How to Eliminate Hold Time in Your Call Center

Call Center | 19 minute read

The best way for a call center to stand out as a leader is through the customer experience. It’s no surprise that an exceptional experience leads to more satisfied consumers, who continue to spend more money.

Most callers will begin subconsciously rating their customer experience from the beginning of the interaction, regardless of the channel; phone, web, social media, or mobile app.

Omnichannel customer service isn’t just about having multiple support options; it’s about delivering exceptional service on a channel that YOUR customers find most convenient.

Are you making them wait when they most need to speak to you?

How to Eliminate Hold Time in Your Contact Center:

  1. What’s the difference between average speed of answer and average wait time?
  2. Why is average wait time an important metric?
  3. How to Calculate Hold Time in a Call Center
  4. What causes long call center hold times?
  5. How to Reduce Hold Time in Your Contact Center
  6. 3 Steps to Eliminate Hold Time in Your Contact Center

What’s the difference between Average Speed of Answer and Average Call Wait Time?

There are a great many statistics and metrics that come with contact center life, and it can certainly get confusing if you are not used to the terms.

The simple answer is: There isn’t a difference — they are two names for the same thing i.e. how long a customer has to wait on hold before their call is answered by an agent.

Average Speed of Answer and Average Waiting Time are also sometimes known as Average Time in Queue or Average Hold Time.

This will typically include the time a caller was waiting and any time the phone is ringing, but not the time it takes a caller to navigate the IVR.

It’s one of the most important metrics in the modern contact center, and with good reason.

Why is Average Wait Time an important metric?

Think back to the last time you had to reach out to a company on the phone. Do you remember how long you had to wait on hold?

If you were kept waiting for any longer than a couple of minutes, the chances are that you’ll remember exactly how frustrating listening to that hold music for 25 minutes is.

If you even lasted that long.

There are many reasons why measuring call hold times are important. Here are the most pertinent of them:

Customer Satisfaction Decreases as Hold Time Increases

Aberdeen cited that the biggest driver of omnichannel support is to provide a service where customers are most active. Organizations must provide a consistent experience regardless of the channel most preferred. This is a major challenge for contact centers in 2020.

Although omnichannel support is more in demand today than ever before, the most popular channel for service interaction continues to be voice support.

Similarly, approximately 35% of all non-voice channel inquiries eventually escalate to voice. The opposite occurs when phone service is not up to par, as customers resort to social channels to publicly complain.

And the worst of it is, consumers are getting more and more impatient on calls.

A 2014 AMEX survey found that the maximum amount of time customers are willing to wait is 13 minutes. But a study just a couple of years later by Arise found that 65% of consumers would only wait two minutes, and 13% felt that no wait time was acceptable.

Unsurprisingly, longer call hold times are directly correlated to higher call abandonment rates; people often give up and hang up before they get through to a support agent.

If you consider that 34% of people who abandon a call never call back, it seems highly likely that abandonment rate — and therefore caller wait time — can be linked to customer churn.

We live in a time when ‘experience’ is a driving factor behind many consumer choices. So much so that more than 80% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products.

how customers feel about waiting on hold

That means that no matter how good your product or service is, most people will go somewhere else if you fail to provide an experience that lives up to their expectations; especially when it comes to dealing with complaints!

We cannot ignore how customers feel about waiting on hold.

Hold Times Impact Other Contact Center Metrics

The hold procedure in a call center will have an impact on many other aspects of the business. Leaving your callers waiting on hold for any more than a couple of minutes is going to have an impact on several other metrics you should be watching closely, ultimately including customer churn and revenue.

As mentioned above, the abandonment rate is the most obvious metric to be affected. But longer than average wait times can also result in a lower First Call Resolution rate because the experience they have before reaching an operator will dictate how the rest of that customer interaction pans out.

If callers are already irritated by the time they speak to an agent then they’ll need to be placated before their issue can be resolved.

A longer hold time will impact your contact center’s service level, probably your over NPS or CSat scores.

Safe to say, if there’s one thing you can do to give all your KPIs a little boost, it’s reducing your hold times.

Long Wait Times Result in Bad Press

Today, a poor customer experience doesn’t stop on the phone; customers will candidly share this information with the rest of the world using numerous social media outlets – impacting brand image and changing customer perceptions. Here’s an example of hold time frustration being shared on Twitter:

Protect Your Reputation

How long are your customers waiting in the queue before their questions are addressed?

The fact is, the longer they wait, the lower their tolerance level gets — and the more frustrated they become. I referenced to further investigate call hold times.

This data shows the worst offenders in hold time during the month of January 20, 2020. Rogers, Comcast, and AT&T all had a significant amount of tweets from callers complaining about being on hold. You can see this year’s annual list here.

One AT&T customer actually waited for over an hour – a perfect example of appalling phone support. An article was recently published which stated; the average person spends 43 days of their life on hold! While that stat is outrageous, it’s definitely not surprising. This is exactly why consumers hate having to phone a call center.

Just visit to see for yourself – real-time tweets from all sorts of people killing time waiting on hold.

If there’s one thing that you can do to improve the customer experience, it’s to reduce call waiting time in your support department.

How to Calculate Average Hold Time in a Call Center

The average hold time is the average amount of time a customer waits in the call queue before an agent answers their call.

As mentioned, it doesn’t typically include the time a customer spends going through the IVR tree (if you have one).

Here is how to calculate average hold time in a call center:

Within a specified time-frame, add together the times all callers spent waiting on hold and divide by the number of callers.

Easy! If only it was as easy to prevent long hold times.

What causes long call center hold times?

Although it can sometimes feel like hold times in your contact center are out of your control, there are usually one of several easily-identifiable causes to blame.

These are typically related to poor management, outdated or insufficient technological resources, and staffing issues.

1. Understaffing and poor management

Contact center managers have one of the hardest jobs; managing the department’s budget is hard enough without all the issues that come with managing the agents themselves.

Even well-staffed and managed call centers can fall victim to understaffing during peak seasons or hours. Sometimes, there just aren’t enough agents available to handle all the calls coming in.

However, the best support department managers are expecting this to be an issue, and construct fail-safes to mitigate the damage they cause. Whether that’s using better AI-predictive modeling and staffing processes to anticipate fluctuations in demand, or installing new technology that helps manage the overflow, there’s usually something that can be done to help reduce the impact of call spikes.

2. Long call handling times

In this age where the customer experience takes precedence over everything, it would be risky to try to reduce Average Call Handle Time to prevent long call waiting times.

We want customers to feel listened to when they have an issue, and not rushed through a series of steps to get rid of them; that was the old way.

That doesn’t mean, however, that this statistic can’t be useful in some ways. When a good call center manager has a handle on their average call length, consistent outliers are a good indicator of call mishandling.

This might mean that an agent frequently jumps to conclusions or doesn’t really listen to the customer, which both unnecessarily add to call handle time and likely decrease customer satisfaction too.

It’s also an indicator that your current processes for resolving a certain issue are not efficient, or are no longer relevant to what your customers want to do.

If a certain type of issue is consistently taking much longer than average to resolve, then you must re-examine how your agents are dealing with the issue and optimize it as much as possible.

3. Poor IVR or hold procedure

Similar to the point listed above, you may find that certain queues in your call center consistently have higher waiting times. If this is the case, you may want to take a look at how they are using your IVR, or whatever happens before those customers are put on hold.

Although the time spent in the IVR isn’t usually counted as time on hold, your call center’s hold procedure may well be directing people to the wrong phone queue, clogging up the lines, and using agents’ time to be redirected later.

As you can imagine, this is pretty frustrating for the customer on hold, too.

If you’ve been experiencing long hold times in your call center, your IVR process may be to blame. Make sure that it’s easy to understand, is succinct, and is sending people to the right place.

If it is working efficiently, then the issue may be occurring before customers pick up the phone.

4. Poor self-service options or alternative support channels

When confronted with an issue, most customers will make some attempt to resolve it on their own.

The fear of waiting on hold alone is enough to send them straight to your company’s website or app — likely via Google — to figure out what’s gone wrong.

Either that or they’ll take to social media and harang your marketing team for answers, and publicly shame you when it takes longer than a couple of minutes to respond.

If your self-service options are not helpful or easy to use, people simply won’t use them. They’ll just pick up the phone or tablet to get the answer they want fast.

AI-powered live chat and knowledge bases are all very well and good, but they won’t alleviate some of the pressure from the phone lines unless they’re actually helping customers get the answers they want.

5. Outdated contact center technology

1st United Services Credit Union AppWorking with many legacy call center software platforms can be, put mildly, frustrating. Some contemporary cloud-based solutions are equally vexatious, particularly when bootstrapped to perform a function or integrate with a technology that they weren’t specifically designed to do.

Non-customer-centric contact center software will impact your agents’ efficacy. Even the long-established leaders in the space have struggled to come up with in-built solutions to help contact centers mitigate long hold times.

The technology your call center is using is going to have a massive impact on everything, from average hold times to customer satisfaction scores. The better and more built-for-purpose your software is, the better and faster you’ll be able to deal with customer inquiries — and the shorter your call waiting times will be.

6. Unpredictable events

The final reason for spikes in call hold times in call centers is unpredictable events.

Even the most advanced call center with the most thoroughly researched models can fall victim to an ‘act of God’, which is almost impossible to predict. Whether that’s a freak weather incident, a sudden health scare, a data breach, or some unanticipated bad press, there’s one thing you can count on: the phone lines will be buzzing.

Besides preparing plans for these eventualities, there isn’t a lot that contact center managers can do to prevent this kind of rapid influx of calls.

But there are several things they can do to help mitigate the impact when they do occur.

How to Reduce Hold Time in Your Call Center

Eliminating hold time in your contact center might not be completely possible, but it’s not impossible either.

There are several things you can do to reduce your average call waiting time.

Let’s think outside the box.

Why not take a “customer first” approach to your average call wait time issues?

Here’s our philosophy in a nutshell:

1. Create better self-service options

As mentioned above, there isn’t much point in having self-service options for your customers if it doesn’t actually help them or they don’t like using it.

People are too busy to spend too long finding answers; if they can’t find the answer they want quickly, they’re just going to reach out to a person and ask.

Take advantage of some of the great technology available today and make your self-service platform smart. Really smart. Your chatbot or online knowledge base should be so easy to use that a child could find what they’re looking for. Make it easy for people to resolve basic issues for themselves and you’ll see an immediate reduction in call volume and hold times.

If you want an example of a great self-service support hub, look to Apple. In the last few years, Apple has turned its customer support portal into a powerful hub that delivers what customers want very quickly and easily, while also taking a huge strain off their back-end contact center operations.

And when it can’t help people, it offers them the option to book a call-back or email message at a time that suits them, preventing them from picking up the phone and going straight into a queue.

For some examples of how to set up a self-serve system the right way, check out this post on 5 Brand Websites Doing Customer Service Right.

2. Optimize your IVR and call-routing

The phone is still the most preferred channel. Consumers who want their issues resolved quickly and efficiently will pick up the telephone. Be ready for them. Don’t present them with a slow and confusing IVR.

IVRs are one of the most poorly-used commonplace call center technologies, so much so that they frequently pop up as the butt of jokes on film and television. Does anyone remember that scene from the IT crowd?

People often report having a frustrating experience with call routing systems, often because they aren’t tested properly. And if people are getting sent round in circles because of confusing options, or being sent to the wrong place and then put on hold again, then your phone lines are going to clog with frustrated customers.

Test your IVR system regularly. Make sure your customers can get through to the right person to handle their issues quickly. When analyzing your call routing, look for patterns where a lot of people are pressing through multiple options to find the same answer. Is there a way you can make this answer easier to find?

Is there a particular subject that people are having trouble with? Perhaps it’s time to hire a couple of specialists dedicated to dealing with those enquiries and start escalating calls to them.

More and more clever predictive modeling software is available today to help you identify those patterns and areas to improve your service level, and we’re expecting it to be one of the top contact center trends in 2020. More on that shortly.

3. Use call-backs and virtual queuing

Organizations should offer a call-back option instead of forcing callers to wait on hold.

Call-backs, sometimes known as ‘virtual queuing‘, work by sending a bot to wait in line on behalf of the caller, so they don’t have to stay on the phone. Once the bot reaches their place in the queue, it calls the person back and connects them to an agent.

When larger call centers experience spikes, they can call in more agents or move resources around. But for smaller call centers will occasional spikes in call volume, callbacks can be a godsend. In a recent survey of 200 call centers, Contact Babel found that those with a virtual queuing option had a 32% lower average abandon rate.

By telling callers the estimated wait time, and then offering them a call-back, you’ll dramatically impact wait times in your call center.

Offer Call-backs Outside Your IVR Too

What happens when customers want to contact you through your website? Most sites only list a phone number and an email address, which is not the most convenient method for your customer.

Why not offer the same scheduled call-back experience through your website? It’s an easy solution to implement and one that would leave a positive impression on your visitors. And don’t stop there.

When customers tap on your ‘Contact Us’ page within your mobile app, what do they see? A phone number? Epic fail! Don’t just send customers to your IVR to wait on hold!

Have them enter their number and request a call-back from the next available agent via your mobile app. Offering a click-to-call option puts you in superstar status amongst your clients.

They’re already using the technology — that’s why you created the app — so it’s top-of-mind when they have an issue. Make it easy for them because if you can’t keep up with what your customers are doing and how they’re actually behaving, they will go elsewhere.

The call-back approach allows you to better serve your clients on their preferred channel, all while providing the same caller experience regardless of how they choose to contact you. What better way to differentiate your services and provide the ultimate call center experience?

Fonolo offers a number of call-back solutions for the call center, including Voice Call-Backs, a feature that empowers your customers to, “Press 1 and request a scheduled call-back from the next available agent.”

Problem solved.

Empower Agents to Handle Calls Better

Your agents are the driving force behind your call center. And the best call center agents are hardworking, empathetic people who are always looking for ways to improve the service they deliver to customers.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the workplace, agents have not traditionally been empowered to improve their call handling on-the-fly or mitigate the impact of call spikes with informed decision-making.

Here are some ways you can empower your agents to decrease your contact center’s average hold time.

Improve Your Knowledge Base

The best way to improve your agents’ ability to handle calls better and faster is to give them better and faster access to the information they need to do their job. That may be through more thorough training, but in all likelihood, it’s your knowledge base that could be improved.

Knowledge bases are essential to the successful running of a customer support department. And the best ones actively engage employees throughout their calls, prompting them to update information or give feedback on how appropriate it was to suggest, so the base improves with every call.

Ideally, you’ll want to integrate a fulfillment functionality that will allow your agents to handle complex enquiries from start to finish, improving your First Call Resolution Rate. It will give your whole team the resources and the confidence to handle any inquiry by themselves, even if they haven’t heard it before.

As you can imagine, there are numerous benefits to a smart knowledge base besides decreasing wait times, but it’s up there.

Have cross-functional specialist agents

Many contact centers have various groups of specialists already and find them crucial in dealing with spikes in call volume.

These are call center agents with specialist knowledge in a particular area. When calls about that topic come in, the IVR will route the call to them instead of to your general agents. As a specialist, they should be able to resolve the customers’ issues faster, freeing up other agents for other inquiries.

But in the event that one group of specialists is very busy when another is not, it makes sense to have agents that are specialists in a couple of different topics. That way, you can quickly bridge the gap.

Use dashboards so agents can make better decisions

The final way to empower your agents is to provide them with a way of making routing and call management decisions themselves.

Provide agents with a dashboard so that they can monitor their own queue and take steps to reduce their average handle and call waiting times. This may mean making adjustments to how they handle certain calls when call queue times are above average. Or it could mean offering a call-back to other case types to help relieve pressure.

When live support agents are empowered to make decisions to improve service delivery, they often do.

AI and Predictive Models

The call center manager’s salary often hinged on their ability to make models predicting call volume in advance.

How Can a Call Center Eliminate Hold Time

Today, that job can be shared with more and more advanced software, that collects data from both your contact center and other relevant (although sometimes obscure) touchpoints to predict when you can expect call spikes.

These tools are still in their early stages, but improving by the day. With time, they’ll be able to help contact center management predict fluctuations in demand with precision and ease.

Until then, they should be used alongside the experience of the leadership team to prepare for call-spike events that could leave frustrated customers waiting on hold for far too long.

3 Steps to Eliminate Hold Time in Your Contact Center

To summarize, if you really want to eliminate or even just reduce time on hold in your customer service department, there are three main things to do:

  1. Improve your self-service platform
  2. Empower agents with better resources
  3. Get a call-back solution for your contact center


If you would like to learn more about how to reduce hold time in your call center,  view a recorded demo or request a demo here.


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