How to Put a Call on Hold

man in office on the telephone

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When a caller is on hold, 60 seconds can seem like an eternity. To help mitigate this perception, many companies program the phone to play calming classical music or some jaunty jazz to make the interminable wait seem less tiresome.

Aside from that, putting someone on hold in a professional way can help temper any frustration and depends on exercising common courtesy. Think about how you would like to be treated if you were on the other end of the line.

The Proper Etiquette for Putting a Client on Hold

  • Explain the reason you need to put the caller on hold.
  • Ask for the person's phone number, in case the conversation is cut off.
  • Promise to return in a minute—or your best estimate of how long the hold will last. If you think the delay will be longer than a couple of minutes, ask for a number and a time when you can call back.
  • If, despite your best efforts, the delay is taking longer than anticipated, check-in with the caller, so that he doesn't feel abandoned. Again, offer to call them back, rather than keeping them holding.
  • When you return to the phone, apologize for the inconvenience and thank the caller for their patience.
  • Use the caller's name frequently to add a sense of connection.

Things to Avoid When Putting a Client on Hold

  • Don't interrupt a caller in mid-sentence to put her on hold. Wait for a pause in the conversation.
  • Never put someone on hold without announcing you'll be doing so. Ask her if you may put her on hold, rather than just telling her.
  • Don't put a person on hold multiple times in one call.
  • Don't leave the caller holding for more than two minutes without checking in.
  • Never make her call you back; you should always offer to return the call.
  • Never be rude, no matter how mad a caller may get.

Sample Ways to Put a Caller on Hold

You don't have to follow the dialogue word for word, but these sample scenarios give a sense of the professional way to put someone on hold:

  • "Mr. Smith, can you please hold while I retrieve your file?" [pause for a response] "Thank you. I will be back in a minute." [return to the call] "Thank you for waiting, Mr. Smith. I can now help you."
  • "Ms. Jones, I will check to see if Mr. Johnson is available to take your call. Can you please hold for a minute?" [pause for a response] "Thank you. I will be right back." [return to the call] "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, Ms. Jones. Mr. Johnson is not available right now. May I have him call you back?"

Improve the System

When it comes to what listeners hear during the hold period, you don’t have to be limited by your phone system or carrier's options. These days, there are multiple on-hold services that allow you to download and install music or messages. 

As an even more professional, sophisticated option, your company could hire a firm to develop unique, customized on-hold programming for your phones. It can include anything from spoken words to snatches of song. The firm that develops your proprietary sound or message periodically refresh or even change it, as well.