Putting a customer on hold can be stressful, especially if they’re upset or angry about something. How should you do it? What should you say? And how can you make the customer experience less uncomfortable during waits, so your customer doesn’t get frustrated or lash out at you?
In this guide, we’ll help you understand how to put a customer on hold like a pro and avoid putting them in an even worse mood when they return to the line.
How to Put a Customer on Hold in 10 Steps
1. Learn the caller’s demographics
Your customer’s demographics can help you understand their mindset and what the best approach for them is.
For example, if you were hoping to put an elderly customer on hold, your approach would be different than with a teenage customer, simply because of how they’re wired. Older people tend to be more set in their ways, while younger folks are used to waiting and having patience.
When it comes down to putting them on hold, keep those age factors in mind so you can determine the best way for you (or your customer service reps) to handle the situation in order not to offend any of your customers!
It’s also important to learn more about communicating with diverse audiences like different age groups or races/ethnicities.
2. Seek permission first, then go ahead
You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who enjoys being put on hold. While it might seem like a harmless move, putting a customer on hold without their permission can actually make them quite upset.
Always ask for permission first, then put them on hold after they’ve given you verbal (or nonverbal) approval. Some people prefer silence over music; others want information about your business available as they wait (and of course there are some who will never be happy).
If you’re unsure how long your customers will have to wait, ask whether they’d like you to call back at a specific time and set an alert in your calendar so that you don’t forget! This way, you won’t be caught off guard if a client is expecting immediate help.
And remember: never hang up until your customer does. The abrupt end to a conversation may come across as rude or unprofessional and is likely to turn away potential clients—the last thing you want!
3. Personalize the customer experience
Personalizing the experience is an important part of mastering how to put a customer on hold.
Tell them who you are and how long they’ll be waiting (if there’s no way around it). Use names whenever possible — yours and theirs — and nicknames if appropriate.
That way, people will know who’s talking to them personally rather than just hearing generic music or silence while waiting for someone else to pick up the line.
4. Tell the truth about why you are putting them on hold
You should state that you are putting them on hold, and it is not because you do not care or want to help. You should also try to mention that there may be other customers waiting for your attention but make sure you do not sound too apologetic about it.
If customers feel like they are being treated rudely, they will get angry and hang up; which defeats your original goal of putting them on hold. Next, you should tell them how long they might have to wait while they are put on hold.
This can be done by telling them an estimated amount of time, rather than telling them exactly how long they will be waiting. If there are still things in queue, tell customers what those things are and why those things need their attention before anything else.
5. Tell them how long the wait will last
Let’s face it: Waiting sucks. Research suggests that in order for customers to feel okay about waiting, they need something better to do with their time than just waiting and being bored.
Your best bet is to give them some idea of how long they can expect to wait; you don’t have to be exact – and you probably won’t be anyway – but even something as simple as just another minute or two is enough to take some of the sting out of being put on hold.
And if your callers are likely confused about what happened, help them out by reminding them (politely) what you told them will happen when they called.
For example, I mentioned we were short-staffed today and there might be a bit of a wait. If you could give me one more moment I should be able to connect you shortly.
6. Make their wait time interesting and meaningful
Not all customers are created equal. It’s understandable to want everyone who calls your business to get the same level of service, but in reality, people have different needs and should be treated differently.
While you can’t put every customer on hold individually (I wish!), you can make it easy for them by categorizing them into one of three groups:
- those who are calling with non-critical questions,
- those whose queries demand an immediate response and
- Those for whom additional information is required before they can proceed.
Give each group a unique hold message that will accurately reflect how long they might be waiting. This way, potential callers can factor in wait time when scheduling their day—no one wants unexpected downtime!—and choose whether or not to make that call at all.
7. Do not play the same message or tune over and over
Many businesses have trouble figuring out how to put a customer on hold without offending them. However, repetition of a message or song over and over again is not only annoying but it can also be distracting and create confusion if they’re trying to listen in order to pick up an important point.
It is more effective and makes better use of your time if you repeat yourself less frequently while using subliminal messages, rather than constantly saying everything again; leaving just enough time for them think about what you’ve said while they listen.
Subliminal messages can help keep customers engaged with your business and make them more willing to wait, because they are still thinking about what you’ve just told them.
8. Leave yourself notes, so you don’t forget anything
If you’re like most people, you spend several hours per day talking to customers, colleagues and prospects.
In other words, it’s not uncommon for a five-minute call or meeting (or sometimes even an hour-long one) to wind up lasting 15 minutes longer than planned—because of cell phone coverage issues, computer problems and so forth.
The good news is that there are few pieces of productivity advice more valuable than leave yourself notes. The trick is simply leaving yourself an email before your call or meeting starts in which you note any bullet points you want to hit.
That way, if your computer crashes or phone battery dies (or if you simply lose track of time), no customer will be left waiting because of it.
9. Say sorry
When you put a customer on hold, it’s easy to get wrapped up in your own work and forget about them. Don’t do that! Sure, you want customers to be as comfortable as possible—but you also want them to feel important.
Acknowledge their wait by saying, I am so sorry I have been holding you up; I promise I will only be a moment! It doesn’t take much effort but can make all of the difference in how your customer perceives their time on hold.
10 Thank your client
When a client reaches out, thank them for calling and explain that you are in a meeting or otherwise unavailable. But don’t hang up! Instead, ask them to hold for just a moment while you transfer them.
Tell them they will still be able to hear you while they are waiting and apologize again for interrupting their day with an unplanned call. At that point, find someone else in your office who can help and transfer them without hanging up.
When they get off hold, tell them how much you appreciate their patience and schedule another time to call back when it won’t disrupt their day.
Communicating with Diverse Audiences: Choosing & Crafting the Right Messages for Customers on Hold
Customers on hold are a common and frustrating experience for everyone involved. The customer is waiting, and the agent may be working with several callers at once.
So, what do you say to customers when they’re on hold? Whether you’re waiting for a call center agent or helping customers through a self-service system, there’s no doubt you need to send a strong message.
The message you give your customers while they’re on hold can have a big impact on how long they stay on hold, how satisfying the customer experience is, and whether or not your company will get more sales due to this interaction.
Here are more tips for choosing the right message when customers are waiting on hold:
1. Know your audience
The first step in learning how to put a customer on hold is knowing who your audience is. If you work with large corporations, then you’ll likely have different messaging needs than if you were working with small businesses or individuals.
For example, when connecting with corporate clients, it’s important to have a professional tone with no casual language or slang — even if the person behind the phone is casual themselves!
2. Keep it short and sweet
The best messages are short and to the point.
The longer an audio message is, the less likely people are going to listen all the way through it (and remember what they’ve heard).
Keep it short — one minute at most — and include only key information that’s relevant to your customers’ needs while they’re on hold (like how long they might have to wait).
3. Choose your words wisely
Use language that helps customers feel acknowledged and respected, such as “Thank you for your patience” or “We appreciate your business.”
4. Use active voice
“Your call is important to us” instead of “You are important to us.” This makes messages sound more human and less like automated responses.
5. Be specific about what’s going on and how long it will take
“We’ll be with you in just a few minutes”). Leave out vague promises like “we’ll return your call soon” because they can be frustrating if not kept true.
6. Consider the purpose of your message
Make sure that you have a clear objective in mind before you create your on-hold message.
The goal of an on-hold message is to get a caller’s attention, provide some useful information about the product or service being offered, and then encourage the customer to take action.
For example, is the purpose of your message to entertain or inform? If so, choose a different type of message than if you want to increase sales or encourage customers to call back.
7. Use the right tone of voice
You want to sound friendly but not too chipper or over-the-top friendly (unless your brand has a playful vibe). This is where “communicating with diverse audiences” comes in.
The best way to determine what your brand’s tone of voice should be is to listen to other companies who have similar products or services as yours and see how they sound when they talk about themselves. Then try imitating their style in your own script.
8. Consider the length of the wait time
If your customer will be listening for longer than five minutes, make sure that you choose a more complex message that can keep their attention as they wait longer than five minutes.
Last Words on How to Put a Customer on Hold
Because customers hate waiting in line, businesses must strive to impress their callers while on hold.
Always give information that will boost the customer experience during wait times—even if it means giving away free stuff!
Give them an idea of how long they might have to wait based on past experience, but also let them know that their wait could be shorter than expected because of factors out of anyone’s control (like traffic). If there’s any way you can give them something while they wait (like a coupon code), this is the time to.