In years of running a direct marketing firm that included a small call center, my objective was to eliminate, or at least minimize, waiting time for phone customers. We knew (from those times when we didn’t have enough staff in place) that the longer callers waited to speak to a representative, the higher the probability was that they would abandon the call. And, if they hung up, they might never call back.

Zappos, legendary for customer service, strives to answer 80% of its calls within 20 seconds.

While one can’t argue with delivering great service and minimizing customer frustration, there’s a way that short waits can be used to good advantage. What do your customers hear if they have to wait for a representative? Elevator music? Recorded ads? Mindless statements telling the customer how important her call is? (Important, no doubt, but not important enough to answer right away!) Instead of those common and boring solutions, try something a little different: building in “social proof” messaging might actually keep callers on the line and, when the call is answered, boost conversion rates. […]