Waiting On Hold: How Long?

Here’s how long you should wait on hold:

You should wait on hold until you get an answer or until you deem it to be a waste of time.

For the average phone call, this will be between one and five minutes, but there are plenty of cases where a longer hold time makes sense.

It’s up to you how long is reasonable.

So if you want to learn all about how long you should wait on hold, then this article is for you.

Let’s get into it!

Waiting On Hold: How Long? (8 Reasons)

What Does the Research Say?

It turns out that businesses have paid professional researchers to take a long, serious look at this question.

They want to know how long customers will stay on the line before hanging up.

The information helps them design call center logistics and adjust business plans in general.

The answer depends on a lot of specific aspects of the call.

Someone checking on order status will usually stay on a line longer than someone calling to see if the store is still open this late at night.

You get the idea.

But, when the researchers averaged across all calls and multiple surveys, here’s what they found.

The average person will hang up after being on hold for just one minute.

That, of course, leads to a second question. Should you aim to be average in this sense?

Should you hang up after one minute?

That’s a different question, and we’ll have to go a little deeper and consider more than a few situations to find a satisfying answer.

Why Are You on the Phone? (8 Reasons)

If we’re going to talk about hold times, then the most important factor is the purpose of the call.

As I said before, there are phone calls that are worth enduring more of a hold time.

If you’re trying to get a loved one released from jail, then you might endure a much longer hold time than if you’re trying to order a pizza.

There are countless reasons to make a phone call and just as many reasons to wait on hold.

I can’t break them all down for you, but we can consider a handful of the most common motivations, so let’s do that.

#1 Calling Friends and/or Family

Let’s address the objection you might have in your head.

How often do people wait on hold when calling friends or family?

It might not be the most common expectation, but it actually does happen.

Even if they don’t have a formal hold option, everyone has been in a hold situation at some point.

Imagine this scenario.

You’re calling your friend to figure out where you are meeting for dinner later.

They have three young children.

In the middle of the conversation, they stop you dead and say, “Hold on for a minute. My child is about to use a fork to get his toast.”

They don’t hang up.

They don’t use a hold feature or function on their phone.

But, they aren’t there talking to you either.

You wait for a minute or two, and you get to hear some of the conversations with the child over the phone.

After a bit, they come back, and you continue the conversation.

That’s one of the countless examples, but the point stands.

You’re willing to wait for at least a little for the sake of friends and family.

In this type of situation, how long is reasonable?

Everyone finds their own answer.

My two cents is that five minutes is about the limit.

If the hold needs to be longer than that, it’s just as easy for you to call each other back at a better time.

This brings us to today’s theme.

In every one of these cases, the answer is really up to you.

You should hold as long as you think is reasonable.

Even though that really is the best answer, I’ll offer a rationalization for a specific time range for each scenario.

#2 Trying to Win Something

This is nowhere near as common as it used to be, but there are still instances where you will call something to try to win a prize.

The best example off the top o my head is a radio contest.

Sure, radio is a thing of the past, but somehow, we all end up listening to the local airwaves at some point in the car.

So, let’s say you’re calling in to win concert tickets or something.

How long should you stay on hold?

The answer is probably proportional to the value of the prize.

If you’re winning a VIP, backstage vacation package, it’s probably worth a half-hour wait.

If it’s just a coupon for a free sandwich, you might not stay on the line for more than five minutes.

In any case, if the prize is anything less than life-changing, I probably wouldn’t stay on hold for more than 15 minutes.

#3 Dealing With the Government

This is so unfortunate.

If you ever have to call into a government agency, then you can almost guarantee a long hold time.

The worse part is that you’re only calling because there’s a legal obligation.

Maybe you have to call in to report for jury duty.

Maybe you’re trying to schedule an appointment at the DMV.

Maybe your business needs a professional inspection for the new HVAC system.

There are countless possibilities.

The problem here is that, on average, the government doesn’t care how long you have to wait.

They know that you’ll wait as long as it takes, and there’s no real incentive to improve customer satisfaction.

So, how long should you wait?

This one has the worst answer. You should wait as long as it takes.

Grab a chair and drinks and snacks.

Hopefully, you’re doing this in your living room, and you can turn on Netflix.

One way or another, find a way to stay sane because these wait times can be the worst.

#4 Business to Business Calls

This situation is almost an inversion of calling the government.

Business-to-business calls tend to get a lot of priority.

I’ll skip the countless specifics of why these calls happen.

The big thing here is that the business you are calling is probably eager to hear from you.

They might be busy enough that they have to put you on hold, but in most cases, you shouldn’t expect to be on hold for more than five minutes.

If the contact at that business can’t get to you buy then, then whoever answered the phone will probably try to schedule a callback.

#5 Getting Something Fixed

I’m ping-ponging your emotions a bit.

We went from endless government hold times to hyper-efficient business-to-business calls.

Now I’m hitting you with tech support calls. Ugh.

Whether you’re calling a warranty service, insurance company, Comcast support, or anything else, if the purpose of the call is to fix something you need, then you’re going to endure much longer hold times.

Now, not all companies are going to put you on hold for a long time, but some will.

Once again, your level of need is what determines the maximum tolerable hold time.

This answer isn’t original at this point, but it holds true.

You’ll probably stay on the line as long as it takes because you really need resolution.

#6 Answer the Phone

Hang on.

Someone calls you and you’re the one on hold?! Yeah.

It happens.

These could be telemarketer calls or a few other niche situations.

The unifying thing is that you answer the phone and hear “please hold for . . . “ 

It’s annoying, but unless it’s an important call that you are expecting, you don’t have to tolerate it.

The one clear exception excluded, I wouldn’t wait even a full minute.

You can hang up right away.

#7 Calling a Business

There are a lot of ways this shakes out too, but let’s go with a simple example to make the point.

Imagine your phone’s charging cord just died.

You need a new one, but you’re not sure if the store is open this time in the evening.

You call Best Buy to see when they close.

Ideally, the automated answering message will tell you the business hours, but if it doesn’t, then you might need to hold for a bit before anyone gets on the line.

In this kind of scenario, it’s worth holding up until it’s faster to just drive to the store and find out firsthand.

Ballpark, I’d be willing to wait for five minutes to potentially save me a frustrating drive.

#8 Until You Have Another Option

Here’s the final general answer.

You’re going to wait on hold until you have a better option.

Sometimes, the reason to be on hold is worth very little, and simply being off the phone is a better option.

When you really need the call, then exploring other possibilities can save you from a long hold time.

There are a few specific examples to help think about this:

  • Chat support
  • Email
  • Forums
  • Social media (Twitter is often the best for reaching a business)
  • In-person

If any of these options can get you off of hold, then feel free to explore them.

They won’t always be faster than a phone call (email is often a multi-day exchange with a business support specialist), but you don’t always need things to move in real-time.