Improving Call Conversion: Hold Times

call conversionI have a simple, straightforward recommendation for any marketer wishing to improve the conversion rate of their call advertising campaigns:

Reduce the average amount of time it takes for caller to speak with agent.

I expect that most of you reading this article are experienced digital marketers, and have gone through painstaking multivariate tests to improve the conversion rates of your online campaigns. More often than not, I expect the results have shown that reducing the number of fields in a form or steps in a checkout process produce material improvements to profitability.

For those of you focused on user experience of your Web sites or search results, you have doubtless read studies that show that page load time is a material factor to bounce rate and loyalty. There are similar factors at play when a potential customer calls your business, and in initial studies performed by the Marchex Institute we have seen short hold times correlated with higher conversion rates. For hospitality clients, we have compared calls longer than two minutes that produce a reservation to calls longer than two minutes that do not, and found that hold time was 20% longer on average for the latter.

In comparing calls between two national companies in a major home services category, we found that one company had a 10% higher conversion rate and a 40% shorter initial hold time.

We looked at several factors, from the deal presented to callers to advertising copy and concluded the call experience was the most important factor…

We recently worked with a client to reduce their hold time in half and saw their close rate for campaigns using this call experience to outperform all other channels.

We are currently working on a study comparing a larger volume of calls across a dozen different categories and will share that when it is available. Why might hold time be such an important factor? After all, the caller has gone ahead and taken the action to pick up the phone and dial the number. I suspect that there are at least two factors at play.

First, the amount of time a caller waits before speaking to an agent may be an indicator of how enjoyable it is to do business with you. From personal experience, when a business immediately picks up the phone I am pleasantly surprised (or, frankly, shocked) and this positive first impression may carry over into the buying experience.

Second, a caller’s sense of urgency may diminish as hold time lengthens. Perhaps the impulse that prompts someone to schedule a dental checkup or get a price quote is more fleeting than we may have imagined. After all, we could be checking Facebook.

Or are there other reasons? I’m interested to hear what you think. Feel free to reach out to the Marchex Institute at 1-800-840-1012, or e-mail us at

A quick note on the data:

We’re defining “hold time” as the length of time from the beginning of the call to the first time the caller begins speaking to the agent.  This takes into account both the length of the IVR (the play file which might ask a user to press “1” or “2”) and the time it takes for a business to answer.

John Busby leads the Marchex Institute, a research and analytics team that publishes findings on mobile advertising and the growing digital call advertising industry. The Marchex Institute also provides custom research and consulting services for customers on their mobile and call-ready advertising campaigns. Previously, Mr. Busby served as Vice President, Product Engineering at Marchex. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter.

Posted in Data, Marchex Institute, Performance Advertising

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