ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


What Do Customers Really Think About Long Wait Times?

An IndustryVoices post. sad

This article was updated on 6/22/2022. 

How do our customers really feel about wait time in a phone queue? Do they really think that you mean it when you say "your call is important to us"? How do customer expectations align with reality? According to research, they do not align very well. And this matters greatly to our businesses.

Customer experience is on pace to exceed price and product as the number one differentiator for companies, according to a new Gartner Study. This will be the battlefield on which we strengthen or weaken our competitive advantage. For business leaders today, it is important to understand what customers think a long wait time is and how those wait times impact the bottom line.

What Research Tells Us

In the Customer Service Frustration Series, Arise shared the results of their 2017 Study on customer expectations regarding call wait times.

To validate the findings, they compiled data from several prominent studies completed over the past 3 years to demonstrate how poor customer service is perceived by customers and how it impacts their buying decisions. These studies tell the same story again and again. What we are doing -- or not doing -- to improve customer experience in our customer contact centers matters. When compared to studies completed even fewer than 3 years ago, the data shows a steady trend toward a demand for "instant" customer service.

A 2014 American Express survey found that the maximum amount of time customers are willing to wait is 13 minutes.

A 2015 Consumer Reports study found:

  • 57% of people had been so frustrated with phone customer service that they hung up the phone without a resolution.
  • About 50% of people had stopped mid-purchase when they encountered bad customer service.
  • 75% of people said they were "highly annoyed" when they couldn't get someone on the phone in a reasonable amount of time.

The 2017 Arise Study further demonstrated the movement of expectations toward Instant Customer Service. Compared to American Express' finding 3 years ago that customers were willing to wait for 13 minutes, Arise found that:

Almost two-thirds said they would wait two minutes or less and 13% said that "no wait time is acceptable."

This study by Arise further broke down responses by age and gender to give us a closer look at how various demographics view wait time.

For example, while the study broke the results down by gender, there was no notable distinction between men and women. Both agree at a rate of 29% that waiting more than two minutes is too long. And 14-15% won't even call for customer service because they think it will take too long for a representative to answer.

Interestingly, although some may assume that the Millennial generation would be the least patient, the study showed that those with the Generation X and Baby Boomer generation designation, became progressively less willing to wait two minutes. A whopping 74% of those 65 and over would not wait even two minutes.

How These Numbers Impact Our Bottom Line

According to the American Express Survey, the impacts are far reaching. Here are few things long wait times affect:

  • Ability to Upsell: Nearly 75% of people say they spend more with a company who has a history of providing positive customer service.
  • Customer Retention: Existing customers say the second most important factor that makes them feel that they received great service is the ease with which they are able to work with a company online and on the phone. They say they expect customer care representatives to be knowledgeable and answer their questions. And based upon Arise's findings, they don't want to wait. If we don't meet their expectations they leave.
  • New Leads/Customers: 51% of those surveyed said that excellent customer service is a factor they consider before choosing to buy from a new company. With the prevalence of social media sharing and review sites, it's easy for customers today to see which of our businesses are exceeding and which are falling short.
  • Detractors: Customers are more likely to share a bad experience than a good one, so every call matters. These individuals strongly impact the ability to get new customers.
  • Lost Sales: 60% of customers say they "changed their mind" about buying something when their attempt to purchase resulted in a poor customer experience.

What Wait Time Really Looks Like to Our Customers (a story)

Kayla is shopping for health insurance. She has chosen a company that appears to have good reviews online and has her primary care doctor in the network. She has done all of her research and is ready to sign up, but she has one more question.

She takes a regular prescription for a chronic condition. She needs to know if it is covered. She did her due diligence, researching on the company's web site where she found a formulary (list of covered drugs). But to her dismay, the drug she needs is not covered. Instead, a similar drug that she has tried before (and did not work for her) is on the list. She wants to know if her doctor can request an exception because the preferred drug is not effective for her condition. It should be a very easy question to answer, so she calls.

She expects to wait a few minutes or more. She knows they are busy. Someone should answer within 5 minutes. As 5 minutes rolls around she suspects they will answer soon. She continues to wait, listening to their message repeated over and over, telling her how important her call is to them. They break up the message with other messages that don't apply to her.

As 15 minutes pass, she continues to wait. She is trying to be patient and understanding, but she is starting to worry that her drug will not be covered and that in addition to the $600 she will be paying for a monthly premium, she will need to pay the $200 or more each month to maintain her quality of life. After waiting 95 minutes, she hangs up. This may not be the last time she needs help from her insurance company and she wants coverage with someone who cares about her as a human being and not just as a number on their rolls. This company obviously does not care.

At any given moment, people throughout the U.S. are going through similar situations. They have a simple question. But they can get no answers because of unreasonable wait times. And today, even 2 minutes is too long.

We Cannot Afford to Ignore Customer Contact Center Performance

Representatives must be well trained and committed to providing exceptional care. We must assure that our contact centers have the human and technological resources they need to do an outstanding job. We must realize that being average in the customer contact world does not lead to business success. In line with the shift of customer expectations toward instant assistance, our customer contact centers should move toward answering calls in real time.

Missed opportunities are often difficult for us to measure as leaders, but in the case of call wait times, the above studies clearly indicate that this significantly impacts our bottom line and customers of the future will see no wait time as acceptable from the companies to whom they choose to give their hard-earned money, loyalty and great reviews.

Topics: Customer Experience, Best Practices, Customer Journey Mapping