It’s a fact, no matter who you are or how customer orientated your company may be, inevitably you will have to place a caller on hold. What that caller does on hold is subject to much debate. The fact that callers are put on hold is even sometimes the subject of the debate. Does putting callers on hold affect your bottom line, your image or customer loyalty? Does putting a caller on hold really cost your business and cost America as a nation?

This will be a 10,000 foot view of the topic using hard facts and US Census numbers to help us get a handle on the real picture. Without receiving a computer print-out of statistics from every phone system in the nation we will have to estimate in certain areas. That being said, as you will see at every point in which a hard number is not statistically available we will estate down to the lowest common denominator. We hope that this will give a clear view of the best-case scenario.

Before we jump straight into our findings lets look at some of the studies that are being circulated about telephone hold time currently.

An AT&T study that is used in the on hold industry quite often shows that more than 70% of callers are placed on hold for an average of 45 to 60 seconds and 60% will hang up when put on hold and 30% will not call back.

A North American Telecommunications Association Study went as far as to say that callers with silence on hold will abandon their call in less than a minute.

A CNN study showed that the average person spends 60 hours a year on hold.

What went behind these studies and how they were formulated is often hard to figure out, so the goal of this study is to be as forth coming and straight forward as possible and give real food for thought.

Let’s start at the beginning. The US 2008 Census shows we have 304,059,724 people in the United States. These people own a total of 13,623,287 businesses. This is the total firms and establishments for the 2006 US census ( The most current available data ). Being a nation who’s economy is driven on small business, a large part of the total businesses in our first number are businesses with 0 to 4 employees. I personally feel these companies represent a significant part of our total on hold number we want to look at, but for arguments sake we are willing to completely remove them from our study on the basis that many small business do not have phones with a ready-to-use music on hold hold input.

So again turning to the 2006 Census, it shows a total of 7,347,181 firms and establishments with fewer than 5 employees. With a little simple math we subtract small businesses 7,347,181 from all businesses 13,623,287 and we get 6,276,106 businesses that we will be using for our study. This is a more than fair number to work with and in all honesty common sense would say it is much to low, but for the believability factor of the study we will work with it.

Now the calls. The average number of calls per day has also been paired down aggressively for the believability factor. We will say the average business gets only 30 calls per day. That is a mere 4 calls an hour. We have weeded out the small businesses so the bulk of the business we are looking at has 15 or more employees. In essence, we are saying that 2 calls per employee per day for smaller businesses is a reasonable estimate. This number does not even take into account the vast number of businesses with 30, 50, 100 or more employees.

30 calls a day times 261 days a year (Yes 261 days. We are taking weekends out they were going to be included but again for the overall integrity we will not count them.) Now 261 days of 30 callers per day brings us to 7,830 calls per year for just one company in the United States. How many of the 7,830 calls per year do we put on hold? Most studies show that with receptionists, call routing and other popular features on phones systems, an average of two thirds of all calls are put on hold. Again pairing the numbers down we will say 50% of callers will be put on hold. Remember the AT&T study showed 70% of all callers are put on hold.

Now we have 3,915 calls put on hold per year per business. How many of these calls will drop off and not call back? On the more radical side of things, some will try to tell you 90% of callers left on hold in silence will hang up and 30% of them will not call back. Others feel they are so important that nobody would ever dare to hang up on them. Again trying to stay moderate and undeniably believable, we will say a very small amount of callers on hold will hang up and not call back. We will use 5% of all callers put on hold will hang up and not call back. 5% of the 3,915 calls per year would be 195 dropped calls per year, per business.

We have our dropped calls but now we have to put some type of value to these calls. Some calls could have represented life long customers that would be worth tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime other calls could represent a $20 or $30 dollar one time sale. All the dropped calls represent a percentage of the advertising and marketing dollars spent just to make the phone ring. Advertising these days is getting more and more expensive with some of the more popular and less expensive options including direct mail and e-mail blasts. Others will come in on the very low end at $1.00 per impression. With a 3% return on those impressions it is costing about $33.00 per call back. Depending on your industry, google adwords alone can eat up that type of money as well.

Following our on going theme of paring down the numbers to a ridiculously low estimate, we will value the average lost call at only $20.00. That is most likely less than the advertising expense involved in making the phone ring, not even taking into consideration the value of the business lost from the dropped call.

Here is where we really start to get moving. 195 calls worth $20.00 each represents $3,900 per business, per year of revenue lost on hold.

Now hold on to your seat. Remember back in the beginning of this where we were looking at the number of businesses in the United States that were large enough to support a phone system? That number was 6,276,106. If each one of these business is losing $3,900 dollars a year, then nationally, we are losing $24,476,813,400 dollars a year (that’s a little more than 24.4 billion dollars).

That number is a ridiculously low estimate just to drive home the massive amount of money lost on hold lines across the country. Whether you look at the $3,900 coming out of your pocket or the billions lost nationally, it is certainly eye opening.

If you did a little simple math on your end, you most likely would come up with a more realistic number for your individual business and I am certain whatever it is it will dwarf the numbers we are tossing around.

This report is simply a tool to help business owners begin to change the mindset that message On Hold?is not worth the time it takes to think about it. As you can see, something as small as what plays on the hold line of your business, really does matter!

If you are saying, trust me I have bigger fish to fry than tracking down $3,900.00 ?then trust me your number is most likely a heck of a lot bigger than $3,900.00.

How can we start to harness the power of our on hold lines? How can we limit the losses we may incur by putting callers on hold? First we need to recognize the need to be aware of the experience we create for our clients and prospects over the phone. How do we answer our line? How are people routed and what do they hear while they wait on hold? Does what they hear make the perceived wait time seem shorter? Does it put the caller in a better frame of mind making them easier to work with? Does it build confidence in your company or brand and does it bring a prospect closer to a sale?

If these simple principles are adhered to then we can take a documented loss center of our businesses and turn them into a profit center. Customers are getting harder to come across. No matter what industry you are in, utilizing every opportunity to retain existing customers and prospects can not be ignored.

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