“We are experiencing unusually high call volumes”

You know you’ve heard it. It’s the dreaded warning that you’ll be listening to scratchy music interspersed with short ads upselling you or encouraging you to get answers online for the next 30-40 minutes before you hear a couple of beeps and your call is unceremoniously dropped.

The messages to get your answers online instead are particularly galling, since anyone with a brain and an Internet connection nowadays will do ANYTHING to avoid having to get on the phone since we know that entails at least an hour of Muzak-overrun purgatory. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve emailed my bank, Internet provider, or other service and gotten a canned email response saying that they would love to help me with my inquiry if I would just call them at their toll-free number.

Let’s think about what years of “unusually high call volumes” really means. It means that call volumes are unexpectedly high, even higher than they were last year, when they were unexpectedly high, too. That implies that the number of calls has been growing exponentially for years, even if they were stupid enough to imagine that, after every year of call volume growth, the next year’s call volumes would grow linearly.

Now, let’s assume “normal call volumes” were those experienced at approximately 3:17am on a balmy August morning, back in 1987, otherwise known as the Pre-Call Center Era. The growth that would have had to occur since then in order to justify the “unusually heavy call volumes” claim would probably necessitate about 86% of the planet to be working at a call center right now.

In fact, we would all have to be simultaneously calling call centers from multiple numbers, and answering multiple calls, after, of course, each call had been sitting in queue for at least 30 minutes.

Another annoyance: “Your call is very important to us.” If that were true, don’t you think they would hire more people so that they could answer calls promptly? Or maybe they really mean, “Your call is very important to us, but your time isn’t”?

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  1. There is no one there to answer.

    Comment by SRBAC — April 12, 2011 @ 6:57 am

  2. I don’t understand what why those companies don’t just outsource their high call volumes or over flow calls. Long hold times cost business customers regardless of the business you are in. We live in a world of new age technology and it seems like we get more advanced in many areas but some companies dont realize that their own communications with customers must be more advanced (and immediate) too.

    Comment by Mike — November 14, 2012 @ 7:30 am

  3. Both the “unusually high call volumes” and “your call is important to us” now mean “we’re not afraid to lie to your face” in my book. I have no trust for companies that put me on hold for all this time and tell me those lies.

    I’m going to treat their employees like crap, and I’m going to assume that anything that seems a little funny or that may have been an honest mistake was actually an attempt to steal from me or trick me. They brought it upon themselves.

    Comment by Andrew — April 10, 2013 @ 4:07 pm

  4. I agree with Andrew. These companies seem to go out of their way to lie to me, treat me like garbage, put me on hold for 40 minutes or more, then transfer to dead extensions, then hang up on me, and then act all shocked and apalled when I am slightly agitated and somewhat rude to them. Then, when I show the least amount of displeasure, or tell them about my bad experience or ask for a supervisor, I get hung up on again.

    I will say that ANY COMPANY in any BUSINESS that the average joe has to deal with it life that offers at least a decent customer experience, will take over the industry. Sadly, poor customer service is now the norm. A customer who expects proper treatment has a better chance of hitting powerball…twice.

    Comment by dekare — February 21, 2014 @ 4:29 pm

  5. In my books “We are experiencing unusually high call volumes” is a senior management failure in that they are too mean to employ enough staff.
    The “We are experiencing unusually high call volumes” should occur rarely not every time you ring a company, which seems to be the norm

    Comment by Guy B — July 4, 2014 @ 12:20 am

  6. Not that I am any less angry about this message than anyone else, but the fact of the matter is technology moves far faster then peoples ability to utilize it. For example, look at all the things a smartphone can do. Most of my friends use the tip of the iceberg as far as the functionality and capabilities of the phone are concerned. So when these people run into an issue, and there are a lot of them, they call for help. I am by no means saying that this is why we get this message, but that simply it is possible that there are a lot more people calling than before. Secondly, there are generally low margins consumer technology, which means companies will cut costs somewhere to increase the bottom line. Guess where that will be. 🙂

    Larger companies that do have margin and are very profitable, GENERALLY, do not have this message. I have never heard this message when calling Apple or Sonos for example. I used to be with a hosting company called HostGator and they were great. Then they were purchased by someone else and all that great service went down hill. The “We are experiencing unusually high call volumes” statement has been on their phone now for over a year. It is also standard on their chat sessions as well. It is one of the first messages you get.

    I am sure there are many other companies out there that have this message as a permanent fixture on their answering systems because they are simply understaffed OR they leave it there as a deterrent to scare people away. Either way, it is a most frustrating thing.

    I pay more of a premium for hosting now and guess what, their tech support has a hold of about 1 min or less. Even if I open a trouble ticket via email, I hear back from them in about 15 minutes or less.

    I would venture to say that this falls into the “You get what you pay for” category.

    Comment by Houston Brown — January 13, 2015 @ 9:52 am

  7. Making the decision to add agents isn’t that simple. But with the right amount of data, a call center company can pitch additional seats to clients. It’s all a matter of proper timing and information.

    Comment by Connie — March 27, 2015 @ 1:08 am

  8. Funny thing is, I work in the only call centre that is:

    A: Based in the UK (for once)
    B: Has “unusually high call volumes” on special occasions when you have to wait more than two minutes flat (i.e when they really are high).

    The manufacturers, like Panasonic, Samsung, Hotpoint, etc are terrible for hold times and lying about “unusually high” call volumes which we call them out on.

    Comment by Pc Genie — May 13, 2015 @ 4:40 am

  9. Add B&Q UK to the list …enquiring about a next day delivery..which is not here as yet .probably take all day to get through or van will turn up beforecall answered

    and pigs may fly

    Comment by jim currie — November 18, 2015 @ 2:25 am

  10. its simple. unusually high call volume means they fired most of their customer service agents and the remaining agents are having to manage the same amount of calls

    DailyCandor: Sounds about right

    Comment by carol — January 5, 2016 @ 8:49 am

  11. I agree these companies are greedy cheap a holes that dont want to hire more representatives to take calls. Now dont be stupid and take it out on the representative like idiot andrew, just so you know the more you complain the more we can make you hold or hang up on you it goes both ways baby doll. At times you may get a push over that will apologize over anything but most are not like that so dont get all snappy and blame the phone rep because trust me we have ways to hide a hang up lol you will be disconnected trust me call back and say you spoke to so and so and their will be no record lol watch your stupid mouth it will get you resolution if you do.

    Comment by Jon — February 9, 2016 @ 2:16 am

  12. What it means is they are are experiencing very low staff and resource levels as the company you are calling will not employ enough staff to run their business properly… Typical of most greedy, shareholder oriented businesses in the west nowadays…

    Comment by Steven McGill — June 2, 2016 @ 8:05 am

  13. My only hope is that the greedy ones who made the decision to not hire more operators, but to overwork the existing operators at Bank of America have their time wasted in the near future 10 times what they do to us.

    Comment by Les — June 8, 2016 @ 6:09 pm

  14. Sadly enough, the IRS is as guilty of this as any of these non-government corporations. Not to mention the incredible WASTE of paper they send me in the mail. I called on afternoon at 4 p.m. and sat on hold waiting for someone to pick up my call until their phone system hung up on me at 7:30 p.m.

    If you don’t have enough people to handle the phone system, time to hire some more bodies.

    Comment by Sonny Burnett — November 30, 2016 @ 8:30 am

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