Causal Relationship: Hold Times and Abandon Rates

I had an inquiry this week on hold times, asking what a good target would be. According to our benchmark data, the average hold time is under 2 minutes, which definitely shows our B2B technology support slant–I assume the consumer numbers would be much higher. Or maybe I’m still on edge from my last marathon hold session–over an hour–for our local energy monopoly. My usual guidance is that anything under 3 minutes is acceptable to customers, and when hold times stretch beyond the 3 minute mark, callers start to bail out and hang up. (And I don’t care how many times you play the “your call is important to us” message. Clearly it isn’t or you would have more staff.)

The percentage of callers who aren’t willing to wait on hold any longer and hang up is called the abandon rate. Logically, the longer the hold time, the higher the abandon rate. To see if this logic played out with data, I divided the survey responses for hold time into three categories: Pace Setters, those with the lowest hold times, Average Performers, those with median hold times, and Low Performers, those with the highest hold times. When you average the abandon rates for each group, you can clearly see the impact of longer hold times:

The Pace Setters, with an average hold time of just over 30 seconds, have the lowest average abandon rate (3.3%). As hold times increase, so do abandon rates, with the Low Performers (average hold time 4.7 minutes) jumping to a 7% abandon rate.

It is important to understand which metrics have a causal relationship, i.e., impacting one metric automatically impacts the other. This is helpful when you are trying to move a specific metric so you know what the influencers are. Another example of a causal relationship with support metrics is First Contact Resolution: the higher the FCR, the lower average resolution time is; and usually, the higher the percent of issues resolved at Level 1 is as well. Also, members usually see impacts to CSAT when critical service metrics (FCR, resolution time) improve.

I have an example in my book, Lessons Unlearned, about a US airline who wanted to increase productivity (calls per shift) and lower hold times by cutting call length. Obviously, if you spend less time on each call (or email or chat), you can handle more interactions per shift, which reduces hold times and abandon rates. Sounds like a win:win:win, right? Wrong. In this case, by putting an arbitrary time limit on inbound reservation calls, agents were cutting off calls before reservations were completed, or before customers could be routed to hotel and rental car partners. As a result, revenue dropped dramatically, and marketing and sales had to override the call center manager who thought limiting talk time was the answer to everything.

Don’t look at metrics in a vacuum. They all inter-relate, and you must carefully think through any plans to shift one metric to understand what the trickle down impact will be across the organization.

Thanks for reading!

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8 Comments on “Causal Relationship: Hold Times and Abandon Rates”


  1. [...] June, 2012   Published by John M Perez in Contact Center Causal Relationship: Hold Times and Abandon RatesI had an inquiry this week on hold times, asking what a good target would be. According to our [...]

  2. jusgre Says:

    Our team sees a clear causal relationship between Average Speed of Answer and Abandonment Rate: http://bit.ly/Oyf593

    What’s more interesting to me, though, is how different our thresholds are from your sample population–our graphs are much steeper than yours!

    Your worst performers see a 7% abandonment rate at a 4.7 minute hold time, and your best performers see a 3.3% abandonment rate at a 0.31 minute hold time.

    While it’s true that we can maintain a ~3% abandonment rate with a ~0.3 minute hold time, our abandonment rate skyrockets to 11-14% as soon as our hold time approaches 1 minute.

    Ouch–customers can be unforgiving!

    • jragsdale Says:

      Keep in mind mine are B2B numbers, so there may be different perceptions of acceptable wait time if it is part of your job verses a problem in your consumer life. And definitely, consumer is more likely to get more curiosity questions than technical support questions, maybe some of those abandons are going to your self-service site? ;)

      • jusgre Says:

        I wish I could explain it so easily. :)

        We are also B2B, and we currently have no self-service site.

        Our audience is professional e-marketers–perhaps their patience threshold is generally “different?”

      • jragsdale Says:

        Speaking as a reformed marketing person, oh yeah, that could explain it! It is all about expectation setting, so make sure the SLA is very clear about any commitments to onsite arrival, and provide realistic ranges to set expectations. But since you are dealing with people who make their money from clicks, I’m guessing they will continue to push for faster faster faster.

  3. Michelle Crane Says:

    I work at a Library in the Childrens dept. Yesterday, (Saturday AND Labor day holiday) the Childrens dept. was swamped. I was swamped working the desk alone … having to go back and forth to get books, answering questions, looking up things on the computer, helping children on the computers, doing storytime, then back to my desk to answer phone calls. A woman called asking for a book. I told her I had TEN people ahead of her, “would you like to hold?”. Of course, I said this — expecting her to say, “no, I’ll call back”. OR -some callers will ask YOU to call them back, which I’m always happy to do. Anyway, to my surprise, the woman said she would “hold”. Well, I’m sure you can guess what happened next. Since I DID have at least TEN people waiting ahead of her, after a few minutes, I forgot about the call. Two hours later, my manager said the woman called back complaining that I’d left her on hold for 39 minutes.
    Frankly, I find it hard to believe that anyone would be so stupid. WHY would anyone “hold” for 39 minutes, when there are 18 other libraries in our county that she could call. Numerous times, I’ve called my local library (not in the county where I work), and if I get a dissatisfactory answer, I simply hang up and call another library. No muss, no fuss. No need to blame or get angry. This process rarely takes more than 10 minutes of my time. When I asked friends and associates, what they would do under this circumstance, ALL of them said the same thing; “hang up and call later”.
    Was this a “set-up”, or do some people really have this much time to waste? This has never happened to me before, and I’m baffled.
    I’m suspecting this was a “set-up” to get me written up for bad customer service.
    What do you think?

    • Jae Says:

      The set up might havebeen self imposed. It might have been better to ask for her number and to offer a call back. Asking her about her desire to hold was her entree into believing hold time would be reasonable


  4. […] access to information immediately to help resolve the customer issue. As TSIA’s John Ragsdale points out, when hold times stretch beyond the 3-minute timeframe, callers typically abandon the call and hang […]


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