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Should a call center at capacity direct customers to an answering service?

Lori Bocklund responds to a reader wondering how long a customer will wait on hold and whether customers should be directed to an answering service. Bocklund advises the reader to maximize the call center during peak hours and maintain high standards of service for call center customers in the queue.

We have an environment where the primary inbound call center is at capacity. What is the average residential customer's tolerance for waiting on hold (with company messaging) before being queued to an answering service? This answering service would collect customer information and queue it for a follow-up outbound call.
This is one of those situations where "it depends" -- on many factors. There are no stats that I've seen on "average customer's tolerance" as it is impacted by the products/services they are calling about, the competition, alternatives, and more. It appears you are in a competitive business, and one that is highly based on service (both customer contact, and the ultimate service you deliver to the homeowner). The scenario you describe is not one that I would recommend, as you could lose potential customers, or irritate existing customers who might switch to the competition. If this is just a peak issue, there are lots of creative ways to offload peaks. Regardless, you can look at ways to get more out of your existing call center (e.g., shared cubes, home call center agents), or perhaps look at other options such as an outsourcing partner or backups at other sites.

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