What You Should Know About Answering Services and Hold Times


Not all answering services handle holds the same. Here’s what you should know about answering services and hold time to make sure your callers are getting the best experience.

Image of an answering service not putting callers on hold

In general, calls are put on hold all the time in call center environments. However, the first thing you should know is that not every answering service handles holds the same. And as a result, callers end up with different experiences based on which answering service they reach. Let’s have a closer look at what you need to know about these different approaches to holds so you can choose the best live support provider.

Across the answering service industry, calls are usually handled in one of two ways. Here’s a breakdown of one of those ways:

Phone rings.
Agent: “Thank you for calling Horton Towing. Will you please hold?”
Another line is ringing.
Same Agent: “Dr. Howard’s office. This is Melinda speaking. Can you please hold for a moment?”
A third line is ringing.
Same Agent: “You’ve reached the office of Stratford Restoration. May I please ask you to hold for a moment?”
Agent switches back to the first call.
“Thank you for holding. How can I help you today?”
Agent helps the first caller. Completes the call. Switches to the third line.
“I apologize for you wait. If you could just hold for another moment, I’ll be right with you.”
Agent switches to the second line.
“Sorry about the wait. What can I do for you today?”
Agent helps the second caller. Completes that call. The first line rings again.
“Thanks for calling Forester Landscaping. May I please place you on a brief hold?”
Agent switches back to the third line again.
“I’m so sorry about the wait. What is it I can help you with?”
And on and on it goes with the same agent juggling three different calls and placing them all on hold for varying durations of time.

This is what is known as a 3-call answering service environment where an agent can be switching back and forth between up to three callers. One thing you should know about these agents is that they are talented individuals. It takes real skill to pull all that off. Unfortunately, that’s not a great experience if you’re one of those callers, because you’re being placed on hold anywhere from a little to a lot of time. And even a little bit of hold time isn’t a great encounter with a business.

Beware! If you are speaking with a sales rep from an answering service that uses a multi-call handling approach and you ask them what their hold times are like, they may say something like, “We do our best to not put callers on hold, but if we must our average hold time is under a minute.” And that may be true, but only because the agent is jumping back over to the other line to apologize for the wait and ask them to continue holding, which technically starts the hold over! So, sure, the average hold time might be under a minute, but it really adds up if the caller is being placed on hold multiple times.

Ok, so that’s how some answering services handle hold times. Now let’s dive into the other type of provider.

Phone rings.
Agent: “You’ve reached the office of Dr. Melzkin. This is Josh speaking. How can I help you?”
Agent helps the caller. Completes the call. Moves onto the next call.

Did you see anything in there about a hold? Nope! That’s how things work in a 1-call answering service environment. The agent takes a call and does not speak to anyone else until that call is complete. They never place a caller on hold.

Sounds perfect, right? Well, it CAN be ideal, but there are some variations to how never placing a call on hold is pulled off. In a 1-call answering service environment, each call comes in through a queue. If an agent is available, then the call gets handled right away. If all agents are busy, then a prerecorded message plays thanking the caller for dialing and letting them know that someone will be with them shortly. Sounds a little bit like a hold, right?

If an answering service that operates in a 1-call environment is not staffed properly, then multiple calls can end up waiting in the queue until an agent gets to them. However, a good answering service knows their clients, can staff properly for busy times, and keep calls from stacking up in the queue, which effectively eliminates all types of holds!

Every answering service has different standard metrics they hold themselves to. There is no industry standard, but that’s because, as we’ve discussed, there is more than one way to do things. However, it’s pretty clear that some ways of doing things are better than others. So when you’re shopping for an answering service, make sure you are asking the right questions so you can find out which types of providers you have on your hands, how they really handle hold time, and if they are the best fit for your business.

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