When agents are faced with a challenging question and do not have the answer, they generally have one of two options; 1) place the caller on hold, while they look for the answer, or  2) transfer the call to someone with the requisite knowledge. Thus we see a see-saw effect between these two metrics (hold time and transfers) when looking at a large number of benchmark reports.

Management often chooses the preferred approach according to their center’s strategy.  Either managers prefer to have agents become more knowledgeable and educated (by seeking the answer while the caller is on hold) or they prefer to have less-seasoned agents simply get the customer over to a knowledgeable agent (often located in what is called an “Expert Hub”).  Not surprisingly,  centers that favor the “hold” option usually have average hold times that are higher than industry averages and transfers that are below industry averages, while centers that lean in favor of the “transfer” option have elevated levels of transfers and lower than average hold times.

Optimizing these metrics is important, since both holds and transfers have an impact on caller satisfaction. Even if the outcome is good and a resolution found, callers are apt to communicate their dissatisfaction about the delays and transfers to their friends and others via word of mouth and social media networks – – as well as in satisfaction surveys.

In the case of larger centers or multi-site operations, managers may want to conduct A/B tests, in which one part of the operation favors the “hold” strategy, while the other favors the “transfer” strategy.  Post-call IVR surveys can reveal which approach yields higher satisfaction overall.  Naturally, the selected approach should fit well with the mission and strategy of the center as a whole, and the level of complexity involved with questions that come in.

Experts agree that training and proper tools can help minimize the negative impacts on customer satisfaction:

  1. Keep the customer engaged and avoid putting the caller on hold  if possible. Allow the line to stay open while the agent researches the solution. When doing so, the agent should inform the caller the steps taken and progress being made. This allows the agent to ask additional questions germane to the call and builds a better relationship between the caller and agent.
  2. Research call types to better understand the sorts of calls that produce longer amounts of hold time, or have higher transfer rates than other types of calls handled by your center.  You may find that you have missed some “fairly-frequently” asked questions that you can add to the agent training curriculum and thus avoid transfers and holds going forward.
  3. Study the calls of agents who have a high incidence of hold times and “dead air” – –  then analyze the causes of those episodes.
  4. Evaluate technology: look at agent tools, call routing and Knowledge Management software packages that may cause delays in information access.
  5. Track escalations and the reasons for escalations.
  6. Ask:
    1. Do we have a clear policy concerning transfers?
    2. Why are transfers necessary?
    3. Who receives the transferred calls, and why them?
    4. What tools and resources are available to prevent transfers?
  7. Consider creating an Expert Hub: use subject matter experts who can actively coach the agent during the call and assist the agent in achieving first call resolution.

Benchmarking is one of the best tools for improving operations within the center. Through its use, you can learn the normal ranges for hold time and transfers within your industry and optimize the performance of your center. By benchmarking before and after taking initiatives, you can show how metrics are moved and improved through your efforts.

Tip of the day: Although Hold Time is part of Average Handle Time; isolate Hold Time to understand the total impact it has on the larger metric.


calltalk-caramelsCallTalk is a monthly internet radio program featuring the most innovative managers and thought leaders in the customer contact field, interviewed by BenchmarkPortal CEO, Bruce Belfiore.  “Caramels” distills “Aha!” moments from these interviews into practical, bite-sized nuggets to inform and assist you as a contact center professional.

Topics: At-Home Agents, Transfers, CallTalk Caramels, Contact Center Articles, Hold Time