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DON'T HANG UP! DEEJAYS MAKE WAIT BEARABLE

Forget collisions, rollovers or patches of fog. The worst news you'll hear on Barbara Lee's live traffic report is that the wait for customer-support help is more than 45 seconds.

Lee is no ordinary radio deejay. She's one of four hold jockeys who provide music, company product information and "traffic reports" live over the phone lines for callers needing customer support at WordPerfect Corp.More than 16,000 people call in on WordPerfect's 33 customer support lines daily. Even with 800 employees on staff to guide callers through the ins and outs of WordPerfect products, some callers end up on hold.

Company executives didn't like the idea of all those callers twiddling their thumbs and wondering what was happening while they waited on hold.

WordPerfect Vice President Pete Peterson came up with the idea of using live "hold jockeys" to let callers know how their call was faring, said Beth McGill, manager of corporate communication.

"He wanted to make waiting on the support lines as comfortable as possible," she said.

The hold jockeys broadcast over the customer-support phone lines Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. They work out of what looks like a typical radio station booth in the west end of the customer-support building.

And, they do at least one thing radio deejays do: cue up music.

The similarity ends there, however. Hanging from the ceiling of the radio booth is a bank of 16 mini monitors. Each monitor provides a visual display of calls coming into WordPerfect's customer support division.

The monitors show how many callers are waiting for assistance, the amount of time they've been holding and approximately how long it will be until an operator is available.

Every two minutes, a hold jockey comes on live over the phone lines and gives callers a traffic report about the status of their calls.

The jockey also gives updates about new WordPerfect products, advice on what callers need to tell customer-support representatives and information on upcoming conferences and tours. The jockeys even tout Utah's weather and, in the winter, ski conditions.

"It adds a human touch to a computerized industry," McGill said.

On average, callers wait 36.8 seconds before being connected with a customer-support operator, said Stan Mackay, head of customer support at WordPerfect.

"Our goal is to answer 80 percent of calls in 45 seconds and not have a call go longer than two minutes," he said.

In the event of a traffic jam - callers having to wait more than two minutes for assistance - the hold jockeys can manually transfer calls to another team of operators within a support group.

Customer-support operator Tyler Nebeker said lots of callers want to know whether they've just heard a live person or a recording while on hold.

In fact, WordPerfect's hold jockeys were encouraged to flub up once in a while when the program first started so callers could tell they were live rather than a recording.

Several of the company's hold jockeys have professional radio or broadcast experience. Before becoming a hold jockey at WordPerfect, Lee earned a degree in broadcast journalism, had done voice-overs and radio commercials and worked at K96 radio.