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Your Telephone Answering Service and Hold Time


It’s important to understand how your answering service handles hold time. Are your callers waiting longer than they should?

Image of a person with their phone put on hold by an answering service

Nobody likes to have their calls put on hold but it does happen. Sometimes it’s only for a moment, but other times it can seem like forever. So what are the different types of holds answering services use and why? Let’s take a deep dive into answering service hold time so you know what to expect from a live support provider.

Hold time is the amount of time a caller spends sitting on the phone line while waiting for assistance. To the caller, holding for just 30 seconds can seem like a minute; holding for a minute seems like three minutes and so on. Answering services that put callers on hold will attempt to reduce the negative impact that hold time has on a call by introducing such automated features as hold music  or other enhanced hold greetings and hold queues that allow a caller to transfer to voice mail. No matter what technology is employed to improve the overall caller experience, the goal of a professional telephone answering service should be to minimize hold time as much as possible.

Can hold time be avoided 100% completely? Theoretically, yes. But it takes a good answering service with the right kind of call handling platform to pull it off. In a call center environment, there are two types of holds. Here’s a bit about each…

This is a traditional hold. You’re speaking with a representative and they ask you if you can “please hold.” Many answering services use this kind of hold because their agents are tasked with handling up to three calls at one time. So in order to juggle calls, they must ask some callers to hold while they help someone else. In this type of call center environment, the only way to eliminate all holds is to have an endless number of agents ready to handle incoming calls. However, that’s just not feasible. Nobody can support an extended payroll like that. These answering services do their best to staff accordingly, but in reality there will always be holds.

The other kind of answering service is the type that allows agents to focus on one caller at a time. They don’t answer a new call until their current one is complete. Thus, callers have the undivided attention of a representative and all During Call Holds are eliminated. However, there is another style of hold that may occur with providers like this. It’s called a Front-End Hold. And it works like this: If a caller reaches an answering service and all agents are busy on other calls, a pre-recorded greeting or auto-answer is played after a couple rings that lets the caller know that someone will be with them momentarily. That call is then placed in a hold queue and is handled by an agent as soon as they become available in the order the calls were received. Now, some answering services will struggle with hold queues stacking up and callers may experience some long Front-End Holds if there isn’t enough agents available. But there are some answering services who are experienced and professional enough to staff their active call center floor well enough to handle all incoming calls almost immediately. This effectively extinguishes almost every moment of potential hold time!

Whether your answering service uses a typical During Call Hold or sometimes employs a Front-End Hold, there are a couple of metrics you should be paying attention to when it comes to your account.

  1. Total Calls Placed on Hold – This is the total number of calls that are placed on hold during a specified period of time. For example, if you send 100 calls to your answering service during the month and 25 of those calls are placed on hold either during or on the front end, then your answering service provides a 25% overall call hold.
  2. Actual Hold Time – Once a call is placed on hold, Actual Hold time represents the time that your caller spends waiting for an operator. This could be 15 seconds, this could be three minutes or it could be more. The goal of your answering service should be to minimize actual hold time whenever possible.

Now for the catch – does your answering service bill you for hold time? If they do, you need to get a new answering service! The only time you should be billed for is time that agents actually spend taking care of your callers.

So to sum it all up, there are answering services that function in both of these environments well, and other support providers who do not produce metrics in either that you or your callers would be happy with. The truth is that nobody likes being placed on hold. And it reflects poorly upon your business if answering services are doing that to your callers. Since some amount of During Call Hold time is unavoidable in multi-call environments, you’re best off finding an answering service that operates in a single call environment, but staffs well to minimize and even avoid Front-End Holds. That will keep you and your callers happy!

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This entry was posted in Answering Service, Customer Service and tagged , , by Brian Gabriel. Bookmark the permalink.

About Brian Gabriel

As the Call Center Manager for Sound Telecom, Brian is responsible for overseeing the daily operations and long term success of the company while managing a variety of inbound customer support programs. He also has a hand in taking care of the Solaxis services division. Prior to joining Sound Telecom, Mr. Gabriel held management positions with several prominent Internet Services companies including and Brian started his career in advertising and sales before moving to Washington State. He joined AEI Music in 1995 and supervised their international customer service department and technical support call centers. Brian received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish languages from San Diego State University. Brian teaches adult education at his church and actively supports Christian ministries.