The Professional Way to Put a Caller on Hold

Do's and Don'ts When You Have to Make 'Em Wait

man in office on the telephone
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Credit: Erik Snyder/Getty Images

The first step you can take when putting a caller on hold and making it a satisfying experience is a systematic one. When a caller is on hold, 60 seconds seems like an eternity, so see if you can program the phone system to play music (calming classical or jaunty jazz is best) to break this perception of an interminable wait.

Aside from that, however, putting someone on hold in a professional way depends on your behavior. The golden rule to keep in mind is as follows: how would you like to be treated if you were on the other end of the line?

Putting a Caller on Hold: The Do's

The proper etiquette is not complicated—it mainly consists of common courtesy.

  • 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 back, "rather than keep you holding."
  • When you return to the phone, apologize for the inconvenience and thank the caller for his patience.
  • Use the caller's name frequently to add a sense of connection.

Putting a Caller on Hold: The Don'ts

Again, being polite is the paramount consideration. Consider the other person's feelings:

  • 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 needn't be limited by your phone system or carrier's options. Nowadays, 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. An aspect of audio-branding – a marketing practice grown quite hot in the 21st century – 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.