December 12, 2012

While attempting to sort out a hotel reservation over the phone, I recently spent a fair amount of time on hold, that special brand of waiting room.  As the first robot operator I “spoke to” funneled me into a new holding pattern, somewhere amidst the din of soft rock that began playing I realized many companies could probably benefit from a little language strategy in this department.


Even if your lines are swamped and your customer is destined to wait upwards of 10 minutes to speak to a “live representative,” I think there are a few language dos and don’ts that can make the difference between a customer who’s annoyed, but patient and one who hangs up in a huff before dialing your competitor.


When I first call…


Don’t tell me my call is important to you.  If it were that important, I wouldn’t be waiting on hold.  It’s that simple.


Do tell me you’re working to put me in touch with someone who can help as quickly as possible—and bonus points if you can give me an estimate of how long that will take.


When I’m on hold…


Don’t keep me captive on your line listening to ads for how great your company is.  Loud music is one thing, but pushy promotions can make you sound like a hypocrite in this context.  If you were that great, I probably wouldn’t be calling you in the first place.


Do give me the option to hold my place in line, hang up and receive a call from you when a representative is available.  At least then I feel like I have a choice in the matter as my neck muscles begin to fatigue.


When someone finally does pick up…


Don’t make me repeat my story over and over again to each person I meet.  If you have to switch me from department to department, I want to feel like we’re making progress, not like I keep starting from scratch.


Do acknowledge the time I’ve spent waiting in a human, personal tone, like “Hey Ms. Cronen, I really appreciate you waiting so long – and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get to you sooner.”  It will diffuse any pent-up frustration I have and help us both focus on why I actually called in the first place.

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