You Probably Spent 13 Hours on Hold Last Year

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Add this factoid to the many others concerning the poor state of customer service, right alongside the one about how we collectively lose $38 billion annually waiting around for the cable guy to show up.

According to a new poll, most American consumers (53%) say that they spend 10 to 20 minutes on hold each and every week. That 15 minutes or so per week adds up to 780 minutes per year—or 13 hours annually—spent waiting for a company that swears via automated message “we care about your business” to answer the darn phone.

The survey, commissioned by text-message service TalkTo, also states that 86% of consumers report being put on hold every time they call a business, and that 48% believe the customer service representatives who answer phone calls are not helpful. The data is similar to that of previous polls indicating, for instance, that 60% of consumers who call to complain get nothing, and that 71% are “tremendously annoyed” when they can’t get a live customer service agent on the phone.

(MORE: Could 2013 Be the Year That Customer Service Gets Better?)

You’d think that the latest survey results would serve as yet another rallying call for improved customer help lines, including shorter wait times and more, you know, actual help. Instead, the survey’s sponsor points to a rather self-serving solution, claiming that texting businesses with service requests makes more sense than dialing up and waiting.

“This research shows how poorly the phone performs as a customer-service channel,” Stuart Levinson, CEO of TalkTo, an app that lets consumers text businesses, said via press release. “Everyone’s calling less and texting more. It’s time for businesses to catch up with how customers want to interact with them.”

We can all agree that businesses could—and should—get a lot better at interacting with customers. But are people really texting more? Data gathered at the end of 2012 shows just the opposite, that the average American’s monthly text total recently declined for the first time ever.

Compared to waiting on hold on the phone, sending off a text obviously saves time. But does doing so result in superior, or at least comparable, results for the customer? We don’t really know. In a 2011 Consumer Reports study on the state of customer service, calling was named the favored mode for seeking assistance, with 20% picking it as the best option. In second place was the in-person visit with customer service, preferred by 16%. Only 2% favored live chat, and less than that pointed to e-mail—which is probably the closest parallel to using the text message for customer service help.

(MORE: OMG! Traditional Text Messaging Is on the Decline)

The usual roundups of tips for getting better customer service often suggest the use of Twitter and Facebook because of how quickly word can spread via social networks—and how bad for business it would be if an instance of horrendous customer service goes viral. By contrast, the idea of text messaging for better customer service seems to be spread mostly by companies in the business of facilitating text messages.

In any event, 13 hours on hold annually!?! That’s almost enough to try anything.