Hold on: 6 ways to make customer wait times better

Tired of waiting for better reviews and more sales? We explore how it might be customer service that is holding your good fortune up in the line.

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The British are known for championing an orderly queue, but patience has its limits. Endlessly waiting on hold for a customer service representative can turn frustration into full-blown exasperation, harming not just your customers’ moods, but also your company’s brand reputation.

It’s not just businesses that are suffering reputational harm due to unacceptable call waiting times. HMRC has been in the news this week due to similar complaints, particularly for the Self Assessment helpline. A 2023 article from the Association of International Accountants details average wait times exceeding 22 minutes to up to an hour, and with only 63% of calls actually being answered. Similarly, the Department for Work and Pensions has received recent criticism for reported hold times exceeding two hours.

When accessing government services, there can be few alternative options but to wait in line. But, businesses can’t take such risks – your poor treatment of a customer could cause them to turn to a rival. Thankfully, there are simple changes businesses can make to improve the customer service experience and prevent long wait times.

The impact of waiting times on customer service

The impact of long wait times on customer service can be significant, affecting both customers and businesses in various ways:

  • Frustration and impatience: extended hold times can quickly turn customer patience into frustration and impatience, leading to a negative overall experience.
  • Negative reviews: frustrated customers take their experiences online, leaving negative customer reviews on social media and review websites, potentially damaging the company's reputation.
  • Decreased brand loyalty: negative experiences with customer service, particularly those involving long wait times, can significantly damage a company's brand reputation and erode customer loyalty. Customers who feel undervalued and disrespected are unhappy customers are more likely to seek services elsewhere, resulting in lost revenue and the challenge of acquiring new customers.
  • Reduced employee morale: customer service representatives who are constantly faced with frustrated customers can experience burnout, decreased morale, and increased staff turnover. This can create a vicious cycle where understaffing leads to longer wait times, further escalating customer frustration and employee stress.

6 solutions to fix your languishing wait times

There are several effective strategies you can implement to streamline your customer service and reduce wait times. Here are six solutions to help you conquer the queue and deliver a more positive experience for everyone involved.

  1. Optimise call routing: optimising call routing ensures that customers are swiftly connected to the correct representative, reducing wait times and enhancing first-call resolution rates. Many virtual landlines and VoIP providers have this feature.
  2. Invest in self-service options: offer online knowledge bases, FAQs, and chatbots to answer common questions and resolve simple issues. This empowers customers to help themselves and reduces the burden on your service team.
  3. Offer multiple channels of communication: give customers the option to reach you via phone, email, live chat, or social media. This provides flexibility and allows them to choose the method that best suits their needs.
  4. Staff adequately and train your team: schedule enough customer service representatives to handle call volume effectively, minimising wait times and ensuring prompt service. On top of this, train your staff in efficient problem-solving and communication skills to keep interactions concise and reduce call duration.
  5. Be mindful of the waiting experience: no one likes listening to raspy music on loop, interrupted by a reminder of your position in the queue every 10 seconds. Put yourself in the customer’s place – what will be the most helpful experience for them while they wait? A reminder of how long the queue may take? Reassurance that their call is important to you? Tips on how to get their answer online? All of these can be well-intentioned, but still maddening for a customer who just wants to speak to somebody. 
  6. Offer a call-back service: rather than forcing the customer to wait in line, consider implementing a call-back system. This way, the customer can leave their number and be contacted by your team without listening to Greensleeves for an hour.

Conclusion

In an era increasingly focused on technological advancements, exclusive Startups research reveals that more businesses are prioritising customer relationships over AI investments in the year ahead. 

This shift in focus highlights the growing recognition that loyal, satisfied customers are the backbone of any successful company. With competition fiercer than ever, minimising wait times and fostering positive interactions are no longer just nice-to-haves, but essential elements of your customer service strategy

So, in 2024, don't let long wait times cost you customers. Invest in the human touch and watch your customer satisfaction, reviews, and sales grow.

Written by:
Stephanie Lennox is the resident funding & finance expert at Startups: A successful startup founder in her own right, 2x bestselling author and business strategist, she covers everything from business grants and loans to venture capital and angel investing. With over 14 years of hands-on experience in the startup industry, Stephanie is passionate about how business owners can not only survive but thrive in the face of turbulent financial times and economic crises. With a background in media, publishing, finance and sales psychology, and an education at Oxford University, Stephanie has been featured on all things 'entrepreneur' in such prominent media outlets as The Bookseller, The Guardian, TimeOut, The Southbank Centre and ITV News, as well as several other national publications.

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