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

  • I am on hold right now while calling my internet provider for a service question, and all I am hearing is some music and a voice saying "please be patient" every 30 seconds or so (for 30 minutes now).

    It came to my mind that there is so much more a customer being on hold wants to hear. For example:

    • If I am in a queue, which place I am in?
    • What is the usual waiting time for this company, for this time, for this topic?
    • When another call has ended and I moved up in the queue.
    • When really no-one is in place and I should call later again.

    I never came across something like this. Is it that this is too much technical effort? Or is this information about inner workings which a company usually does not want to provide publicly? Or is it maybe that I am wrong, and users will be even more annoyed by this information?


    Many thanks to all the answerers and commentors. It seems I always had particularly bad luck with the companies which put me on hold, or if you want so, never had to wait for so long that these services were presented to me. I am amazed by the fact that these ideas are implemented all over the world, especially for doctors (which I have never recognized for any doctor here in Germany).

    The only thing that would make it less annoying would be: "all lines busy; press 1 for being called back; 2 for waiting 30 minutes before being asked again; 3 to terminate the call".

    @pmf Why not "press 1 to be told your current position int the queue and expected waiting time"? Calling back is also a good option indeed.

    In Sweden, when I make a doctor's appointment, I call, get a position in the queue, *hang up*, and get called back automatically when my positino is due. Why not all call centres do this is not understandable.

    IMO it'd be nicer if they just left the music playing rather than interrupting it ever 30 seconds to say "Your call is important to us"

    Go check out Freakonomics, where they describe "perverse incentives". Basically, your ISP has an incentive in you dropping off the call and figuring stuff for yourself. Any manager that makes the wait easier to bear will end up with bad marks for "increasing support queries". So, it doesn't happen.

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

    This is 90% of what I care about when choosing a provider. Seriously, before I sign up I call their help line a few times just to see what life with them will be like. Other than this I just want it to quietly work. Take my money and leave me alone with my dumb pipe.

    How about "Press 1 to join a forum with other customers on hold" so you can chat with other folks while you wait? Or "Press 5 to listen to a menu of music options while you wait." :-)

    I've been on hold in systems which update your "estimated wait time" which goes down.

    Related: This question on the "call me when you're ready solution". ux.stackexchange.com/q/76618/21857

    @pmf why a button for terminating the call?

  • Corey

    Corey Correct answer

    4 years ago

    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.

    If it's just a matter of limitations and laziness, why does hold music often include random beeps, interference that sounds faintly like call center chatter, crackling and clicks that sound like connections are being made, and so on? (All part of the recording.) It seems like they are _purposely_ keeping users on edge.

    @Lack some of those are actually the system connecting you to an operator who, for whatever reason, pushes you back into the queue. The recorded versions are cheap ways to manipulate the caller's state to make them feel like they've got a chance to get through soon.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM