Sick of Being Told to Go Climb a (Phone) Tree?

August 24, 2011 / 9 Comments

Avg Hold Time

Ever been told to “Go Climb a Tree“?  Well, we have and it’s quite rude.  Unless you’re remarkably dense (or you’re a squirrel), being told to go climb a tree is something no online shopper should experience.  With that in mind, why are so many retailers eschewing good customer service and essentially telling us to do just that? 

Using data for the power of good, we’ve come up with some interesting customer service facts about the use of phone-trees and how it impacts retailer call hold times.  Only 21 of the Internet’s top 100 retailers connect shoppers directly to a live agent. That list expands to 22 if we also include 1-800 CONTACTS, which falls just outside the top 100 at #101 (We’re especially impressed that a business that bears its customer service phone number as its name, which leads to even higher call volume, steers clear of an IVR to ensure the best possible experience for shoppers).

Unfortunately for shoppers, however, MOST OF THE INTERNET’S TOP RETAILERS require shoppers to strap on climbing shoes, chalk up their hands, and prepare to mount what is often times an arduous phone-tree (otherwise known as an IVR — Interactive Voice Response).  Sadly, the odds of calling a retailer and being put directly in touch with a human being are out of your favor.

This inability to be directly connected with a human is more often than not accompanied by frustration.  If you identify with this frustration, take solace, you have solidarity — turns out 71% of shoppers become extremely irritated when they cannot reach another human being on the phone.  Even worse, 67% of those same people surveyed became so frustrated that they hung up the phone without resolving their issue at all.  To make matters worse, we found that of the top 100 retailers, those who use an IVR have an average call hold time of one minute and fifty one seconds (1:51).  Compare that to the fifty one second (0:51) average call hold time of retailers that do not use an IVR, and you can definitely pick up a trend.

So what can you do to help ensure that the first thing you speak to is a human and not HAL (or any other computer system for that matter)?  Our ratings are a pretty solid indicator.  Turns out, ten out of the top ten retailers with the shortest average hold times do not use phone-trees.  Even better, those same ten retailers all achieved either STELLAService Elite or Excellent ratings.

(click below graph to enlarge to full-view)

The above chart was updated in September 2011:, which was included in the original post, has since been excluded due to an insufficient sample size. 


31% of the Internet’s top 100 retailers have call hold times under one minute.  Out of that group, 90% are rated either Elite or Excellent.  While average call hold time is by no means the be-all end-all when it comes to a retailer’s customer service, we think it’s an important indicator of the overall service you’re likely to receive.  Take a look at our ratings.  Although not every retailer who has earned a top rating will put you directly in touch with a human when you call them (or make you wait less than a minute), there are many that will; and there are even more that will provide you a terrific all-around customer experience!

9 thoughts on “Sick of Being Told to Go Climb a (Phone) Tree?

  1. Though I don’t know if it’s one of the top 100 Internet retailers, Lands’ End should be added to this list. I called their customer service line a couple of weeks back and a lovely (not to mention knowledgeable and helpful) representative picked up on the very first ring.

  2. Lab Safety Supply has no phone trees either. Just a “this call may be used for quality assurance” message and bam a person. They are owned by Grainger though.

    • This is true of many large sites Bob. Definitely worth pointing out though since not everybody knows that Lab Safety Supply is owned by Grainger. Thank you for pointing it out.

  3. Pingback: Online Retailers Who Don’t Make Customers Use a Phone Tree « Insider Marketing: Ramblings of an Online Marketing Maverick

  4. Pingback: Customer Service Tricks: How to Escape Voicemail - CBS

  5. Your site is pretty cool to me and your topics are very relevant. I was browsing around and came across something you might find interesting. I was guilty of 3 of them with my sites. “99% of website managers are guilty of these 5 mistakes”. You will be suprised how fast they are to fix.

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