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"Thank You for Your Patience"

Making Your Readers Wait (and Wait and Wait...)


As I sit on hold for Dell technical support (1 hour 13 minutes and counting...) I am reminded of the wait that many people are forcing upon their customers when they come to their Web site. With less-expensive DSL and faster connections, bandwidth is not an issue like it was when I was first started building Web pages, but it's still an issue. The problem is that while waiting on hold on the phone can be tedious and annoying there are often very compelling reasons for not hanging up. The same is usually not true for Web pages.

Comparing The Waits - Phone Support and Web Pages

The Phone

  • Urgency/Importance
    When someone calls tech support and is placed on hold, there is generally a compelling reason for them to want to get to the end of the call. In my case, my laptop monitor was deciding to take off on an extended vacation, leaving me with no easy way to see the contents of my hard drive. Getting this fixed so I could continue to work was a high priority.

  • Amount of Time
    Most people, unless they are incredibly lucky, or have never called a tech support line before, expect to wait interminable amounts of time on hold. Depending upon the importance of the call will determine how long someone is willing to wait on hold to finish it.

  • Hold Music
    I have been on hold with some companies who don't use hold music - just dead air. This is very unnerving, as I'm never sure if I'm actually on hold. Of course, then you get the really annoying hold music (like the newage stuff on my company's HelpDesk line) that makes you want to hang up (which may be the point...). At Dell, I started to laugh hysterically (only about 35 minutes in) when "Don't Worry, Be Happy" came on the line. Is this some sort of programming?

  • "Infomercials"
    These are those interruptions that make you think you're finally being answered, but are really just someone coming on to say "your call is important to us" and "did you know we have online support?" and so on.

The Web

  • Urgency/Importance
    In general, Web pages do not have the same level of urgency or importance to the reader as a phone call. Web pages are easily discarded to be viewed later (or not).

  • Amount of Time
    Web pages don't generate a lot of patience. If a page doesn't load within 7 to 10 seconds, most customers will have hit stop and gone to another page. If they feel that getting to that site is important, that time might be a little longer, but we're talking 15-20 seconds, not minutes.

  • Hold Music
    This doesn't exist on Web pages. In fact, on sites that have music, it can sometimes be the music that makes the page take longer to load.

  • "Infomercials"
    Some Flash and Java applications have little notifications either of how long until the item loads or just a "please wait" message. These will often get people to wait a little longer than they would on a site without them, but this is impossible to do with straight HTML.

Lessons to Be Learned

Your Web page is not a phone support service. Most people will not wait even 1/100th as long for a Web page as they will for a tech support representative. So it is not a good idea to assume that simply because you feel your site is the best thing to hit the world since the Internet, if it takes too long to load, you'll be the only one to know.

Review some of the following sites for help in optimizing both your HTML and your images to create small sites. My rules of thumb:

  • images - no more than 12Kb per image
  • HTML - no more than 30Kb
  • download time - 8 seconds or less to load a page

The Size of Your Pages
Size does matter, on the Web, that is. Even with a faster Internet, the number one complaint of users is pages that are slow to load.

Speeding Up Your Web Page
Tips for improving the download time on your pages.

Speedy Web Pages
Some general guidelines for creating fast pages.

Speed & Optimization Links
Download speed is often the one impediment to Web pages. If your site downloads slowly, people will leave. Learn how to optimize images and pages for the best download time.

Optimizing Images Links
Images are the number one cause of slow download times. Learn how to make your images move fast on the Web.

Conclusion of My Call

For those of you who were wondering... after I waited nearly 2.5 hours, my husband got through. He had called around 40 minutes prior on a different line and used the Dell Express Service Code. I had tried to use that, but wasn't fast enough and so got dumped into the "not express" support line.
The Moral? it's better to hang up and try again if you don't get the express service code in time than it is to wait and wait and wait.

And Star, if you're reading this - thanks for your help - I forgot to ask you how long until my computer was fixed... Oh well, I guess I could just call back... (with the express support code), NAH!

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