How to make wait times online feel shorter with live chat

We’ve made a deep dive into the difference between actual and perceived wait times, and how you can use live chat to turn that difference into an advantage.

Good things come to those who wait...

When Universal Studios in Florida launched the attraction Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, the most devoted fans were waiting in line for more than seven hours. But let’s face it – very few companies can boast customers who are that dedicated. Wait time can be a real deal-breaker, and is something we all want to minimise.

But no matter how big your team is, and no matter how hard you’re working, customers will sometimes have to wait. That’s why it’s not only important to focus on reducing wait times, but also on reducing the frustration and irritation that often comes with waiting.

So, how can we do that?

Lessons from the offline world

The fact that wait times are crucial in sales, is old news in the “real world”. There is plenty of research showing that things like digital signage, entertainment, distractions and upselling during wait can reduce the perceived wait time with up to 35%.

But wait times and response times online haven’t been given the same attention. Which is actually rather strange, considering that we seem to have about 5 minutes to establish a connection with our visitors online!

The difference between actual and perceived wait time

“Wow, did I only wait for 20 minutes? It felt like an eternity!”

We’ve all said those words. But those are words we'd rather not hear from our customers, right?

In the article The Psychology of Waiting Lines, David Maister writes about the difference between actual and perceived wait time. It’s an important difference, that can have a massive effect on how your customers experience their contact with your company.

A wait that is perceived as short and motivated, will leave a positive feeling. And a wait perceived as long, stressful and unnecessary will leave a bad impression.


With live chat, you can affect how your customers feel about having to wait.

David Maister lists a number of different factors that affect how we perceive time when we’re waiting:  

  • Stress and anxiety make waits seem longer
  • “Active time” feels shorter than “passive time”
  • Uncertain waits seem longer than known waits
  • Waits with no explanation are perceived as longer than explained waits
  • Waits “pre-process” feel longer than waits “in-process”

So, how can we use live chat to make the wait seem shorter? Let’s have a closer look at these bullet points, one at a time.

Stress and anxiety make waits seem longer

Anyone who has ever waited anxiously at an emergency room would probably agree with this statement. The more you’re in a hurry, the longer everything seems to take.

Offering your customers as many ways to reach you as possible, and the opportunity to do so at the time and place they find most convenient reduces stress and irritation.  Adding live chat to your existing channels is a splendid way to do just that.

But it doesn’t have to be a matter of life or death, for a wait to produce anxiety and stress. It could just be that you’re late for a meeting and need to order a cab. Or that you want to get through to the insurance company before your lunch break is over.

“Active time” feels shorter than “passive time”

David Maister describes how "occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time". Most of us are familiar with this: when we’re busy, time flies. If all we’re doing is waiting, the experience is the opposite.

This is one of the reasons wait time in an online chat often feels less frustrating than in other channels – because it’s easy to do other things while waiting.

Isn't it great to be able to multitask while waiting? With live chat on your website, both you and your customers will get more things done!

In a survey by Ecoconsultancy, as many as 51% of respondents preferred live chat to other channels for that very reason: “it allows me to multitask”. By clearly stating expected wait in the chat window (like we do in the Telavox widget), you make it even easier for the visitor to relax and tend to other things while waiting.

Uncertain waits seem longer than known waits

Ever been to Disneyland? Did you notice how the expected wait is always clearly announced at each attraction? There’s a good reason for that.

Not knowing how long you’ll have to wait makes the wait feel a lot longer. That’s why theme parks show how long the wait for each rollercoaster is. That’s also why the Telavox widget lets you show your customers the expected wait time.

Learn from the masters! At Disneyland, estimated wait time for each attraction is always clearly displayed.

Stating the wait time is a way of giving your visitor the power to choose. It’s a proven way of reducing frustration and stress during the wait, and to improve the overall customer experience.

Waits with no explanation are perceived as longer than explained waits

“All of our agents are currently busy. Please hold and we will answer your call as soon as possible.”

Sounds familiar? These words may seem a bit superfluous, but they are there for a reason.

We want to know why we are kept waiting, and we want to be reassured that our turn will come – as soon as possible. Hearing this makes us more patient, and less frustrated. The same effect can be achieved in your live chat, with smart messaging.

Waits “pre-process” feel longer than waits “in-process”

Imagine stepping into a restaurant. Nobody notices you. You stand there waiting to be seated, but nothing happens. It won't be long before this makes you annoyed. A couple of more minutes and you’ll probably leave to find a better place to eat.

If instead, you are greeted at the door and immediately shown a table, it changes everything. You know the process has started, you know you will be served. Suddenly, you are prepared to wait half an hour without the flinch of an eye.

With the restaurant analogy in mind, let’s look at the difference between offering live chat and email forms. The experience you get from sending an email, not knowing if or when it will be read or responded to, is actually dangerously similar to that of not being seated. Not knowing if the food is ever coming, there’s a risk your visitor will simply turn elsewhere.

A chat, on the other hand, that’s been initiated and that has received a response, gives the reassuring feeling of being “in-process”. Which means we relax, become more patient, and the experience as a whole becomes more positive.

A better customer experience with live chat

Several studies show that customers of today not only appreciate live chat but actually prefer it to other channels.  

Did you know that a free live chat is included in the Telavox widget? It’s easy to install on your website and to adapt to your company’s visual profile.  

The Telavox widget is also the only widget on the market to display wait times in the chat and on the phone. And as we’ve seen, that’s a crucial component in reducing stress and irritation – creating the best possible customer experience.

The Telavox widget clearly shows your online visitor how long the estimated wait time is.  Get started with Telavox today!

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