Companies that Put You "On Hold" the Longest

Last Updated Jul 6, 2011 10:35 AM EDT

Don't call your airline.

You'll probably be on "hold" forever, according to new research by FastCustomer, a customer service technology provider.

Five of the 10 companies with longest wait times for a customer service agent -- including the top two -- are air carriers, the study found.

"When people have a customer service issue they can't solve on their own, they just want to talk to a real person," says Aaron Dragushan, FastCustomer's CEO. But that doesn't necessarily mean the feeling is mutual.

I recently covered the 10 online companies that keep customers on hold forever, but after that post appeared, I got many emails asking me about the rest of corporate America. Who leaves you on "hold" the longest in the real world?

I suspected the airline industry would make a strong showing. I was right.

Here's FastCustomer's list:

1. Continental Airlines, 13 minutes
2. Air Canada, 10 minutes
3. IRS (Personal), 9 minutes
4. Amtrak, 9 minutes
5. AT&T Customer Service (General), 8 minutes
6. Delta Air Lines, 7 minutes
7. Southwest Airlines, 7 minutes
8. JetBlue Airways, 6 minutes
9. ACE Hardware, 6 minutes
10. AARP Healthcare, 5 minutes

FastCustomer compiled its list from a database of more than 1,700 companies. In order to determine hold times for the most-requested companies, it placed an average of two customer-service calls each minute during its evaluation and then recorded the average wait time.

Note that these are average hold times. It gets worse â€" much worse.

"If we look at the outliers, we've seen hold times of up to 2 1/2 hours," says Dragushan. "No one wants to wait on hold for even a tiny fraction of that time."

What the results mean
We can write off government agencies like the Internal Revenue Service, or even Amtrak, to a certain extent. No one expects a call to be picked up on the first ring.

But the fact that airlines as a group underperformed the rest of corporate America may come as a surprise. Particularly troubling: the presence of JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines, two carriers with excellent reputations for service.

While it's true that many airlines have shifted their customer service resources to the Web, that's no excuse for keeping calls on "hold" for anywhere from 6 to 13 minutes. Because the airline business is so well represented, I can only guess that the industry is locked in a race to the bottom, when it comes to service.

Recent customer service ratings numbers would support that argument.

So what to do if you're on "hold" with an airline this summer?

Hang up and switch to email, Facebook or Twitter. It may be quicker, and less painful.

Related: Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He also covers customer service for the Mint.com blog. You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, Elliott.org or email him directly.
Photo: Cristian Ghe./Flickr
  • Christopher Elliott

    Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate and journalist. A columnist for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the Washington Post, Elliott also has a nationally syndicated column and blogs about customer service for the Mint.com. He is at work on a book about customer service issues.

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