Testing the Phone Customer Service Wait Times of 50 Leading Ecommerce Sites

telephone handset image

Nobody likes to wait. And when customers are reaching out to companies for service or support needs, waiting is even more frustrating than usual.

One common area of customer service frustration is in the realm of phone support. Customers track down a number to call in order to receive assistance with an issue, and usually experience an interactive voice response menu (or IVR), a wait on hold for a live representative, or some combination of those different elements.

Both interacting with a menu and waiting on hold take valuable time. Navigating through an IVR can be a frustratingly slow process, as callers are required to listen to all the different options in the hopes of finding the right one for them. And we certainly all understand the aggravation that comes from making an incorrect choice, or being disconnected after getting close to our ultimate goal, then having to start the entire menu over again. And the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a significant disruption and increased workloads across the customer service industry, which has only exacerbated issues for companies that haven’t adjusted to new business needs.

People are willing to wait to get the assistance they need, but how long is too long to make them wait? Based on industry data, we can see that 50% of callers in a study abandoned their efforts somewhere around the 90 second mark, and separate surveys of customers have found that two-thirds of customers are only willing to wait up to two minutes to speak to an agent. So we have a few different data points indicating that there’s a likely frustration point right around the 90 second to two minute time frame.

Don't make your customers wait more than two minutes on the phone, or you risk frustration. Click To Tweet

Testing phone customer service response time

In order to get a sense of average phone customer service response times in 2021, we set out to call the support line of 50 large ecommerce businesses and traditional retailers with online stores. We navigated phone menus looking for general customer service, and timed how long it took, between listening to menu options and waiting on hold, to speak to an actual human. For reference, we made our calls during business hours in February of 2021.

For ease of reference and discussion, we separated the results into three categories. Tier A companies allowed us to connect to a customer service agent in 90 seconds or less. Tier B fell within 90 seconds and three minutes. And Tier C companies had a wait time of more than three minutes (when menu navigation and waiting on hold were combined).

The results

phone-support-wait-times-4

As you can see, less than a quarter of the ecommerce companies in our test enabled us to connect with a customer service agent on the phone in less than 90 seconds. Those that do meet this high mark, especially during the online shopping surge caused by Covid-19, are showing a true dedication to customer service. Between streamlined IVR menus and short hold times, these Tier A companies allow customers to get the help they need with minimal waiting.

Half of the companies we surveyed gave us a response right around the potential frustration points identified by industry data, coming in at between 90 seconds to three minutes of waiting time. On a given day an individual customer’s experience is going to vary, and could come in a little below or above this range - so these companies need to be wary of falling into Tier C during times of high call volume.

Just over a quarter of the companies in our test had wait times in excess of three minutes - some of them significantly higher than this benchmark. Long wait times can sometimes be unavoidable, but when you combine lengthy hold periods with slow and inefficient IVRs, you have a recipe for customer frustration. Companies that consistently find themselves in the Tier C range risk alienating and losing customers who are looking for service assistance.

The average wait time for the 50 companies we tested was 3:12, though that was bumped notably higher by a couple of unfortunately long wait time standouts. When the shortest two and longest two wait times are excluded, the remaining group average is 2:42.

You can find our full survey data at the end of this article.

Highlights

If you’ve ever experienced the pure joy of calling a company for customer service and being connected to a live person immediately, then you know that all of the companies on our Tier A list deserve recognition for the speed at which they were able to provide assistance.

Aside from the pure speed of response, customer service highlights we found in our test include:

  • Chewy.com, a pet supply company, connected us directly to a customer service agent with no IVR or waiting on hold.
  • 1-800-PetMeds provides a hold message advertising the company’s self-service options, which is a helpful call deflection technique.
  • Jo-Ann Fabrics has an IVR menu option allowing you to text with a customer service representative, which is an appealing option for younger customers.

Lowlights

When discussing the lowlights, it’s important to note once again that a company that had long hold wait times once won’t necessarily always have those same issues. However, many of the companies in our Tier C list exhibited systemic customer service issues, including dead-end IVRs and restrictions in the way of customers seeking support via the phone.

  • Cars.com has an IVR that informed us that there were no agents available, but then provided a sub-directory allowing us to press 0 to speak to an agent. When we tried that, the line rang without an answer until it disconnected. This is the only site included in our data that didn’t actually connect us with a live customer service agent eventually.
  • Walgreens had a very long wait time that is possibly related to Covid issues. Unfortunately, no part of the phone interaction refers callers to any other forms of service, other than a suggestion to go to Walgreens.com for appointment scheduling.
  • Gamestop’s IVR includes an option to select for “Gamestop.com issues.” When that is selected, a voice message says “We are sorry you are having issues. Goodbye.” and then disconnects the call.

Second Tries

In order to test the variability of call answer times, we decided to give the three companies with the longest wait times a second try in early March.

When we called Gamestop back, we were connected to customer service in a much more reasonable 2:34. That’s still a little on the longer side, but it’s a big improvement for the company that performed the worst in our initial test.

When we tried Walgreens a second time, however, the company added ten minutes to their initial wait time, coming in at a staggering 27:58. Once again, we imagine this is in some part due to Covid issues, but it’s important to note that rival pharmacy CVS only had a wait time of 3:48 in our testing.

Finally, Harbor Freight improved their wait time slightly in a second try, coming in at 5:01. That’s still Tier C on two different attempts, but it’s significantly better than the nearly ten minutes we spent waiting the first time we called.

How to improve slow phone menus/long wait times

If you’re a company dealing with slow IVRs and long hold times, you need to take action quickly to correct the situation. Aside from long wait times causing issues with customer satisfaction, there’s also the issue that 1 in 3 customers who hang up will never call back. Existing customers looking for service might try other contact methods, but they might also just decide to cut their losses and move on from your company. And if a potential lead is reaching out via phone for information, it’s very possible that once they’ve hung up in frustration you won’t be hearing from them again.

We’ve previously covered the biggest problems with phone support and how to solve them, so check out that article for our complete advice. Here are a few essential tips:

  1. Follow IVR best practices and keep things simple and streamlined.
  2. Use call deflection techniques in your IVR and hold message to direct callers to your website for self-service options. This will lower your call volume and consequently reduce hold times.
  3. Set up a live chat widget and chat bots on your website to offer alternate methods of customer service that are more time efficient.

Many modern web companies and those that cater primarily to a younger audience have already made significant shifts away from phone support. While it’s still an important contact method for many businesses to maintain, it needs to be done well to ensure it’s doing more good than harm for your business.

You can sign up for a free trial of Formilla today to add live chat and chat bots to your existing site.

Full Survey Data

Tier A

Less Than 90 Seconds

Chewy 0:03
6pm.com 0:52
Blue Apron 0:58
Duluth Trading Co. 1:01
Grubhub 1:10
PetMeds 1:12
Staples 1:13
REI 1:15
Williams-Sonoma 1:16
Shop.com 1:18
Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts 1:20

Tier B

90 Seconds to 3 Minutes

Ulta 1:30
H&M 1:32
Nordstrom.com 1:33
Ace Hardware 1:33
Sephora 1:33
Dicks Sporting Goods 1:36
Bath and Bodyworks 1:39
QVC 1:44
CostCo 1:47
Victoria’s Secret 1:52
Farfetch 1:56
Nike 1:57
Overstock 2:02
Gap 2:02
IKEA Holdings US 2:09
Kohls 2:15
Macy’s 2:15
Chanel 2:18
Michaels 2:19
Homegoods 2:26
JC Penny 2:28
Target 2:29
Crate & Barrel 2:40
Office Max 2:41
Lowes 2:43

Tier C

More Than 3 Minutes

Wal-Mart 3:41
CVS 3:48
Barnes and Noble 4:04
Sears 4:06
Kroger 4:19
Cars.com 4:30
Zappos 4:40
Groupon 5:29
Expedia 5:30
Vroom.com 6:13
Newegg 6:18
Harbor Freight 9:53
Walgreens.com 17:24
Gamestop 18:11

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