TIME Spending

Thing You Hate Costs You $750 a Year

A city office employee works into the night as darkness closes in on October 10, 2005 in Glasgow, Scotland.
A city office employee works into the night as darkness closes in on October 10, 2005 in Glasgow, Scotland. Christopher Furlong—Getty Images

The recordings that tells you you’re a valuable customer for the zillionth time or those hours spent waiting for some service technician to ring your doorbell aren’t just infuriating — they’re costing you.

A new survey finds that working Americans waste a total of $108 billion — that’s more than $750 a person, based on how much the average worker earns — waiting to get service issues resolved during hours we could have spent earning money instead. The research, conducted by Harris Poll for ClickSoftware, finds that we spend nearly 31 hours when we could be working waiting in telephone queues or at home waiting for an in-person visit on an annual basis.

The survey says the banking industry is the worst offender, with respondents reporting waiting an average of six hours a year to deal with service issues. Waiting for repairmen or other home services eats up another five hours, while seven other sectors including insurance, communication providers and utilities round out the balance.

Everyone understands this frustration, which perhaps is why an eight-minute audio recording of a guy named Ryan Block trying to get his Comcast service disconnected went viral almost as soon as it hit the Web. The total conversation lasts nearly 20 minutes; Block captures the final eight minutes of the Comcast rep arguing with him over why he shouldn’t drop his Comcast service and refusing to acknowledge Block’s insistence that he’d just like to cancel.

In its survey, ClickSoftware asks respondents how companies could do a better job minimizing wait times. (You’d think “avoiding protracted arguments with customers” would be at the top of the list, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Block’s situation.) Not surprisingly, more than half of the survey respondents say providing more accurate estimates about wait and arrival times via their choice of communication method would go a long way. More than 40% say updates about their status and the progress being made would help, and about a quarter want better systems for communicating with service reps and making appointments.

That’s all well and good, but if companies don’t provide this, what can people themselves do to keep from being stuck on hold or waiting around for a technician all day? Half of the survey respondents say they’ve demanded to speak to a supervisor, 14% admit to yelling at the technician, and 3% say they cry.

There’s got to be a better way. Here’s how ClickSoftware suggests minimizing that $750 you send down the tubes every year waiting for service.

Dump the company. One tactic is to switch service providers, something about a third of survey respondents say they’ve done, but there’s no way to tell if your new bank or Internet provider will be any better than the old one. Stephen Timms, president of North America for ClickSoftware, suggests checking out how the new company is ranked in terms of service from Consumer Reports magazine or groups like the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Be specific. This isn’t a guarantee — after all, poor Ryan Block was very specific about what he wanted and he was still subject to nearly 20 minutes of haranguing — but Timms says spelling out expectations can go a long way. Instead of saying you need your TV service hooked up as soon as possible, for instance, tell them you need it ready in 48 hours because you’re having friends over to watch the Super Bowl or Game of Thrones finale or what-have-you.

Go gripe on Twitter. “Many companies offer… dedicated customer service Twitter accounts which are staffed by reps 24 hours. And because Twitter is public, these complaints are often addressed more quickly,” Timms points out.

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