How long are your customers waiting on the phone?

Recently I called a dealership looking for a specific employee. The phone was answered promptly. I asked for the person by name and was put on hold. For five minutes!

I thought about seeing just how long I would actually be on hold until someone checked on me, but the smooth jazz was starting to drive me bonkers, and I had other tasks I could be spending my time on. So I hung up.

Luckily for that dealership, I was simply calling to chat with a staffer and wasn’t interesting in buying. But I’d assume most of the people who call your dealership are looking to buy, and you should assume all of them are for the sake of your business.

Sure, five minutes isn’t long in the scheme of life, but five minutes seem like an eternity when you’re waiting and can’t accomplish much else while waiting. We all know which stoplight on our commute causes us to sit for five minutes instead of one. At the grocery store, we’ll almost always get into the line with two people instead of three. TV commercials? Forget about it! We fast-forward because we can’t be inconvenienced for three minutes.

We live in a world where you can figure out what other movie that actor was in, in about three clicks on your phone. You can buy something by talking to a speaker in your living room, and there’s a chance it could be at your door within an hour. And we can skip YouTube ads after five painstaking seconds.

Your customers expect instant response. That’s why we all have websites now. But when they do call to talk to a real human being or to get clarification on a subject, they can’t be put on hold for long. In a 2012 study of 2,500 consumers, nearly 60 percent reported that they didn’t want to wait on hold for longer than a minute. I can’t image people have become more patient since then.

If you don’t currently have a policy in place about on-hold times, create one. Explain that if getting Joe from service, for example, takes more than a minute, the person who originally answered should check back and at a minimum, update the customer that it’s taking more than a minute. The person answering the phone can also ask if anyone else can help the caller. Or he or she can ask for a callback number — of course if you do this, make sure the caller will be called back promptly. Another survey I found by an online reviews firm said 63 percent of customers preferred having a callback option over waiting on hold.

Everyone who answers the phone needs to know and follow the policy. Make sure you’re testing this periodically. You can do this through companies that offer secret shopper services, or you can ask friends and family to do random checks as well.

Just make sure the policy is working and no one is ever on hold long enough that they hang up due to frustration. You don’t want that customer ready to purchase a $70,000 boat calling another dealership instead.

Liz Keener is the senior editor of Powersports Business, a trade magazine for the powersports industry. She reports on the powersports industry through Powersports Business’ varied media, including in the magazine, online and via social media. She produces the magazine’s annual Market Data Book and handles a variety of assignments for the magazine and its ancillary products. Powersports Business is known for its exclusive dealer surveys, in-depth industry analysis, Power 50 dealership honors program and dealer education.


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