Cut the queue: How to reduce wait times and customer churn
Updated: Jan 11
TL;DR The less time customers spend waiting in a queue or being stuck on hold, the happier they’ll be. You can increase agent headcount to help reduce wait times, or you can streamline your current processes to be more efficient.
When it comes to customer service, support speed is key. Customers will likely give up on a call or contact form if they have to wait too long for a response. They may even decide to take their business elsewhere. Your first instinct might be to hire more agents, but what if you could increase efficiency without the added headcount?
Why customer response time matters
We’ve all been there. You’ve reached out to customer service to address a problem and now you’re waiting to speak with a human, and waiting...and waiting. By the time an agent finally picks up, you’re already pretty annoyed, which is not a great start.
When a customer turns to support in a moment of frustration, they want their issue to be resolved as quickly as possible. If the problem takes a long time to fix, the customer will grow more frustrated and the agent will become more stressed — creating a negative experience for both parties.
Every year customers expect more seamless service. Long response times are one of the top reasons for customer churn. A recent study revealed 90% of customers consider an immediate response important or very important when they have a customer service question (under 10 minutes). Meanwhile, if we look at other real-time channels such as live chat or social media, customers are likely to bounce if they don’t get a reply within a few minutes.
Customers aren't the only ones suffering from long queues. Support teams spend their entire day putting out fires. Maybe they’re experiencing long queues due to a sudden spike in call volume, or maybe the reason is poor operational efficiency. Either way, agents who are drowning in tickets don’t perform as well and end up getting frustrated and burnt out.
Word of mouth
Many customers won’t take the time to leave a review, but they will tell their friends about their experience. In fact, 47% of customers said they would tell their friends after a very bad experience and 44% claimed they would share after a very good experience. Word of mouth can be a powerful marketing tool, building customer retention and brand loyalty through customer advocacy. Those that have positive interactions with your team have a higher chance of becoming repeat customers.
Why is this happening? [the customer’s perspective]
The first thing customers typically see when they reach out to support is the wait time. If your wait time is too long, customers are less motivated to stay on the line and wait their turn — it’s as simple as that.
The New York Times recently reported that airline passengers were experiencing wait times of up to 275 minutes for rescheduled flights due to COVID-19. This has a lot to do with legacy systems and processes, as well as the complexity of the airline business. Not to mention, many airlines reduced their agent headcount in the early days of the pandemic. Now those same airlines are drowning in support interactions.
But what's most telling is how these airlines are responding to the situation. Many are trying to fix this problem by hiring more agents, and sometimes this is the right solution. However, in this case, it’s only adding more fuel to the fire.
Without the right tools in place, increasing headcount can further expose the inefficiencies that were previously hidden. These inefficiencies can be anything from poor team management and lack of reporting to inconsistent messaging across communication channels.
What causes delays? [the agent’s perspective]
One possible cause of long hold times could be an unexpected spike in the number of customers needing assistance. Another possible culprit might be your support operations. When you can’t get to your customers fast enough, your queue begins to grow and everything gets backed up.
Why does this happen? It starts with something as simple as the platform the agents are using, how long it takes to load, and how natural the interface is for them to use. This adds time to response, which affects wait time, processing time, and before long...CSAT.
Unfortunately, the negative effects don’t stop there. As these inefficiencies add up, your agents start to get overwhelmed and burn out. You grow your team to lighten the load, but your process is still broken. Even worse, you have no clear view into who’s working on what, or the status of your tickets.
7 ways to cut queues and reduce customer churn
With all the back and forth of helping multiple customers at once, an agent’s time goes out the window. That's why with real-time support channels (such as phone, chat, or social media) every second counts.
Here are some best practices to help your agents reduce waiting time and improve the customer experience:
Let your knowledge do the work
A successful knowledge management system is much more than an FAQ page – it enhances every aspect of your support functionality, making it easier for both customers and agents to find solutions easily.
If you know what your customers are likely to ask about, make those answers readily available. Offering solutions ahead of time helps you stay on top of demand and shorten your queue. This not only takes the pressure off of agents but also equips them with answers to common problems.
Make it easy to find tickets
Take advantage of smart ticketing systems that go beyond basic open/closed ticket functionality and bring all support channels into a single conversational timeline. Seeing all tickets and conversations in one view saves agents’ time and ensures tickets don’t get missed or go unanswered.
Pro-tip: This will give you added visibility into your queues, who’s working on what, and how you’re meeting your SLA times.
Automations & workflows
When deployed in the right way, automations can have a transformative effect, not just on your waiting times but on your entire support department. You can save time by automating everyday repetitive tasks — such as responding to or ending a chat when customers don't reply, or closing resolved cases so they don't fill up your pending tickets.
You can also script various processes within the support organization to help anticipate upcoming scenarios and provide proactive support:
Automatically assign tickets to agents and groups to make sure tickets don't fall through the cracks.
Notify a relevant team member when a ticket gets a negative satisfaction rating so they can immediately address the issue.
Keep track of your agents' performance levels and get notified when they are not hitting their call performance targets.
Prioritize urgent inquiries first
There are many reasons you might want to give certain customers priority. Whether it’s based on urgency or paying vs. non-paying, develop a system for tagging, flagging, and raising your most important tickets to the front of the queue. Doing this will put customers at ease and allow your team to get ahead of the problem.
Offer multiple points of contact
Meeting your customers where they are isn’t just about being easy to do business with. Being available for customers on different channels shaves time off your queues. If customers can contact you through several different channels, it will be easier for them to reach you even when your team is busy. Pro-tip: Proactively address wait times by adding a widget to your website. This will help you offer instant responses and reduce wait times.
Don’t call us, we’ll call you
The most important thing a customer wants to know when they contact support is that you’re on it. If they reach out over chat or social media, set an auto-reply that lets them know ‘Yes, your inquiry has been received. Would you like to schedule a call back?’ This provides assurance and means you don’t have to keep customers waiting in a growing queue.
Know your customers
Today's customers expect personalized support, but that goes beyond simply having their name and address on your screen. If you’re not sure what your customer will need, use a widget on your website or call center to collect that information before they contact you. Having the necessary information upfront helps your agents start every interaction on a strong foot and resolve issues much quicker.
Providing timely support isn’t always a matter of how many customer service reps are on your team. Sometimes it's about how efficiently your team is able to get the job done. The best way to achieve efficient support – even on the busiest of days – is to work with a support solution that removes the manual steps and lets your agents focus on what they do best: resolving issues.