By Daniel Hunter

UK firms are at serious risk of losing business by leaving customers hanging on the telephone for more than 30 seconds at a time, new research has revealed.

A survey of 3,630 companies by PH Media Group discovered the British public are being left on hold for an average of 33.48 seconds during calls to businesses.

The implications for profitability are grave. Previous research has shown 50 per cent of callers will hang up within 20 seconds if forced to listen to silence while on hold.

But the PH Media study revealed 34 per cent of UK businesses do, in fact, subject callers to silence. A further 26 per cent play music, while 26 per cent subject callers to beeps.

“The impact of lost calls on the UK economy could feasibly run into the millions,” said PH Media Group Sales and Marketing Director Mark Williamson.

“Callers are simply unwilling to wait on the end of the line if no effort is made to ensure they are engaged or entertained, so firms are at serious risk of losing business.

“Good call handling is often overlooked as a key sales and marketing tool but the telephone still acts as an important customer touchpoint and first impressions count. If each caller enjoys a positive experience, customer service standards will go through the roof.”

Signmakers ranked lowest in the research, leaving their callers on the line for 72.64 seconds in an average call, while plumbers are leaving their callers waiting for 52.61 seconds.

But hold time isn’t the only consideration for businesses wanting to make a good first impression on callers.

As part of the study, PH Media Group also audited each company, scoring them on a number of factors crucial to good call handling.

Elements including the time taken to answer a call, the number of tiers a caller experiences before reaching the necessary department, use of consistent voice and music, professional and personalised voicemail and out-of-hours messaging were weighted to reflect their importance.

Each firm was given a score out of 100 based on these factors and the UK average came out at just 37.

“Rather than simply focusing on reducing the time callers spend on hold, businesses should evaluate all aspects of their procedure for handling calls,” added Mark.

“Inevitably, not every call will be answered within a matter of seconds, so when callers do need to be placed on hold for any length of time, informative and entertaining audio messages can help to maintain their attention and decrease perceived waiting time.

“Brand congruent voice and music are also vital in order to present customers with a consistent image of the company, reinforcing brand values and establishing a reassuring, coherent presence.”

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