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.


The Factors that Affect Your Customers’ Tolerance

chatMany contact centers have been struggling with low service levels and long wait times—fallout from the staffing challenges that have been so common. In recent articles, I covered the psychology of queues and the pros and cons of virtual queues. Here, we’ll look at a related piece of the puzzle—the key factors that impact customer tolerance.

There are seven factors that affect tolerance. They influence how long customers will wait to reach an agent, how many will abandon, whether they will try alternative channels, and how they feel about the overall experience (based on the expectations they had). They include:

1. Degree of Motivation

How important is the interaction to customers? What are the consequences to them of not getting through? How badly do they need the product or service? For example, customers experiencing a power outage will usually wait longer to reach their utility than those with billing questions.

2. Availability of Substitutes

Even though they are highly motivated to initiate a contact, customers who encounter difficulties may abandon if they know of another way to get help. Self-service, communities found online, or even physically going to a retail location are examples of substitutes. If customers are highly motivated and have no acceptable alternatives, they will generally wait a long time in queue. Even though they do not abandon, they still might be very unhappy about the experience.

3. Competition’s Service Level

If it’s easier for customers to use competitive services and 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—although if the problem
is difficult to get resolved, the customer may decide to take their future business elsewhere.) It’s also important to consider that a contact center is often its own competition—customers may choose incorrect routing selections in the IVR or simultaneously try other channels just to reach an agent ... any agent ... more quickly. This leads to transferred contacts, inaccurate reports, longer handling times, and other problems.

4. Level of Expectations

The experiences customers have had with the contact center and the reputation that the organization has for service have a direct impact on tolerance. A 10-minute wait for tax help during filing season may be perceived as good service—but a similar wait for a shipping company that has a reputation for speedy service would be an unpleasant surprise. And remember, the services that customers receive from any organization, including those in other industries, have a bearing on their expectations.

5. Time Available

How much time do customers have when they initiate a contact? Doctors who contact insurance providers have a well-deserved reputation for not tolerating even a modest wait, while retirees contacting the same companies may have more time or inclination to talk. Further, there are small windows of time your customers may have to reach you, such as before boarding a flight or between meetings, when long waits are unworkable and frustrating.

6. Who’s Paying for the Contact?

Customers are usually more tolerant when they are not paying to contact an organization. Most organizations offer toll-free service. In the rare cases they don’t, a large percentage of customers will likely have calling plans that provide nationwide calling. But there’s a rub: If a customer’s plan is based on blocks of minutes, they can get understandably upset if the time they purchased is wasted in queue.

7. Human Behavior

Yep, this is the catchall for everything else! The weather, the customer’s mood, and the day’s news all have some bearing on customer tolerance.

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

  • How do your customers’ expectations vary based on the reason for the contact?
  • What alternatives to contacting you do they have?
  • Will they already have spent time seeking help (e.g., search or self-service)?
  • How do customers tend to perceive and rate your service at different service levels?
  • What level of service best reflects your brand?

Thinking through your customers’ situations and expectations will help you shape services that meet their needs. This is not an exact science. But doing what you can to see things from their perspectives will help a ton as you manage resources.

Topics: Customer Journey Mapping, Customer Experience, Strategy