One of the oldest complaints about customer service is having to wait on hold to talk to a person. It's still a problem from time to time in many companies, and we published some research on hold times as part of the mid-2013 NCSS Banking report (see page 3 of the PDF report).
We had a recent opportunity with a client to explore how well customers estimate their wait on hold. Anecdotally, we all know the customer who said he waited ten minutes but only actually spend 30 seconds in queue. For this client, they were able to supply us the actual time in queue for each customer who completed a survey, which we compared to the customer's estimate of the wait for an agent.
The results were interesting and surprising. It turns out that an individual customer's estimate of the time spent waiting bears almost no relationship to the actual queue time for that customer. There were plenty of instances of dramatic over- and under-estimates of the wait time. I'm talking about people who claimed they had to wait ten minutes but actually spent less than a minute in queue--or, conversely, people who said it was under a minute when it was actually several.
However, on average, customers' estimates of the wait time were astonishingly accurate. For example, taking all the people who said their wait time was "about two minutes", and averaging their actual queue time, it was surprisingly close to 120 seconds.
We also found that both actual and perceived wait time correlated to IVR and call satisfaction, but the perceived wait time was a stronger relationship. I suspect this may have to do with the customer's emotional state: the more annoyed he is with the call, the less satisfied, and the longer he thinks he had to wait to speak to someone.
Finally, there's a significant minority of customers (I'm guessing around 20%) who apparently are including the time spent navigating the IVR in their estimates of the wait to speak to someone. So even if the actual queue time was short, a long and complicated IVR makes some people feel like they're waiting for an agent.
So the lessons we learned are:
- Queue time still matters in customer service. It feels a little old-school in this age of social media and natural language IVR, but make sure you're answering the phones promptly.
- The actual queue time and what the customer thought the queue time was are two different things. You're probably measuring the former but not the latter, but it's the customer's perception which counts.
- Making customers go through extra steps to reach a person makes them think it took longer to reach someone, and makes customers less satisfied with the service.