10 Companies that Keep You on Hold Forever

Last Updated Jun 15, 2011 10:56 AM EDT

If you feel like you're waiting forever on "hold" when you call Barnes & Noble, or that Crate & Barrel is slow responding to your emails, don't worry. It's not your imagination.

A new survey by STELLAService found the online bookseller and the home décor store rates slowest for phone and email response times, respectively.

Yesterday, I reviewed the fastest of the top 100 retailers. But seriously, now -- you really want to know which businesses are the slowest.

So do I.

The ten companies with the slowest average phone response times are:

1. BN.com (8 minutes, 3 seconds)
2. CSNStores.com (7 minutes, 20 seconds)
3. Macys.com (7 minutes, 12 seconds)
4. Zones.com (6 minutes, 56 seconds)
5. GreenMountainCoffee.com (4 minutes, 50 seconds)
6. Buy.com (4 minutes, 30 seconds)
7. Costco.com (4 minutes, 21 seconds)
8. crateandbarrel.com (4 minutes, 10 seconds)
9. HPShopping.com (4 minutes, 6 seconds)
10. Avon.com (3 minutes, 49 seconds)

The ten companies with the slowest average email response times are:

1. crateandbarrel.com (88:30:24)
2. Fingerhut.com (79:29:30)
3. Dell.com (65:10:45)
4. SwissColony.com (52:29:15)
5. MarketAmerica.com (39:35:36)
6. GreenMountainCoffee.com (39:20:12)
7. BestBuy.com (39:03:30)
8. Nike.com (37:17:36)
9. NorthernTool.com (35:45:50)
10. Williams-Sonoma.com (31:18:10)

I asked Jordy Leiser, STELLAService's chief executive, to help me find meaning in these numbers.

"I would encourage consumers to evaluate the importance of speedy service to their own shopping experience," he told me. "If a company puts you on hold for several minutes, or makes you wait more than a day for a reply to an email question, there are probably other merchants out there selling the same item you're looking for at the same -- or very similar -- price but will also be there for you in seconds if need be."

Two repeat offenders
Most noteworthy is the presence of two repeat offenders in the top 10. GreenMountainCoffee.com, which took an average of 4 minutes and 50 seconds to respond by phone and 39 hours to respond by email, is a standout. So is Crateandbarrel.com, which had an average "hold" time of 4 minutes and 10 seconds, and won in the email category with a patience-testing 88+ hours.

That's impressive. You have to work hard to make both lists. In the top 10, only one company, Disney, pulled it off.

But does slow service translate into bad service?

I've compiled a list of the worst businesses in America as determined by several surveys, and only one of the companies also makes these lists: Dell.

It's funny, I used to be a loyal Dell customer. Then it started charging for customer support and I spent hours on "hold" trying to get help. After months of frustration, I switched to a Mac.

Never been happier.

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.
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Photo: tarotastic/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.