While recording the “serious” Asterisk prompts for Digium one day a couple of years ago, I got creative and threw in a “joke” prompt which had been brewing in my mind for awhile: what would happen if — while patiently waiting to talk to someone in a company — they truly *did* forget that you were on hold? We’ve all had thoughts that the staff have hung up their headsets and moved en masse to the coffee room for a smart two-hour break to discuss the series finale of “Lost”, while you — represented by a lone red light blinking balefully on a console — are clinging to hope that they really *are* almost finished untangling another customer’s issue and they’re *this close* to pressing your line and asking if they can help you…instead of disappearing to Starbucks or worse…..signing off for the day and heading home with dozens of other similarly discouraged lights still blinking on their consoles.
Here’s the file of “You Are *Not* The Next Caller In Line…”:
It was an immediate cult favorite in the Asterisk community, and circulated wildly. The idea that a normal-sounding telephone voice eventually cracks under the pressure of endlessly having to reassure callers with empty rhetoric, and does a complete psychological loop-de-loop; confessing that no, actually, they will *not* be helped by the next available caller (“In fact”, I rant in the recording, “the next human voice you hear will probably be the cleaning lady! At 11:30 a night! Picking up the reciever and saying: ‘Hhhallo?””) It’s a fleeting thought which has likely hit all of us as we are silently calculating the likelihood of our call actually getting answered; estimating whether or not we’re bigger fools by sticking it out on hold (“But I already have 12.34 minutes invested in this call!”) or if you should cut your losses at 12.34 minutes, hang up, and go live your life.
Obviously, you want to be able to keep people interested in your company and make sure that even those who are *waiting* to interact with your company are made as comfortable as possible and a “engaged” as they can be — especially in those first formative minutes of limbo before they actually interface with your agent. On Hold is really just a “waiting room” — so what aspects of an actual waiting room contributes to the onerous nature of waiting?
Time. Being kept waiting for an extended period of time. It’s crucial to ensure that your cutomer’s time on hold really is kept to a minimum. When I’m asked to read three lengthy pages of on-hold segments for one system, my question (unspoken) is usually: “How LONG are they expecting to keep these poor people waiting?” Sure, nobody wants to listen to the same three on-hold paragraphs looping over and over again — but a system which extends into fifteen minutes? Time to re-assess your number of call center staff. Back to the waiting room analogy: I don’t think I’ve ever read an entire paragraph in a magazine in my dentist’s office or could tell you what the wall color of their waiting room is — so prompt is their service. (My doctor? I pack a lunch and bring a couple of books. FYI: their wall color is Sherwin Williams #2933, “Cafe au Lait”.) Imagine that your client’s time on hold was so brief, they don’t even remember it. What would that be like?
Another waiting room pitfall you don’t want to duplicate in your on-hold queue? Boredom. Don’t be that dog-eared issue of People Magazine “Spoiler Alert” edition from 1987, threatening to give away the season ender of “Night Court”. Use your (already refreshingly brief) on-hold program to give callers succinct, current, and fascinating informational snippets about your company and why they’re incredibly smart to have called in the first place.
Imagine if — while waiting to see your doctor — the nurse made a grand entrance into the waiting room at perfectly-timed intervals and said something like: “We appreciate everyone for waiting. Your time is valuable. We’re busy giving another patient the same legendary service we look forward to giving to you…..when the next available doctor is ready to see you in just a few moments.” The first time, you might think: “Oh. OK. Nice.” Every five minutes? It might get on your nerves. I always tell clients who ask my opinion on their on-hold system: rather than using up even more time explaining how valuable our time is…..get us to a live agent faster. That’s all.
Brevity, keeping the information pertinent and interesting, and not wearing people out with apologies/platitudes/promises to serve them better as soon as you can — serve them better now. Just like time in the hairdresser’s chair or in an elevator — when you’re on hold, you’re in a liminal state. Waiting to live. Treat your customers in this suspended state as well as you can, and you’ll have designed your on-hold system well.
(PS: Another aspect which should be avoided in on-hold systems as well as waiting rooms is the antiseptic-yet-haunting musical stylings of one Kenny G. I’m just saying.)
Next blog: I’ll delve into the “Myth of Competition” — yes, voice-over can be akin to acting in its competitiveness……but believe me when I say this: there’s enough out there for everyone.