When managing tech support calls, be careful with terms like “shortly”


This past weekend, I spent several hours on hold with a vendor’s tech support department. I was trying to resolve a network configuration issue, and needed to have it fixed before Monday morning. Each time I called them, the operator placed me on hold — even when I was supposedly being transferred to a specific person. I waited as long as 40 minutes for a tech support rep, despite our account being a business line that theoretically gets access to dedicated support resources.

All of this was frustrating, but one small thing really stood out. Every minute or so while I was on hold, the voice message said “A representative will be with you shortly.” Obviously, that’s a generic message that they play regardless of whether the wait time is 2 minutes or 45 minutes. But it probably does more harm than good. Just think about it: if the hold time is short, you don’t need to reassure people that someone will be with them soon. And if the hold time is very long, using the word “shortly” sets the wrong expectations — leading to even more irate customers.

To resolve this issue, you can do one of two things. First, you could make the messaging more context sensitive. If the customer is way back in the call queue, or they called during a period when you have very few staff on hand, don’t include words like “shortly” that imply a 5 minute wait. Second, you can use one message without any fancy context detection. But make the message accurate even for longer wait times. For instance, you could say “The next representative will be with you as soon as they can, but please note that hold times can be up to 45 minutes or more during heavy call volume or after-hours shifts.” Sure, these aren’t as friendly as just saying “shortly”. However, this approach is ultimately better for tech support staff and customers, since everyone goes into the process with a realistic idea of what’s going to happen next.