On Hold? More To Do Than Eye-Rolling, Toe-Tapping

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Some Survey Results

What People Did While On Hold

36% went to the bathroom

26% made a meal

25% watched a full TV show episode

17% completely cleaned a room

16% played two or more games of solitaire

14% read an entire magazine or newspaper

We've all probably spent time on hold while waiting for customer service. Some of us just sit there and get stressed out. But others actually do something productive while they wait.

"Clearly, time is precious, and people have learned to multitask," says Steve Herlocher, senior vice president for Jacada, an Atlanta-based customer service software company. His company commissioned a survey of 1,000 consumers to find out what they do when they're stuck on hold.

"Some people will go and make a meal while they're waiting to get their question answered," Herlocher says. "Others will go and watch an entire TV show while they're waiting. So, clearly, people will go off and take care of their lives and move on with things."

And they're willing to wait, even though some answers may be available online. A lot of companies try to deflect people from call centers to the Internet when they need help, but Herlocher says customers don't respond well to that.

"Two-thirds of the people we talked to listed themselves as frustrated or annoyed because they were pushed to a Web site and they didn't get an answer that was sufficient," he says.

"If it's a simple question, then sometimes it's easier to answer it [online]," he says. "But as soon as there's a relationship or a complex product involved, people absolutely want to talk to a live person."

According to the survey, the number of people who say they need to call customer service is on the rise. Herlocher thinks the economy is the reason — in fact, "that's really two reasons."

"People's expectations are getting much higher," he says. "If I'm going to spend a dollar with a company, and I have fewer dollars to spend, I'm going to expect more." So customers call more often.

But companies also have fewer dollars to spend, so even as they push people to self-service sites, they're making people wait on hold longer. That's causing customer frustration to increase, but, the survey points out, people are finding ways to pass the time.

As for Herlocher, he's found his own way to be productive while on hold: He puts the line on speakerphone and holds meetings in his office.

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