Call centres, customer services, customer support and how to make the best of your time (on hold)

We all have to call a call centre at some point or another, and we all get that sinking feeling when we dial. The labyrinth of options, then being placed in a queue, and then, to top if off, whilst waiting you are told that “your call will be answered as soon as possible”, “your call is important to us” and “you are caller number 2, the expected wait time is 3 minutes” (lie). Then your have to listen to Beethoven, Dido, or some ‘celeb’ singing a version of songs by another artist. If you’re nodding your head and thinking “yes I know” – you are not alone. The shear terror and horror is not worth thinking about.

Unfortunately, I can’t advise on improving the choice of music, but hopefully I can help you to reduce the time you spend waiting and put your time on hold to good use.

1. The number one rule – timing is critical. When trying to reach a company or support centre try calling first thing in the morning when the queue is often short. If your centre offers 24/7 support, avoid the peak times, such as mid-morning, when the kids come back from school or just after supper. If possible, use all available methods of contact, such as email (if the issue is not urgent); some companies offer online chat facilities for your query through their website. If in doubt as to which is the best – try them all and you will most likely increase your chances of getting your query sorted faster.

2. Stay free. Whenever you call, make the call on a cordless handset or mobile phone. This will allow you to put the call on speaker phone whilst you wait or move around. It will also avoid being tied (literally) to the proximity of the phone socket. That way, you can get other stuff done while you’re waiting for a human being to speak to you.

3. Be even more geared up. If you’re calling about a device, PC or broadband and it hasn’t actually died physically, just mentally, try switching it off at the mains for 30 seconds. Leave the device plugged in at the mains, but not powered on for a further 2 minutes (see the golden rule). If you can manufacture the error or problem again then do, making notes of any error messages write them down and don’t leave out error codes or jargon. This could be the information that gets your issue solved a heck of a lot faster.

4. Being prepared like a hawk – ready to swoop in at the right moment. Whilst you’re waiting, have your details ready, i.e. account number, a most recent invoice and your series of questions or issues you want to get sorted. If you’re dealing with a technology company it is always a very good idea to have your product’s serial and model number to hand. Often these numbers are on the back of devices in an inaccessible or inconvenient place, which means you may be wasting valuable time. Irritatingly, you will probably have to provide this information every time you speak with them. If it is your broadband company, have your broadband username and password ready too.

5. If you want to excel yourself with the technician. To make your techie especially happy, take screenshots of every error message you see on the screen (if possible). When in Windows, just simply press the ‘print screen’ button on your keyboard (often in the top right of the keyboard). Nothing will happen on screen, but your computer will have taken a snapshot of what was on the screen when you pressed the button. Then start an email, or a word document and press paste (Ctrl+V or ‘Edit’ in the top menu and ‘Paste’). Then save the document or send it. Make sure that with each screenshot you have a description such as “error when downloading email” or “error when synching iPod”. This will make referencing to essential details easier later.