“Your call is important to us”. That announcement when we are sitting on hold to a contact centre is almost guaranteed to make our blood boil.
Worse still, you might call back at a “quieter” time and get exactly the same message. At that point you start to wonder whether the organisation in question is on top of everything from a customer experience point of view.
This is an attitude that many customers share, as our latest edition of our global ‘autonomous customer’ research, in partnership with Cisco, illustrates. We asked over 4,000 consumers across eight countries about their digital customer service experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly. Queuing was most definitely in the ugly camp.
Record numbers are queueing for service, so this issue matters
The phone is still the most popular channel for customer contact – in fact the number of consumers calling the contact centre in 2023 has risen to 77%, up from 65% in 2020. However, only 32% say they’re satisfied with their experience. Having to queue is definitely a factor triggering this low satisfaction, with 78% saying that it often takes too long to get through to speak to a person.
Some may decide that another channel will get them through quicker and will sit on chat, whilst also on hold on the phone. This can also be problematic because there are assumptions that digital channels are going to be quicker and accessible whenever we want them. Unfortunately, we then often discover that queueing has gone digital.
Messages saying ‘we are busy’ don’t cut it with customers on any channel. But it’s easier to manage demand and design a better queuing experience than rapidly increase contact centre capacity.
If my call really was important to you, you’d answer it
Time is as much a currency as money – and we tend to value organisations that value it. The issue is that messages saying ‘we are busy’ don’t cut it with customers, and they often don’t believe them.
The most common announcements seem to be the most distrusted:
- 80% have heard ‘we are experiencing a particularly high volume of calls at the moment, please hold’ - but 42% thought it was untrue.
- 76% have heard ‘your call is important to us, and we will answer it soon' - but 44% thought it was untrue.
- 69% have heard ‘your query or question may be answered by visiting our website or app' - but 41% thought it was untrue.
From the customer’s point of view, the fact they’re having to queue is the organisation’s fault. Some will feel it’s mismanagement and a failure to employ enough agents. Others will take it more personally and see it as a sign that the organisation doesn’t value their contact.
How do you help callers decide whether queueing is worth it?
Ideally, customers wouldn’t have to queue at all, but triage technologies such as self-service and chatbots can’t always get them to their goal. Giving customers more control of their queuing experience can help. Consumers think an in-queue notification of the likely wait time would empower them to decide whether to continue holding or call back later. 69% want updates on the wait time and 68% want to know what number they are in the queue.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a completely magic answer. Telling someone they’re 15th in the queue can mean they’ll be served in under a minute – or that they’ll be waiting for half an hour, depending on the number of agents working and the average call length. And if the organisation doesn’t then meet the estimated wait time, they risk increasing dissatisfaction even further.
Being offered a call-back option was popular with 64% of our sample. However, the logistics of making this work reliably may not be right for every organisation.
Providing accurate wait time data with the customer across all channels, perhaps on the website or app, could allow them to make an informed decision about when and how to get in touch. But what about those who go ahead and queue?
Bending perceptions of time like a theme park
Time perception in a queue doesn’t always bear much resemblance to actual linear time. This wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey effect can be influenced by a number of factors such as emotional state, and what other tasks you happen to be doing at the time. If you are in a stressed state – which often happens with the phone channel as it tends to handle customers who are in crisis mode – time can seem to pass more slowly than the clock hand will testify to.
Design can make perceptions of time in a queue more malleable. Think of how theme parks make the long queues for rides a destination in themselves, with in-queue entertainment and clever physical design that make queues look less daunting.
Some organisations follow this type of thinking and use hold time to distract, inform and, potentially, entertain; 36% would welcome being able to choose what music they listen to while on hold. One energy company has taken this idea even further, using the verified caller’s date of birth to work out and play the music that was popular when they were a teenager, aiming to create feelings of nostalgia to offset annoyance.
Others use in-queue announcements to update customers with relevant and personalised information as an alternative distraction - 43% of consumers say that they would welcome this.
Improving the in-queue experience
Our research showed that, in many cases, organisations already have the right technologies to deliver a great digital experience, but problems arise because of how that technology has been applied. In-queue announcement technology could be effective if organisations can get the messages right. But, for maximum effect, this needs to be done in a wider context of making the most of technology to ease the demand on the contact centre.
Download our new Autonomous Customer 2023 whitepaper for insight into how consumers are thinking today, and how organisations can make digital dealings easier.