Canadian Underwriter

Take Relationships Off Hold

August 23, 2010   by Eric Camulli

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We sometimes forget that our customers’ perceptions are our business’s reality. When customers call your business and wait on hold for a few minutes, they perceive that you don’t care enough about them to answer the call immediately. In fact, a 2008 Lightspeed survey found that waiting on hold was the second biggest frustration for customers, with the confusing interactive voice response (IVR) holding the top spot.

This is generally because customers don’t know how long they will be on hold, so minutes can seem like hours. As time keeps ticking, your customers’ emotions escalate from annoyed to aggravated, to flat-out insulted. Eventually, they will reach a threshold of intolerance and begin to question why they do business with your company. By the time a service representative comes on the line, customers are ready to vent–if they’re still there.

The Customer Experience
These days, with the prevalence of the Internet and a growing reliance on mobile technology and smartphones, people have even less patience. The growth of online social networking and mobile communication has created a cultural shift in our society, meaning a more demanding consumer who expects immediacy and convenience.

It might be possible to avoid damaging customer relationships if only you could determine a client’s threshold of intolerance. Unfortunately, every customer’s breaking point is different–with factors behind each person’s intolerance dependent upon a myriad of variables, such as prior experiences, expectations and mood.

Yet, in all client-facing businesses, providing positive customer experiences is important. Tangible experiences with a company are all customers have when considering whether they are satisfied with the good or service. They are not privy to the company’s excellent first-call resolution rates and high service-level attainment metrics for the month, nor do they care. All they know is when they tried to call, they waited on hold and hated it. And then they told several friends.

Make the Most of the Customer’s Time
Existing technologies such as self-service interactive voice response (IVR) strategies are suitable for tasks like paying bills or cancelling service, but today’s customers don’t want to wait for prompts in more urgent situations. And in the P&C industry customers already know a telephone prompt cannot bind a policy or amend an existing policy.

For that reason, customers need to talk to a human being and receive verbal confirmation their request will be resolved quickly.

Surveys done by Virtual Hold clients reveal that customers believe 15 minutes is a reasonable amount of hold time.

Luckily, today’s technological advances have also created new ways for companies to keep their customers satisfied. A virtual queuing solution, for example, educates and empowers customers with respectful options for managing time. When a customer calls and the expected hold time is longer than about two minutes, the customer hears a message that reports the expected wait time and gives the caller a choice of whether to continue to hold or request a callback. The callback comes in the same amount of time they would have waited on hold, without losing their place in line.

With virtual queuing, callers still have to wait for a response, but the experience is completely different than holding online. Sitting with a phone next to your ear, listening to music or advertisements, can seem like an hour, but when the caller is able to hang up and get back to their own business while waiting for the agent to call them back, it’s almost as if time has been added back into their lives.

For example, one Virtual Hold client in the U.S. insurance industry witnessed great improvements after implementing the virtual queuing technology. During unexpected peaks in call volume, Virtual Hold was able to save this client’s customers more than 21.5 million minutes of hold time–the equivalent of putting 41.1 years of time back into their customers’ lives.

Also, during predicted peaks, the insurance call centre reduced 25% of reported customer hang-ups to 14% of customer abandoned calls–an important benefit of virtual queuing technology, considering abandoned calls represent lost sales opportunities and increased operational expense due to repeat callers.

By eliminating hold time, the Virtual Hold solution provides a positive experience for its insurance customers, and demonstrates a measurable return on investment based on toll minutes saved and a reduction in repeat calls caused by high “abandons,” as well as increased labour efficiency. Most Virtual Hold clients see a return on investment in less than 12 months.

It’s About Time
There is no ideal staffing level in a call centre due to changes in call volume and customer demand, so companies are turning to the latest technologies to take their customers off hold. With virtual queuing technology, a company can offer its customers a more predictable experience. This increases customer satisfaction, but improves operational efficiency and agent morale.

Eric Camulli is vice president of Virtual Hold Technology (VHT), the leading developer of virtual queuing solutions for Fortune 1000 clients. To learn more visit

© Copyright 2010 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the June 2010 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.