Queue Position or Estimated Time to Answer – Which is Better?

ct 1By: Colin Taylor
We recently asked this question and thought that the topic was worth sharing. Let me know whether you agree with the response and how you would handle this issue in your contact center.

Here is the question: “ What is your position on announcing what number ‘in queue’ a customer is, through the IVR (Interactive Voice Response system)? Or instead announcing current hold, or estimated time to answer (ETA)?”

As background to the question, I would remind you that “Customers want what we want” and they want to be answered quickly. Now customer cannot tell the difference between 20 and 30 seconds on an ASA (Average Speed of Answer), but they can tell between 20 seconds and 5 minutes.

So is there a clear answer as to which (Position in queue versus ETA is better? No the answer to the question is unfortunately it depends. It really depends primarily on two variables,:
• Your SL (Service Level) performance,
• Your AHT (Average handle Time),
If your Service level performance is consistent and callers receive approximately the same service performance regardless of the hour of the day or day of the week that they call, then an announcement of place in queue (#) or estimated time to answer would both be quickly accepted by customers. This acceptance is driven by the relatively narrow variance in the queue position and/or time to answer due to the consistency of SL achievement or performance. It would likely be perceived positively as it provides more transparent information and keeps the customers informed.

If you have consistent SL performance and short calls (AHT) then time to answer is often preferable, as “4 minutes” in an ETA will sound shorter than “you are 5th in queue”. At the same time if the calls are longer, like tech support calls with an 8 -10 AHT then the position in queue (5th call) sounds shorter than 32 minutes.

If the SL performance is not consistent and/or has radical swings then you may want to avoid either option altogether. Customers know that they are phoning a call center and while they do not expect an instant answer, they do have a perception in their mind as to how long they should have to wait to get an answer. This perception is tied to and dependent upon the brand, brand persona, their history with the organization, the value and cost of the product or service, the effort (customer effort) that they need to expend to reach a live agent and lastly, their own mood.

If you have both options available to you, you may also have a ‘callback in queue’ option which is a feature that allows customers to be given the option of receiving a call back, at a number they provide and being called on that number when it is ‘their turn’. This service disconnects the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) part of the call, but retains the IP session and continues to queue this element. When the caller is 2nd in queue the phone switch places and outbound call to the number provided and informs the customer that they are next in queue. This service generally gets great reviews from customers because there is seldom specific urgency (I have to call now and not in ten minutes) for a customer call. But once a customer has invested time into the process they become frustrated by the delay. By offering them the option to hang up and go about their business, without losing their place in queue, in the customers mind, eliminates that ‘hold’ or queue time altogether.

Let us know how you would answer this question.

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One thought on “Queue Position or Estimated Time to Answer – Which is Better?

  1. Dougie Cameron says:

    Great question!

    For me it is always time to answer – the customer can then make an informed choice of whether they want to hold on or not, whether their issue is that urgent. If you fine tune the algorithm you can manage the customer’s expectations yet also give them a pleasant surprise when you over achieve. I think that informed choice is more important than the impact of a message on their perceptions.

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