Phone Call Failure: How Long Will You Wait for a Callback?

Nearly two thirds of companies tested take more than one day to return phone calls.

A recent study of service companies uncovered that over one third of HVAC (heat, ventilation, and air conditioning) companies force valued customers and prospects into an automated phone system instead of treating them to a more customer-centric response: letting callers talk to a real person. This isn’t a radical concept. It’s what most people want, especially when their need is urgent.

Even more shocking, almost two thirds of these same HVAC companies, wait more than twenty-four hours to return calls. “This is troubling given that many of those calls come from businesses and homeowners looking to hire a contractor for their installation and repair services,” said Adam Berkson, president of LiveVoice, which commissioned the study. These callers need help and often it’s an emergency, yet most HVAC companies make these callers wait for more than a day. “This is simply an unacceptable way to do business,” Berkson added. “It defies common sense.”

That’s more than one full day that expectant callers spend waiting for a call back. How many people are willing to sit around and wait that long? Not many. They will grow frustrated and start calling other companies until they get a response.

Industry expert Angela Garfinkel, president of Quality Contact Solutions provided some sage callback guidelines: “Fifteen minutes would be preferable,” she suggests, and “one hour at the most.” She would know, having dedicated her career to the telephone and its proper use.

Though a majority of the companies tested delay more than twenty-four hours before making a return phone call, the longest they should take is one hour, preferably fifteen minutes. That’s a huge difference.

The test calls were placed to nearly nine hundred businesses, including 212 HVAC companies, from May 2 to May 10, 2016. Bill Haack coordinated the project. “How can you stay in business if you don’t call people back within a reasonable timeframe?”

For an HVAC company – or any business, for that matter – that wants to succeed, the obvious solution is to call people back right away. “If you delay too long, the caller will merely phone your competition, who will then grow at your expense,” concluded Berkson. “It’s a zero-sum game. If they win business, you lose business.”

For companies that want to keep existing customers and pick up new ones, the first place to look is their phone: Have a real person answer the phone and then return calls quickly. Most any answering service can handle the first part and a great one will work with you to achieve the second. Deciding to use an answering service is the first step. Picking the right one, however, is key.

Peter DeHaan, PhD, is a freelance writer, call center authority, and publisher of Connections Magazine, which covers the call center industry.