The Mystery Of the 8-Hour RCN Hold Time

Last Friday we posted that a customer in D.C. was on hold with RCN’s tech support for over 7 hours. (And no, she didn’t sit next to the phone that entire time—she periodically checked in to see whether she’d been disconnected, but always heard the same hold music and message.) We received several comments—one from the Senior Director of Operations at RCN—saying that her call had likely been dropped from the system. But Meredith says someone finally did answer her call. Here’s her story and the RCN Director’s version.

Meredith writes:

An end! 8 hours, 07 minutes, 40 seconds. I heard a female voice click onto the line (had it on high volume, but not on speaker) and before I could stumble across the room to reach it, they hung up. Photo of the screen attached. (I damaged the screen on my phone–the number listed is RCN’s tech line, 1-866-832-4726)

As a sidenote, this was sent to me as part of the customer bill of rights by the DC Office of Cable Television:

5. Consumers have the right to speak with a customer service representative by telephone within a reasonable amount of time or in person and receive courteous, professional and knowledgeable assistance from such representative.

Compare that with what Jason at RCN had to say yesterday:

I’m the Sr. Director of Operations here at RCN. I can assure you by no means would this be intentional. I had the engineers check the call queue and at this time we don’t even have any calls in queue. Most likely what happened was (although) very unfortunate was this customers call caused some sort of technical glitch and the call was lost in limbo on the support tree. I whole heartedly apologize for the inconveniance but assure you this was not by design but rather a technical glitch if indeed this is a valid claim. I hope to reach this customer and based on her call originating number we can certainly track down where the call ended up. Should you need to reach me, we are always tracking the pulse of the RCN forum at DSL Reports.

But your best bet is to hang up and call back as I’m sure you will get an answer.

We want to believe Jason’s account, but we’re curious about that female voice that Meredith heard before her call was disconnected. Since she didn’t disconnect the call herself, it seems likely that either:

1. RCN disconnected the call
2. Her phone company disconnected the call

We don’t know what would prompt a carrier to break into a call and disconnect it, but if the call was truly lost on the RCN side of things, then Meredith should have never heard a live voice or been disconnected by RCN. So what happened here? Theories?


Edit Your Comment

  1. snazz says:

    i wonder if reps didnt pick up the line and put her back in the queue when she didnt respond…. or was she always within range of the phone to hear if someone picked up.

  2. chauncy that billups says:

    I would bet on #2 – the phone company finally clicked in and ended the call, as she had been using bandwidth for an unreasonable amount of time.

  3. JustThatGuy3 says:

    Gotta believe this is a technical glitch. My bet: the female voice was a recorded phone company announcement of some sort, and that RCN has a setting with whoever provides them with 1-800 service to have calls automatically cut off after 8 hours, figuring anything beyond that is a line that was never properly disconnected, and is just costing them money.

    • Pylon83 says:

      I’ll second that. I’d say either a phone company voice or even one from their system that is designed to kick in and say “Sorry, good bye” after an unreasonable amount of time.

  4. Raekwon says:

    I used to work tech support at a software company. This happens to us at times as well. A customer gets lost in the system and on their end it seems like they’ve been on hold the entire time. Luckily we catch it after 20-30 minutes and call the customer back immediately.

    Funny part is sometimes when we call them back we get a busy signal since they are still “on hold” with us.

  5. AlexandraMaguffin says:

    This is easy enough to solve using Call Detail Records from the customer’s provider (on her end) and from the RNC’s phone system (on their end). All of these systems log this data.

  6. BigBoat says:

    “I whole heartedly apologize for the inconveniance but assure you this was not by design but rather a technical glitch —if indeed this is a valid claim—.”

    Sorry but I don’t trust it. Why in the world would this fellow try to attack the OP’s credibility after apologizing? To me, that excessive damage control implies something to cover up.

  7. glennski says:

    Fun experiment to see how long you can be kept on hold, but at some pointI’d probably just figure there was some kind of technical issue and hang up and call again.

    Or I could just stay on hold, and imagine all the fun the CSR’s are having doing beer bongs or something while I’m on hold.

  8. BradleyDarnitzka says:

    Okay, here is what happened:

    Depending on what you press in the ARU System (“Press 1 for … 2 for …), you are routed to different queues, usually in different call center. Here’s what happens if a call center closes:

    You are routed to the queue. All agents are unavailable. Once all agents log-out of the system, you are left in the queue waiting for an agent. The issue is no agents are available, so you are left. The system does not end your call or transfer you, you just sit waiting, until…

    …the call center opens again and agents begin to login to the system. Once they log in, the system routes you to the first available agent.

    …but it’s not like I work for the company and know this is exactly what happened in this case…

  9. sjaguar says:

    I used to work for a telcom billing company. Some phone providers due drop calls when their duration exceeds a certain limit. Some will cut around the nine hour mark when the number of seconds exceeds 32767. Sometimes calls will cut when they cross rating periods (though that normally doesn’t happen).

  10. mizj says:

    I used to deal with RCN, but after sitting on hold for up to 45 minutes at a time, never getting service and getting blown off by install techs, I reported them to BBB and never looked back. Worst. Cable. Company. EVER.

  11. I work on a Cisco Callmanager and IP Call Center phone system. I know exactly how queues work.

    If it was a technical glitch then the call would have dumped (not remained connected) possibly gone to a random voicemail box.

    Also, I highly doubt there was any code in the system to account for long running calls or to shift them as 8 hours and 7 min is a bizarre time for a call length handler to kick in and 2:26 pm isn’t going to be a work shift/call center change.

    One of the following happened.

    1. Every time a rep checked (by checked they waited all of 5 secs to see if anyone was there) and no one responded. So the rep promptly put the call back into the queue. Extremely likely

    Maybe even lowered the call priority so the call didn’t come back immediately.

    2. The call was ignored/answered and instantly placed on hold (This is sometimes done wrap up their work from the last call and not lose stats for an unanswered call) then forgotten about. Not Likely

  12. sassansanei says:

    How do you know when it’s “long enough” to be on hold, and hang up and try again? I mean, if you’re actually in a queue, you’re either going to go back to the start of the queue and have to wait all over again. 10 minutes? 20 minutes? An hour?! At what point do you give up?

    Every minute, there should be a voice telling you your priority standing in the queue, and an estimated wait time.

    “There are 63 callers ahead of you. The average wait time is now 7 minutes.”

    “There are 55 callers ahead of you. The average wait time is now 6 minutes.”

    “There are 34 callers ahead of you. The average wait time is now 4 minutes.”

    You get the idea. If the numbers aren’t decreasing, you’re not really in a queue. Problem solved.

    • jenl1625 says:

      @sassansanei: And then there are the “your estimated wait time is 4 minutes” followed a minute later by “your estimated wait time is 5 minutes” – presumably because the calls ahead of you are taking longer than the 3-minute-average quota.

  13. hills says:

    Is Jason at RCN blaming the OP? (doesn’t he know we’re not allowed to do that?!!) haha

    “this customers call caused some sort of technical glitch”

    Maybe it would have been bettwe to say ‘RCN’s system has a technical glitch.’ Semantics, I know, but technically it’s really not the OP’s fault…..

  14. I believe the OP.

  15. Roclawzi says:

    I think that the call was lost in a computer system, which likely had it’s own processes to NOT lose a call when it does diagnostics or partial resets or whatever. I would bet she was thrown back in the actual queue for a operator a couple minutes before the person answered, but since the computer held her in limbo, it likely tossed her out of it, as well. I think an automatic process took her out of limbo

  16. PixiePerson says:

    Honestly, I would believe that. I’ve never waited more than about five seconds on hold with RCN. Their customer service with me has always been top notch, so I’d say this is extraordinary for them.

  17. PrudenceHornet says:

    I work in the telecom industry as a consultant and I have been programming contact center phone systems for years. [cringes at the thought of retaliatory comments] I can honestly say that most telephone ACD systems (the type used in most contact centers) have limitations on the length of time that any call can remain in queue. The maximum length of queue can normally be set globally and on a queue by queue basis through careful configuration.

    It is most likely that after looping through the queue for 8 hours, the caller was sent to a message before being automatically disconnected. “Best practices” would dictate that you play a message and wait 1-3 seconds before disconnecting the call. That way the caller doesn’t feel like they were just hung up on without an explanation.

    Depending on the telephone system in question, it is technically possible for a call to get queued inappropriately and become difficult to track down. It is typical to begin the search for the call by searching the ACD reporting database for the caller’s phone number or Automatic Number Identification (ANI), which is provided by the carrier with each call. In this case, since the call was connected for 8 hours, it should be relatively easy to find, even without the ANI information. Unless RCN has a habit of letting calls queue for 8 hours, that is.

    I would submit, however, that this situation can only happen if the phone system is improperly configured or managed. We go to great pains to make sure that this exact sort of thing is avoided whenever we design a call queue. If the technical team that manages the system is doing their job, then they would have noticed the call connected for an extended period of time and proactively notified the RCN Technical Support team to react to the situation.

    Any way you slice it, there are ways to determine if a call is connected for an extended period of time. The responsibility to put processes in place to prevent this sort of costly, annoying, and frustrating issue rests squarely on RCN’s shoulders.

    The only other remote possibility is that this call failed during a *8 transfer in the carrier network. This sort of transfer is commonly used when calls are transferred between IVR systems and other contact center resources, often including outsourced locations. When a *8 transfer is performed, the customer is effectively put on hold by the carrier while they are transferred to another toll free number. You may have been transferred using this method before – you will usually hear the *8 tones touch tones right before you hear the queue music or get answered. In the background, the carrier is forwarding your call to another toll free number, which is used to redirect your call. An error in this process *might* be another possible cause of this issue, and would be invisible to the technical staff at RCN. They should contact their carrier for more research if they use *8 transfers in their contact center programming.

  18. Razorgirl says:

    I also have been curious and waited to see just how long I would remain on hold with different companies(although never for 8 hours!), and have had rather enormous hold times before a representative answered. I can believe that is what may have happened in this case.

    That said, I have worked for a couple of telecommunications companies, and there is often a “fail-safe” programmed into telecommunications switches that will automatically disconnect a call that lasts over a set amount of time. Generally this seems to range from 7-10 hours depending on carrier. Many businesses with multi-line phone systems have problems with not completely disconnecting a call, and this automatic disconnect keeps them from staying connected and racking up charges indefinitely. Yes, the phone companies may not mind, if there was a chance of those charges ever being paid, but most calls like that would be disputed by the customer and the charges written off, so in the end the disconnect saves everyone money.

    I can’t say if cellular services employ the same feature, but I would expect it likely.

  19. EricLecarde says:

    I don’t know.. sometimes callsystems are weird. Our call system has a great habit of transfering a customer if they’re placed on hold for X amount of minutes, where X can be 1 minute or 15. IT states they’re not aware as to why it does this, AVAYA reps are about as useful as PC LOAD LETTER when it comes to information, and we get blamed for transfering calls unneccesarily. All I’m saying is don’t discount anything.

  20. ALilHouseCat says:

    I worked for T-Mobile for 4 years (not anymore-thank goodness)They had a policy to disconnect the line after 4 hours to make sure it wasn’t a “ghost” call, whatever that would be. wonder why that didn’t happen for this lady?

  21. Mr. Chip says:

    When I worked in a call center many years ago, it was possible for a handset to take a call out of queue, and then put it on hold at the local handset, thus “ghosting” the call. It was a common tactic when you just needed a break. Ghost a call, take 10 minutes, then answer and resolve the customer’s issue.

    If the employee in question were malicious, he/she could “ghost” a call at the end of the shift and then sign out, leaving the caller in limbo until someone else logged into that handset, which could be a full 8 hour shift-change later.

  22. ivealwaysgotmail10 says:

    Yep, Exactly what i was going to say, 8 hour phone call or not people use their phone lines for dial up internet, You guys have to be pretty gullable to think they have people that periodically listen in to phone conversations over X hours to make sure actual conversation is being had….. If my phone company disconnected me after i was on hold for 8 hours it would make me very very angry.

    There isnt really a way to abuse your phone service as such, Data yes (cell) but not landline or cell (voice), you being on the phone for 8 hours probobly costs you more to keep your phone charged than it costs them to keep the call running.

  23. HogwartsAlum says:

    I’ve had this happen to me, but usually the call gets disconnected after a while. I think it was AT&T I was on hold with. I called right back and got someone. So it had to have been a system glitch.

    There’s no way in Hell I’d stay on the phone that long, though.

  24. megafly says:

    When I worked in an ISP call center there was regularly one night a week when both people who did a particular call type were off. We would see the people sitting in the queue for 5-6 hours at a time and wonder who would do that for so long.

  25. AlinaDaboot says:

    I have no idea where this is coming from. RCN (and Astound, which bought them out in my area) has always had, for me, great customer service with reasonable hold times and clear directions.

  26. MykalBloom says:

    I think Jason at RCN should really learn how to not only properly monitor his phone tree, but learn how to spell big words like “inconvenience” properly.

  27. ThelmaPulvillus says:

    My local Best Buy store moved, and it was no longer right down the block, so popping in to see if something was in stock became more of a hassle. One day I called the new location to inquire if they had an item in stock.

    I called, asked to be transfered to the computer department and was placed on hold. 5, 10, 15 minutes went by, and since it was a weekend and I had unlimited minutes I decided to stay on hold to see how long it would take for someone to pick up the call.

    When 45+ minutes passed, I became a little frustrated, yet slap happy, so I decided to get in the car and make the trip to Best Buy with my phone. I was still on hold when I walked in, and I was still on hold when I went to the computer department and found the item I wanted. I was also on hold when I went to the check out counter and purchased my item.

    When I was asked if I was able to find everything ok I told the girl I did, and I also held up my phone and expressed my displeasure that I was STILL on hold with the store waiting for someone to answer.

    I hung up after that…

  28. ToddMusket says:

    I’m a field engineer for a major international PBX vendor, and am certified on multiple enterprise-level PBX solutions. I sincerely doubt this is the case, as any call center level ACD solution has safeguards in place to prevent this and divert the call into either a queue with ACD agents logged into their sets or a RAD announcing that there are no available agents and to try again later.

  29. ErwinDeimachus says:

    GSM carriers seem to have a 4 hour time limit, whereas CDMA carriers such as Verizon and Sprint do not. I have made 14 hour phone calls on Verizon back in 2002. (long story but first real love of my life, she called me the day after we met and we stayed on the phone for 14 hours straight). I had a Motorola Star-Tac 7867 and it stayed plugged into the AC charger the whole time. Thanks to unlimited nights and weekends Verizon!

    It is possible for the OP to be on a cellular call for over 4 hours if they are using a CDMA carrier.

  30. rushevents says:

    what ever happened to the old reliable “call with a second phone” when hold time seems way too long.

    It’s worked for me in the past.

  31. pkchukiss says:

    It is possible that the call centre is manned by agents around the clock, and yet have a call stuck in the call queue. It’s usually a tagging issue.

    When a person dials the support line, the automated system prompts the customer to make a series of selections on the phone tree before the call is queued for agent handling. Now, there are multiple call queues, even in a single call centre. This is because different agents have different proficiencies (can speak certain languages, etc); thus all queues requiring a certain speciality will be held together.

    The moment an agent who is tagged in the system as capable of handling a particular call queue is available, the call will be transferred to him. There’s an algorithm to determine priorities and all that, but it is possible that if no agents capable of handling a certain call queue is on duty, the call will be held in the queue.

    Where I worked previously, we could see the call queue status only for the proficiencies we have been tagged with. It could be the case in OP’s situation, thus nobody saw the lone call stuck in a call queue that isn’t being handled.

    My call centre had a timeout mechanism, whereby if agents capable of handling the call queue are not available after a certain period of time, the call is transferred to the generic queue (a.k.a. handled by everybody in the call centre). It created a funny situation, because we’ve had a Tamil-speaking customer call one day at 2am in the morning, but none of us on duty could speak Tamil, and we had to call up one of our colleagues to get a crash course on how to tell somebody to call back again in the morning in Tamil.

    Mind you, it was in the middle of the night! We ended up having to treat the colleague to dinner for disturbing her beauty sleep.

  32. AccaliaAncaeus says:

    I work in a call center as a work force manager for a company that we will call Fruit product computers. About once a month I see a call like this. You are right that the phone company probably disconnected the call based on an agreed kill time. It is most likely set to 8 hours and here is why. In more than one case where I have seen this happen the agent hits the hold button on their phone/software as soon as they here the tone telling them a call is coming in. If done correctly the customer will never here the music change. The agent the proceeds to read consumerist, gizmodo, and other gawker sites and either hangs-up when it is time to go home or the call is disconnected by the telephone provider or their supervisor. I can’t comment about RCN but where I work these people are fired without warning once it can be confirmed what happened.