5 Tips for Placing Callers on Hold

It’s critical for call center agents to exercise care before putting callers on hold

Last week we talked about how much callers dislike being transferred. Something they hate almost as much is being put on hold. Placing callers on hold sends a clear message that something else is more important than them and their call. Aside from being disrespected, they fear what might occur. Based on experience, they know they might get disconnected, and they worry about being forgotten.

While placing callers on hold cannot always be avoided, there is a best practice for how to do this optimally and minimize caller offense and frustration. Follow these five tips for success when you must put a caller on hold.

1. Listen First: The most jarring and disrespectful thing you can do when answering a call is to say your greeting and immediately follow it with the phrase, “Please hold.” The caller is momentarily relieved someone answered their call, but their excitement quickly dissipates when they realize you don’t care about them or their reason for calling.

Maybe the request is simple, such as “Mary Smith, please,” or “I have a billing question.” With a few keystrokes and a professional handoff, you can send them on their way to their desired destination, without making them wait on hold for the several minutes it may take for you to get back to them.

Alternately the call could be urgent or even an emergency. Don’t automatically place someone on hold, for they may have a time-critical situation or even a life-threatening condition. Don’t make them wait on hold. Listen to what they say, and then determine what you should do. That may involve putting them on hold, or it may require you do something else.

2. Ask, Don’t Tell: When placing callers on hold, even though you intend to put them on hold, don’t tell them this is your plan, but obtain their permission. Asking, “May I place you on hold for a moment?” is much nicer than saying “Please hold.” In most cases the caller will allow you to place them on hold if you ask nicely.

3. Respect Their Answer: Occasionally a caller won’t grant you their consent to place them on hold. Instead they’ll give you a gruff, “No!” This certainly places you in a difficult situation, but since you asked and they declined, don’t go ahead and place them on hold. Perhaps their call is urgent, and time spent on hold might cause problems. Or maybe their cell phone battery is getting low or they’re about to drive out of the coverage area. Again, a few minutes on hold could be detrimental.

Of course, they may have no legitimate reason for not giving you permission to place them on hold. If this is the case, explain why it’s important you place them on hold. If the call must be transferred, you can’t accomplish that without putting them on hold for a moment. Or if you need to leave your workstation to look something up, then placing them on hold will speed both you and them towards a resolution.

4. Give Progress Updates: Once you’ve asked for and received their approval to place them on hold, don’t leave them there indefinitely. If they’ll be on hold for more than a minute or maybe two, give them progress updates. Perhaps the person they want to talk to is still on another call, or maybe you haven’t completed researching their question. Let them know what is happening and that you’re working towards accomplishing what they want you to do.

And occasionally when you go back to check, you’ll find they’ve hung up. At least you know they’re no longer waiting. Then you can move to your next caller.

5. Make a Smooth Hand Off: If you need to transfer their call to another person or department, one step in that process is putting them on hold. We already discussed how to properly transfer a call. As a review: Inform the caller you will transfer them, provide information of who you will connect them to, let them know how the transfer process works, thank them, make a smooth transfer, and confirm they are connected to the desired party.

When placing callers on hold, follow these five tips to use the hold button with skill, and improve caller satisfaction. When done properly, most callers will not object to being placed on hold, and they may even respect you for your professionalism.

Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier sales and marketing service provider for the call center industry, which helps clients improve the effectiveness of their communications and grow their business. Contact Janet at contactus@callcenter-salespro.com or 800-901-7706.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan.