Research, analysis, and thought leadership for enterprise communications.

Virtual Hold Leads to Virtual Service

by in Telecom

Today I called a very large organization that was clearly proud of their fancy phone system. It was an organization with a long reputation for poor phone service.

Previously, you had to wait in queue for 15~60 minutes. But now the system cheerfully offered to hold your place in queue and to call you back when your turn arrived. Sounds good, right?

The system was a major fail.

I called in and got a recording that all agents were very busy due to unforeseen call volumes. (Really, unforeseen?) My wait time would be “Less than….ONE…minute.” (Um, I think they are making a big deal out of nothing.) To better serve me they would call me back. (No option was given to me so that I could just wait out the ONE minute queue.) The system confirmed my phone number, and then recorded my name. So far, so good, although perhaps I might have been offered to just wait the whole one minute out.

The system then immediately called me, while I was still on the phone with the system, listening to the recorded message telling me that it would be calling me when my turn came. This was crazy. I am trying to listen to instructions while another call is now coming in. It took me a moment to realize what was happening, and then to think through which iPhone option was the correct choice: “Hang Up, Hold and Connect, or Disconnect and Accept.” I mean, when this is all happening at once it is too much to quite know what to do…especially when the incoming Caller ID has been blanked.

So my appeal to phone system designers is to handle the oddball cases and build sane systems. Don’t offer to queue people when the wait is ridiculously short. Really, it’s quite confusing.

Oh, by the way, when I answered the callback I then had a five minute wait. Go figure.

Remember that a design that looks good on paper may not really handle reality.

By the way, the large organization that shall not be named has the abbreviation USCIS. (No name here, just the governmental acronym:)


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  • Colin, that’s obviously a bone-headed way to do virtual queuing!

    I can’t say for sure which virtual queuing system that was (although I think I know) but I can say for sure it wasn’t a Fonolo deployment.

    Over the years, we’ve established some “best practices” and they would eliminate all the flaws you mention. 1) Call-backs should always be optional for the caller 2) Don’t offer a call-back if the wait time is short and 3) Get the agent on the line *before* you call back the customer.

    For more, check out “Common Pitfalls in Deploying Call-Backs”

    And, if anyone at USCIC is reading… give us a call, we’ll get you fixed up 😉

    – Shai (Fonolo CEO)

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Colin Berkshire is a highly technical HR executive in the Pulp and Paper Industry. Colin has an engineering and voice background, and is currently on assignment in Asia. NOTE: Colin does not respond to comments, and does not Tweet.