Travel agents and tour operators are at serious risk of losing business by leaving customers hanging on the telephone for almost 30 seconds at a time, new research has revealed.


A survey of 3,630 UK companies by audio branding specialist PH Media Group discovered they leave customers on hold for an average of 27.34 seconds per call, and says that the implications for profitability are grave.


Previous research has shown 50% of callers will hang up within 20 seconds if forced to listen to silence while on hold.


The company's group sales and marketing director, Mark Williamson, said: “These results represent a significant challenge for travel agents and could pose a threat to profitability. Callers are simply unwilling to wait on the end of the line while subjected to silence, poor quality music or beeps so firms are putting themselves at serious risk of losing business.


“Good call handling is often overlooked as a key sales and marketing tool but the telephone still acts as an important touchpoint and first impressions count. If each caller enjoys a positive experience, customer service standards will go through the roof.”


Of all callers placed on hold, 34% were subjected to silence, 26% were made to listen to music, while 26% heard beeps.


As part of the study, the company also audited each company, giving them a score out of 100 based on overall call handling practice. Travel agents and tour operators averaged at 31, compared to an average of 33.


Elements including the time taken to answer a call, the number of tiers a caller experiences before reaching the necessary department, use of consistent voice and music, professional and personalised voicemail and out-of-hours messaging were weighted to reflect their importance.


Williamson said: “Good customer service is paramount for any business so it is important to evaluate all aspects of call handling to ensure calls are dealt with appropriately. Inevitably, not every call will be answered within a matter of seconds, so when callers do need to be placed on hold for any length of time, informative and entertaining audio messages can help to maintain their attention and decrease perceived waiting time.


“Brand congruent voice and music are also vital in order to present customers with a consistent image of the company, reinforcing brand values and establishing a reassuring, coherent presence.

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