Am I the only one? I think not. It seems the greeting of “higher than normal call volumes” is the perfunctory standard greeting these days when you call a customer service department. Is it really “higher than normal” if that’s the only response customers ever hear?
Even when customers knew that the pandemic was wreaking havoc on business operations, their expectations for service response times remained high. When a customer receives this recorded message, they hear: “We do not care that you have to wait; we’re not going to adequately staff our call center.”
How Long Is Too Long to Wait?
In 2019, The State of Conversation Marketing Report demonstrated consumers’ high expectations via the various communication channels.
- Over 75% expected a wait of fewer than five minutes if they were connecting via telephone, chatbot, or online chat.
- 35-40% of respondents expected an immediate response via those same channels – telephone, chatbot, or online chat.
- Connections via a smartphone app or social media were given a bit more grace. 60-75% of the respondents expected a response in less than an hour, and only 30-45% expected a response within five minutes.
- About half of those using email or webforms to communicate were willing to wait anywhere from four to 24 hours for a response.
The new year has started with heightened frustration levels in almost every area of life – employment, education, travel, healthcare, safety, politics. Living with these daily stressors shortens rather than lengthens the patience of consumers. They expect an even faster response time, now; in 2020, the same report showed frustration with slow response to social media and email channels had increased 5.7 times over 2019.
What Happens When People Have to Wait for a Response
We learned a lot about customer behavior during the initial weeks and months of the pandemic. With scores of people laid off from work, calls to unemployment agencies increased by 90%. Credit card companies, insurance companies, and banks experienced similar increases in customer service calls as laid-off workers sought to learn about their financial options for maintaining stability during the crisis.
Getting someone to answer your phone call became a full-time job for many. They waited on hold for hours or were continually making calls for days trying to just get into the holding queue. They also looked for other communication channels to use – email, website contact forms, chatbots, social media, fax, and snail-mail.
Of course, the added influx of inquiries coming from all different channels made the situation worse for the overburdened customer service representatives. These representatives, who routinely get to experience consumers’ verbal and written frustration, were exposed to a level of stress far beyond what they had experienced previously.
At this point, consumers begin thinking about finding a different provider for the product or service. These days, thoughts turn to action almost immediately. They start asking friends for recommendations. They begin typing into the search bar or ask Siri or Alexa for other options. This is NOT what you want your customers to do while waiting for your delayed response.
Get Rid of the Bottle Neck
If you’ve ever been in a freeway traffic jam, you understand what causes the problem – too many vehicles with too few lanes to handle them. The solution is to open up more lanes. The same is true in customer support communication. You need to have as many support channels as possible, AND you need a wider range of people available to respond to those inquiries. Those people should also be those closest to the problem presented, so the resolution is both swift and effective.