By Shai Berger

Today’s consumers have very high expectations when it comes to customer service in general and contact centres in particular. Providing superior service is critical, especially since “60% of consumers say they’ll drop a brand (even one they love) after just a few sub-par experiences.”1

A surefire way to fall out of favour with a customer is to leave them on hold for more than a few minutes. The solution to hold time is to offer a call-back as an alternative. The more formal name is virtual queuing, because what’s happening behind the scenes is that each caller’s place in line is held virtually so they are free to enjoy their day while waiting. Although the concept of replacing hold-times with call-backs has been around for decades, two major changes have sparked renewed interest in recent years.

Lowering tolerance

The first change is that consumers have a lower tolerance for waiting on hold, and are vocal about this on social media channels. The web site, which shows a live feed of hold-time complaints via Twitter, provides a dramatic—and sometimes entertaining—look at the anger caused by this problem.

Surveys confirm this trend as well. A recent survey of 1,000 U.S. adults showed that putting put callers on hold is ranked first or second as the top irritant across all age groups2. The survey also found that 10 minutes is the maximum amount of time callers are willing to wait on hold, whether making a customer service inquiry or a complaint.

New technology

The second change stems from the contact centre industry itself. Adding call-backs used to require equipment-based solutions that (a) required considerable effort to deploy and (b) came with hefty price tags. So, while large-scale companies like Air Canada, Rogers and WestJet have had call-back options available for years, smaller operations were priced out of this market.

Advances in cloud-based technology and new usage-based pricing models mean that contact centres of any size can now add call-back functionality. This trend was confirmed by the recent Contact Center Decision-Maker’s Guide from ContactBabel. After surveying 222 contact centre managers, it reported that 40% of contact centres now offer call-backs, up from 37% in 2017 and 22% in 20123. This is a positive trend. That same report listed the top reasons that people dislike the waiting-on-hold process:

  • “Not knowing how much longer you’ll have to wait”;
  • “Repetitive announcements”;
  • “Having to restate account information already given”; and
  • “Can’t do anything else in the meantime.”

There’s some interesting psychology behind that top reason. According to David Maister’s The Psychology of Waiting Lines, unexplained waits are perceived to be longer than explained waits. This is also known colloquially as “Dentist Chair Time” (Sorry, dentists!)

Dealing with call spikes

Call-backs can also be offered on a scheduled basis, where callers can choose future time slots. This option has a very “high-touch” feel from the callers’ perspectives, but its real power comes from allowing contact centre managers to handle spikes in call volume more effectively.

Having “spikey” demand is one of the most difficult challenges for contact centre managers. If they staff to the peak volume, they will have a lot of excess agent capacity at other times. Agent labour is the costliest component of contact centre operations, accounting for up to 75% of the total4, so overstaffing is not an appealing option.

Call-backs also help smooth out spikes in call volume by deferring calls (in a customer-friendly manner) until a time when there is excess agent capacity. In a sense, call-backs let the contact centre do a better job matching the demand for agent time with the supply of agent time. This results in more efficient use of resources.

Time to add call-backs is now

If your company operates a contact centre and does not yet offer call-backs, you are falling behind your industry peers. But even without that pressure, call-backs should be at the top of your technology wish list because they are truly a win-win proposition: callers have more pleasant experiences and the contact centre becomes more efficient.

Keeping the pressure up

As a consumer, you can help keep the industry moving in the right direction by mentioning the call-back alternative to companies you do business with. And when you’re stuck on hold, consider Tweeting about the experience (try to include the company’s Twitter handle and the hashtag #onholdwith so it will be indexed by A little venting might make you feel better, and—you never know—it might be the final nudge that convinces a company to add call-backs.

Shai Berger is co-founder and CEO, Fonolo ( Shai is responsible for setting the company’s strategic direction, product innovation and driving growth. His experience and accomplishments within the customer service and contact centre industries have positioned him as a thought leader and innovator in the space.

1 David Clarke and Ron Kinghorn, “Future of Customer Experience Survey 2017/18”, PwC, survey.

2 “Genesys study shows people unite across age groups in their shared dislikes; everyone hates being put on hold and getting incorrect information”,, December 14, 2018.

3 ContactBabel, “The US Contact Center Decision-Makers’ Guide 2018-19”, report.

4 “Contact Center Decision-Maker’s Guide 2018-2019”, Ibid.

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