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From The Global Report: The 7 Fast Evolving Factors Affecting Customer Tolerance

Given the rapid evolution of customer expectations, it’s essential to better understand the individual factors that drive customer perceptions and behavior—and shape services accordingly.

There are seven factors that affect your customers’ tolerance. They influence everything from how long customers will wait in queue, how many will abandon, the channels they will use (phone, chat, social, mobile app, et al.), and how they feel about the overall experience (vis-à-vis the expectations they had). They include:

  1. Degree of Motivation. How important is the interaction? What are the consequences of not getting through? How badly does the customer need or want the product or service (e.g., customers experiencing a power outage will usually wait longer to reach their utility than those with billing questions). Motivation is inherently higher today given the filter of other channels that customers use (often beginning with search) before they reach the contact center. By the time the contact arrives—they are eager to get help!
  2. Availability of Substitutes. Even though they are highly motivated to make the call, callers who encounter difficulties may abandon if they know of another way to satisfy their need. For example, if they encounter an extended wait by phone, they might use self-service alternatives, try a mobile app, switch to chat, send a targeted message to the company through a social channel, or throw their hands up and send a message to the world at large via social media (Twitter: “Have been waiting on hold for 20 minutes now to reach @XYZco”). Or, they might try any combination of simultaneous (parallel) contacts and see which generates a response first.
  3. Competition’s Service Level. If it's easier for customers to use competitive services or if they have a tough time reaching you, they may go elsewhere. (You'll need to consider whether competition is available in a practical sense. For example, if you are a bank and a customer has a problem with an online payment, a competitive bank is not going to be able to help in that case — although if the problem is difficult to get resolved, the customer may decide to switch banks.) It's also important to consider the availability of substitutes and that a contact center is often its own “competition” (see above). The result is transferred calls, inflated reports and longer handling times.
  4. Level of Expectations. The experiences customers have had with the contact center and the reputation that the organization or industry has for service (or the level of service being promoted) have a direct impact on tolerance. A 10-minute wait for tax help during filing season may be perceived as quite good — but a similar wait for a shipping company that otherwise has a reputation for speedy service would be an unpleasant surprise. The services that customers receive from any organization, including those in industries completely different from yours, have a bearing on their expectations.

    “Instant gratification takes too long.”
    —Carrie Fisher

  5. Time Available. How much time do customers have at the time of the contact? Smartphones have created an interesting phenomenon—many small windows of time your customers have to reach you, such as before boarding a flight or in between meetings, when long waits are unworkable and frustrating. This has been a fascinating issue to watch develop; as individuals, we increasingly value how well we perceive a company’s respect of our time, which is becoming central to our perceptions of service.
  6. Who’s Paying for the Interaction? Developments here are working in our favor (meaning, they are giving contact centers a bit more margin to queue customers, all things equal). I was recently working in Russia, from where I used a Skype-like service to call into several hour-long conference calls in the U.S. Total cost: less than $2. And within their respective domestic markets, most organizations offer toll-free service, and in the rare cases they don't, a large percentage of customers will likely have calling plans associated with mobile or fixed lines that are priced by blocks of time, not distance. (There is a rub: If a caller's mobile phone plan is based on blocks of minutes, they can get understandably upset if the time they purchased is wasted on hold.)
  7. Human Behavior. The weather, the customer's mood and the day's news all have some bearing on caller tolerance. But in general, our customers are growing less tolerant of queues.

These seven factors are not static. They are constantly changing. Even so, it is important to have a general understanding of the factors affecting your customers' tolerance. Important questions to consider include:

  • How motivated are your customers?
  • How much does that vary based on the reason for the contact?
  • What are their expectations?
  • Do they vary much based on the reason for the contact?
  • What type of customer is least motivated?
  • What type of customer is most motivated?
  • What alternatives to contacting you do they have?
  • Which alternatives would you want/not want them to use?
  • Will they already have spent time seeking help (e.g., self-service, search, customer community, mobile app, etc.)?
  • What level of service are others in the industry providing?
  • How do customers tend to rate your service at different service levels?
  • What impact does meeting/not meeting expectations have on your brand?
  • What is their tendency to share good or bad experiences through social channels?


Getting through easily and quickly is more important than ever, and the 7 factors help answer why. Thinking through your customers' situations and expectations will help you shape services that meet their needs and that support the organization's objectives and reputation.

Please drop me a note with your stories, comments, feedback...I'd love to hear from you.