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Why Is The Experience Of Waiting On Hold Always Exactly The Same?

frustrated woman on hold

Most customers waiting on hold can recite them by memory: the repeating recorded messages on almost every phone system of every company. Sometimes it even seems like it’s the same voice.

Perhaps you’ve heard one or more of these recently:

  • “All agents are busy helping other customers”
  • “Your call is very important to us”
  • “Calls will be answered in the order they were received”
  • “Calls may be recorded or monitored for training purposes”
  • “Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed”
  • “Your feedback is important to us. Please remain on the line for a brief survey…”

Waiting on hold is one of the most common customer pain points, as it has been for years. And due to short staffing across many industries, hold times seem to be on the rise. So why don’t companies give any thought to making the wait-on-hold experience more tolerable?

Communication Creates Experiences

Every time a company communicates with a customer, there is an opportunity for an experience. That’s why I snap so many pictures of great signs at restaurants, hotels and retail locations to use in keynote presentations. It’s also why welcome letters, email and text alerts, website home pages, invoices, legal disclaimers, customer service agent scripts, social media posts, and many others are so important to enhancing an otherwise stagnant customer experience.

But for some reason, companies aren’t innovating around waiting on hold. Instead, customers hear the exact same language at almost every company they call.

Has any customer in the history of customer service really felt like their call was important to the company they were calling as they are sitting on hold? If it really was that important, wouldn’t the company be answering?

And how is it that every single company in the world has changed their menu options recently?

What’s worse is that these messages get repeated over and over, just in case the customer missed them the first dozen times.

Better Examples

It doesn’t have to be this way.

When Charles Schwab customers are placed on hold, they hear a stock market news report that’s actually interesting and useful. It’s also obviously relevant to Schwab’s business. It helps pass the time with valuable information instead of incessantly repeating useless messages.

UberConference, a conference all system, decided it wanted to do something different and create a unique experience while people waited for conference calls to begin.

A song called “I’m On Hold” plays while a guy strums on his guitar and sings lyrics about waiting on hold for a conference call to start. (You can hear the entire song on YouTube. It is definitely worth a listen.)

UberConference took an ordinary, unremarkable experience—waiting on hold—and made it Extraordinary, which is one of the 5 steps to creating remarkable experiences that I share in my new book, The Experience Maker: How To Create Remarkable Experiences That Your Customers Can’t Wait To Share. The improvement is so powerful that I found myself hoping the other party would wait to join the conference call until the song was over!

man slumped on desk with phone on his head

How to Improve The On-Hold Experience

So what can you do? Call your own customer service number and listen to the recorded messages. Then, if you too are using the exact same language identified above, make the decision to change it immediately. (Related: Call Listening)

Pretty much anything would be better than the same language customers hear everywhere else, but here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Acknowledge that you know waiting on hold sucks. Actually use the word “sucks.” Then apologize for the wait and let the customer know you are really trying hard to get to their call.
  2. Share some relevant information that is applicable to your business but doesn’t try to sell anything, like Charles Schwab does.
  3. Consider playing music that people actually might enjoy listening to. Better yet, offer them several “channels” so they can select their own type of music.
  4. Have some fun, tell some (clean) jokes, entertain the customer in some way so they don’t feel the minutes ticking away.

And please, since it’s the 21st century and all, stop doing the following things immediately:

  1. Don’t insult the customer with throw-away lines like “your call is really important to us” when they know it’s not true.
  2. Do not repeat a message more than once or twice unless you are telling them about money you’ll be awarding them.
  3. Do not ask them to use another service channel. Chances are, they’ve already tried.

Call-back options and self-service capabilities are good alternatives to waiting on hold, but if you’re telling a customer you’ll call back in several hours or they get stuck in the middle of the self-service options, expect them to be just as frustrated with the experience.

Do you have other good examples of waiting on hold experiences? Share them with me by emailing me at or tagging me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook!

Images by Canva.