experience that irritates them? Sometimes callers are already in a bad mood, then the caller experience makes things worse.

Customers may already be angry or frustrated when they pick up the phone. The reason for their call may be a complaint. For example, Easy On Hold founder Tim Brown once worked with a waste management company with callers who were complaining that their trash wasn’t picked up. To make matters worse, callers were often placed on hold for several minutes when calling for support. And, as if it couldn’t get even more unbearable, the hold music was a recording of a marching band. Is your music on hold adding insult to injury?

Controlling the frustrated on hold customer experience

The CFI Group 2020 Customer Satisfaction Report revealed a large majority of callers, 76%, contacted customer service by phone. Note that just when the COVID pandemic was starting up, the phone was already the preferred method of contact for customers. As the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to maintain excellent customer service, contact centers struggled to keep customers happy. In February of 2021, 90% of customers report having a bad customer experience in the previous six months.

There can be several reasons for a bad experience, but let’s see what is first on the list. The Replicant contact center survey ranked hold time as the number one complaint. Second, customers said “needing to reexplain my issue,” was almost as bad as wait time, followed by the stress of “being transferred between agents.”

You may not be able to control the conditions that induced the customer’s irritation, but you can make some key decisions that will make the customer feel good about your company and brand. To reach your goal of building a positive experience, begin with the top complaint: waiting on hold.

Inevitable hold time

Calls keep coming into your business, and calls keep getting placed on hold. A survey by American Texting firm “Talk To” concluded that 86% of consumers say they’re placed on hold every time they call a business. The number of callers on hold and the length of hold time will vary from company to company, but in almost every case, holding is inevitable. Even short times can cause callers to lose their cool to the point of hanging up.

The length of hold time matters when it comes to the emotions of customers. The research shows 44% of people report being annoyed, irritated or angry with a 5 – 15 minute wait time.

What callers hear while waiting can impact call abandonment

“Dead air” or unoccupied time understandably seems endless, adding to customer frustration. 

CX Today

Avoid silence. A report from CX today confirms that silence adds to a caller’s anxiety, which can be brought into the interaction with the call center.

Choose music carefully. Music provides continuous audio that affirms to the caller that the connection to the help center is still “live.” However, music can have a negative effect. Repeating a piece of music over and over again (looped), can cause callers to perceive that they’ve been on hold longer than they have. Here are three tips for choosing music:

  1. Use variety. Changing the lengths of each piece of music and varying the tempo somewhat will take away predictability, resulting in callers perceiving hold time as shorter than it is.
  2. Match music to the brand. Recently, Easy On Hold provided assistance to an insurance firm that had an inbound support line for those making a death claim. Another Easy On Hold customer was launching a new brand name for their internet service. What music would you choose for each of these businesses? They’d be very different, for sure.
  3. Simple sounds sound better. Voice communication tools are not built for music. Mobile phones use noise-canceling algorithms that cancel out anything that is not voice. The result can be a strange-sounding background! Our advice is to use simpler, rather than complicated music. Smaller ensembles and simple rhythms help mitigate the warble you might otherwise hear.

A crucial factor for handling callers on hold is to manage their anxiety. After all, the more anxious or irritated a person is, the more likely they are to hang up, which is the very thing a business is trying to avoid. For example, the length and variety of music selections and messages greatly affects the mood of a caller.


Better than hold music

Adding music to the wait queue reduces call abandonment, but only by a small amount when compared to spoken information. Your messages on hold will do the heavy lifting of relieving callers from being frustrated on hold.

  1. Spoken messages add a “human touch” to the caller’s experience. The use of voice is reassuring.
  2. Spoken messages, when properly written and recorded, provide a pseudo-social interaction that can reduce caller anxiety. Topics that address common concerns demonstrate an understanding of the caller. For example, a financial firm might talk about security and identity theft.
  3. Give callers information they can use. There must be something new going on in your business! Spread the word. Be as compelling as possible. Easy On Hold has an article on what makes on hold messages work best.

It doesn’t take much to make a customer frustrated. With some extra care, you can use hold time to turn a negative experience into a positive one. Follow our advice and request a message on hold consultation for customized ideas for your contact center, call center, or business.

Get the latest from Easy On Hold

Get free resources, news, and tips to help improve your customer experiences in our monthly newsletter.