With more and more customers in our society, customer service has necessarily become less personal and more a production-line affair. We are shunted from one computerised system to another. For some people, a call to customer services is now truly dreaded and a trip into the jungle with meat strapped around the middle seems to be more appealing!
“You are customer number “6” (in a different voice) you have five minutes more to wait” All the 'advances' in the waiting experience just seem to make it worse. They put you on hold before you have even spoken to anyone. Then they play you some nice music. Sometimes it is quite nice, a bit of Vivaldi, or a bit of Jack Johnson, but then, every ten seconds: “You are a very important customer. We apologise for the delay, a customer services representative will be with you shortly”. Yes, we know. We do know that we are on hold. We didn't phone up just to listen to the music! But, now that we are on hold, can you just go away and let us listen to it in peace please!?
Another system which can sometimes be worse is the endless pressing of buttons. “Press 1 for customer support, press 2 for technical help, press 3 to stay on hold for ten more minutes., press 4 to make nothing happen..” etc etc. Some exchanges can have up to nine options. And woe betide you if you get it wrong! Then you are sent back to the beginning with your tail between your legs. Start again and do it properly this time!
So how can we survive this horrible experience without exploding or running for the hills? Tip number one is:
Keep an eye on the time
Now we all know that they don't let you listen to a whole song, so while you are half way through listening to 'Orinoco Flow', it suddenly cuts in with a message, and then you are suddenly listening to the Bee Gees. This artificially accelerates our perception. We are not really paying our full attention to it. But our brain knows that a song is between 3 and 4 minutes, so logically, 7-8 minutes must have gone by.
A sure-fire de-stressor when being on hold is to watch the clock. I actually discovered this when we got a new phone. It has a little digital clock in the display and also tells me how long my call is. And one day, I was fussing and fuming about some company who had the audacity to keep me on hold for such a long time when I glanced at the display and lo and behold, two minutes had gone by. Yes, two whole minutes! Of course, during that time I had listened to their announcement every ten seconds so it made it seem like twenty minutes had gone by at least. Which brings me to tip two:
Do not listen to your phone while on hold
I think that most modern phones nowadays have a loudspeaker button or hands-free function. While you are waiting on hold, use it. Get through to the service you need, then put the phone on the speaker phone. This way, you are not standing awkwardly with your phone pressed against your ear for the whole time. Not only is this very liberating, but also you don't now feel that it is you on hold. You can do a little dimension shift in your head if you like, and either imagine that both you and the company are on hold, or just let yourself think that they are on hold. When the music stops and the person speaks, just give it two seconds before you answer. Or better still, answer them from a distance as you rush to pick up the receiver. It is purely a psychological trick, but it can be a guaranteed stress buster. But don't wait too long before you reply, or they will hang up and you will have to go through the whole thing again. So what can you do while waiting? Tip 3 is:
Sit down. Sit on the floor if you must, or have a seat near the phone. Sitting down takes the urgency out of the situation, you feel much less like you are in a queue when you are sitting. And while you are sitting down, Tip 4:
Do Something Else
Put the call on the speaker so that you can hear everything going on and especially so that you are ready when someone finally answers, then just do something else! I now keep my phone above a bookshelf in the hall. So the simple act of sitting down and getting a book out to look at makes me feel a lot better while I'm waiting. Now, I am not “wasting my life on hold”, I am merely on hold while I spend my time usefully. I can be making a to-do list, watching a TV show, even making myself a sandwich in the kitchen.
Apparently we spend around 45 hours of our lives on hold, that's nearly two whole days! By creatively de-stressing, we can feel less like we are being led by the nose and more that we are in charge of the situation. And who knows, when we finally do get to speak to a real person, we will be much calmer and be able to get what we want with charm rather than with sheer force.