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Lead Your Team Strategy

Are You Overestimating Your Customers' Patience?

Are You Overestimating Your Customers' Patience?
Call centers are testing customer patience. / Credit: Impatient image via Shutterstock

Having a better understanding of customers' patience level is the key to offering improved call-center service, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business discovered that better predicting caller behavior can help call centers reduce customer waiting time, which ends up benefiting the business as a whole.

"Knowing when a person decides to hang up or hang on is vital to streamlining call-center operations, minimizing caller frustration and maximizing each customer-service encounter," said Che-Lin Su, one of the study's authors and a University of Chicago professor.

Improving call-center speed and service benefits everyone, as it helps calm angry customers, make phone agents less agitated and allows business to get done more quickly and efficiently, the researchers said.

In the study, the researchers developed a new call-center model that produced more realistic results for how long a caller would stay on the line, thus enabling a more precise estimate for the number of callers who could be served per hour, day and month.

"It's no use spending millions on advertising a new product, service or event if your call center can't cope with the customer response," said Baris Ata, co-author of the study and a professor at the University of Chicago.

As part of their study, researchers used their new model, as well as past models, in four scenarios simulating changes in call priority handling. They discovered that the older-style assumptions may be misleading, as they produce caller-abandonment predictions that can be inaccurate — sometimes significantly overestimating how long a caller is willing to hang on, or somewhat underestimating a caller's tendency to hang up.

"When a call center alters its discipline to improve speed and service, add agents, or change call routing and priority, we theorized those things should influence caller patience — and our model shows that such improvements do, indeed, make a difference in whether people decide to hang up or hang on," Su said.

Su and Ata said their new model could be used to help call centers design better systems and fine-tune those already in place.

The research was published recently in the journal Management Science.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.