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Columbia Business Monthly

Top Customer Phone Gripes: Calls Not Answered, Complex Recorded Messages, Annoying ‘On Hold’ Music

Nov 01, 2022 03:57PM ● By David Dykes

Has this ever happened to you?

You call customer service with a question, to report an issue with a product, or to relay a concern about a possible hack on your account.

Then you’re put on hold – sometimes for several minutes, or much, much longer. 

And the music isn’t very soothing.   

A new survey shows that companies still aren’t answering their phones, messages aren’t being passed on, phone numbers aren’t being listed on websites, and annoying “on hold” music continues to drive people round the bend.

The survey, conducted among more than 1,053 consumers across the U.S. by global communications company Moneypenny, showed that the top gripe from consumers trying to call businesses was phone calls not being answered (45 percent), followed by complex call attendant messages (33 percent).  

Other phone annoyances revealed by the survey were:

Having to leave a voicemail.....................29 percent

Annoying hold music..............................28 percent

Being told to check the website...............28 percent

Feeling rushed and not listened to...........24 percent

Background call center noise...................18 percent

The degree of irritation experienced by the caller seems to increase with age, as the survey showed that calls not being answered is the most annoying factor for older people: More than 51 percent of those over 56 reported this, compared with 36 percent of those 16-24. Older people are also most irritated by annoying hold music – reported by 36 percent of those over 66, compared with 23 percent of those ages 41-56, and only 25 percent of those ages 16-24.

Another annoyance revealed by the survey is that 89 percent of those surveyed said they get frustrated when businesses don’t include a phone number on their website.

However, despite consumer irritation with company calling experience, the phone is still the preferred channel when it comes to the preferred method of communicating with a business, voted for by 41 percent of those surveyed.

While the phone remains the most popular communication method, the survey showed the number of calls to companies is declining, but the calls themselves are lasting longer. Almost 29 percent of those surveyed said they are making fewer calls to businesses than they did three years ago, yet 46 percent said their calls are lasting longer.

Umesh Sachdev, co-founder and CEO of Uniphore, a leader in conversational service automation, said in an online post written for the Forbes Technology Council that an analysis of more than 4 million phone calls showed more than half of Americans say they spend 10 to 20 minutes every week (or 43 days of their life) on hold.

While some may ignore the time consumers wait on hold, Sachdev said businesses should be looking at this in a different light: Customers are willing to wait on hold in hopes of fixing their problem or getting information. He said not only are these customers prioritizing communication with the business, but they are also providing valuable insights that could be leveraged.

Sachdev said poor customer experiences will cost U.S. companies an average of $75 billion a year. He said that’s mainly because there was no way to take any insights from these calls and turn them into usable information to create a better experience for each customer moving forward.

It all comes down, he said, to the fundamental concept of business: serve the customer. Today’s digital-savvy consumers expect an efficient interaction and are no longer willing to wait unnecessarily. And why should they, Sachdev asks?

According to Moneypenny, businesses ignore the importance of good call handling at their peril, as the survey suggests consumers call up when it is really important:

44 percent if it was an urgent matter

33 percent if it was a complicated matter

24 percent if short on time

20 percent if it was sensitive

Perhaps not surprisingly, older people are more likely to call a company than younger: 57 percent of those over 66 and 50 percent of baby boomers (57-66 years), compared to 27 percent of those 16-24 and 29 percent of those 25-40.

In contrast, younger people are more likely to use social media to contact a company: 17 percent of those 16-24 compared to 1 percent of those 57-66.

The power of a phone call in delivering excellent customer service is also shown in the fact that 82 percent of those surveyed said a great call experience is a differentiator for a company.

Similarly, a bad call experience could have repercussions on customer loyalty:

42 percent would call again and ask to speak to someone else

36 percent would take their business elsewhere (customer care really does matter)

33 percent would complain to the business

32 percent would spread the word to friends and family

25 percent would write a negative review

Said Eric Schurke, CEO of the North America Group for Moneypenny: “The results of our survey demonstrate the enduring popularity of the phone, despite the plethora of communication channels now available to us. Customers use the phone when they have an urgent or sensitive issue to discuss, so companies cannot afford to provide a poor call experience, or business will be taken elsewhere. 

“By mastering the art of call handling, businesses can keep their customers happy and loyal and boost the bottom-line in the process.”