Music on hold reduces the perceived time waiting in a call queue. AT&T; found that a 30-second wait without background music feels more like 90 seconds.
Considering wait times average 38 seconds, businesses should purge silence from their phone system. After all, most callers abandon queues around the 2-minute mark. Anything done to reduce the lengthiness—either real or imaged—is important.
When Did Businesses Begin Adopting Music on Hold?
The Telephone Hold Program System of 1962 first advocated tones on hold to address a common complaint. Around this time, callers had to wait for attendants to switch lines and connect parties. The process took some time, leaving callers hanging on the line. They could not verify if silence meant the call was in progress or dead.
With the Telephone Hold Program System, callers could press a key to launch music. It reassured callers that their calls were still active. Eventually, the process grew easier with automated switching, at which point businesses could initiate playback for callers.
Over time, the purpose of music on hold changed. Businesses began to see it as a method of passing time—a distraction. While still the case today, businesses continue to find ways to make waiting more meaningful. For example, using audio to inform callers of new promotions.
Music on Hold Considerations
The music chosen for playback on hold or in queue influences the customer experience. The wrong track can irritate callers and encourage them to abandon the call. Likewise, poor quality audio can lead to complaints and losses. Avoid such pitfalls by mauling over the following background music criteria.
Not everyone likes the same genres. Some styles suit certain demographics better than others do. For instance, market research shows that youths prefer Top 40 music while the same music disgruntles those 25 and older.
If in doubt, reuse tracks from previous branding materials like commercials. Doing so keeps your sound consistent.
Make It Purposeful
Music alone can be persuasive. When used strategically, it can evoke certain emotions—something film producers know well. Think about your call-to-action and search for songs that will enhance its appeal.
Commonly, businesses layer voice tracks on top of music on hold. Message on hold can be an effective sales technique. In a MaxiMarketing survey, 16-20% of callers made purchases based on offers heard while on hold.
Of course, use message on hold sparingly. Know when customers will be most receptive. Those holding for sales might appreciate promotional information; those awaiting technical support might not. In the latter example, instructions on how to get help might work better.
Switch Things Up
Frequent callers do not want to hear the same music repeatedly. Establish themes and change the tracks accordingly (i.e. seasonal music over holidays). Beware of cultural preferences and connotations, though.
Before switching tracks, look at what’s most popular in the industry. Call into competitor phone systems to listen to what they’ve chosen. Research other best practices specific to your industry. For example, the Guardian discovered Mozart is the top choice for city council phone systems. A tech company would likely put their callers to sleep by following suit.
The type of track may also affect the audio quality. Phone frequencies cannot accommodate low-ends, so refrain from picking deep bass or drum tracks. This is why businesses typically choose songs with tenor and alto instruments. Whatever you choose, ensure the track does not sound distorted!
Match Your Speaker and Audience
For hold messages, find a voice actor or actress who fits within the target demographic. Think age, style, and tone. Style is critical as it will determine how well the voice fits on top of or between sounds.
As mentioned above, use hold messages in moderation. Include voiceover in select portions of the song—not every chorus. Similarly, if spliced between songs, ensure the tracks are of a decent length. Callers shouldn’t feel looped. The same promotional messages become less effective on repeat.
A Note about Royalty-Free Licensing and Copyright Infringement
Not all songs are eligible for playback over the phone—at least not without charge. You should search for royalty-free tracks. Royalty free is a type of copyright that permits commercial reuse with a paid license. Creative Commons, which forgoes the cost, often requires attribution, so don’t mistake free for do-what-you-want.
Infringing copyright can result in substantial damages. The fine for an unlicensed pop song can run as high as $150,000. A decent royalty-free track, on the other hand, is under $100 to buy.