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The art and science of on-hold music – let’s face it everyone hates it

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Silence is golden. Until it’s not.

When you keep your clients on hold at the end of the phone line, silence is anything else but golden. In the business world, silence is the sound of a lost client. The worst-case scenario is a client to call their insurance company or utility services provider and hear silence after the warm greeting message. Thank you for calling ABC Plumbing, our representatives are all on the line with other clients. Someone will be with you shortly. (blank) (silence) (creepy silence). 

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Music was created to fill the space. It works like a time killer. It mitigates the unpleasant no-man land of waiting for a friendly voice to pick up the phone and offer help. Or at least this is what it should be. But you can view on-hold music like an opportunity to engage your public. And prevent them from hanging up. Yes, at the start, on-hold music was a way to decrease the perceived waiting time, and get rid of awkward silence, but now companies use it to convey messages and connect with the public. 

Why use on-hold music?

The traditional on-hold music is a flat instrumental track that plays on and on, until the customer gets sick of waiting and ends the call. The stereotypical tunes most companies use sound similar to musical wallpaper played in elevators. Muzak was the first company to cover popular songs using instruments only. Over the years, all workplaces and hotels played background mood music. But people became tired with wallpaper music and it wasn’t long until it faced backlash. 

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Even nowadays, hold music still has a negative connotation when companies opt for the same old instrumental tunes. 

Dean Olsher, a New-York based music therapist ,states that hold music can negatively impact mental health because repetitive sounds have similar results to torture. Think about this the next time you visit a Sephora or Starbucks store because they have a short playlist they repeat over and over again. The poor employees. 

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But only because some companies fail miserably at using on-hold music, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. The right tracks can calm people as they wait for one of your representatives to answer the phone. Engaging music can even encourage them to stay on the line for longer. 

Don’t you dare play the same song one more time

Music has a highly personal nature, and it’s difficult for a company to pick the right tune for the hold time. It should be an innocent sound, but it has the power to provoke a strong emotion and response in the caller. Let’s picture the following scenario. One of your clients has to get in touch with your customer service daily, 7 days a week, 30 days a month. You play the same song for the hold time. It has 3 minutes, and the average client waits for 7 minutes. Sooner or later everyone will snap because they spend hours of their life listening to the same old tune. They’ll even start to hear it in their sleep. 

But when choosing diverse, high-quality songs, you get another answer. You get them wanting to hear that song again. Have you ever get stuck with a melody in your mind, and you couldn’t wait to grab your phone and play it on YouTube? This is the response you should try to achieve in your clients. 

Often, the problem with the on-hold music isn’t the sound itself, but the amount of time, people listen to it. The average individual spends 40 days of their life in a customer service phone queue. Should they listen to the same tune everyone plays? Or are you ready to bring something new and break the wheel? 

Providing high-quality customer service is already hard enough without the agonising hold songs. How can you make it easy? Create a varied playlist with mesmerising on-hold songs royalty free websites offer. Your role is to shorten the waiting time, or at least create the impression it’s shorter. 

I want thoughtful on-hold music

What music would you like to listen to when you wait for a call-canter operator to answer? 

I want thoughtful songs. 

Get creative with the on-hold music and embrace it as an opportunity to make your clients smile from the moment, they dial the number. Did you know that Ikea plays Abba songs, Admiral has a Star Wars soundtrack, and the Jamaican High Commission plays Bob Marley’s songs?

Listen to the sings before adding them to your hold playlist because you may end up with Elton John’s Rocket Man and “I think it’s going to be a long, long time…”. And you can bet your customers will immediately hang up the phone because no one wants to hear that they need to wait for minutes before someone answers their call. 

And don’t interrupt the song with lines like Someone will be with you shortly. Let them emerge into listening to music. 

Play it right

When you create the on-hold message, consider some aspects. Determine how frequently your clients need customer service, how long they’re put on hold, the caller demographic, and their gender. Bearing these things in mind, develop a plan to create an engaging experience. When the average waiting time is 6 minutes, it’s not ideal playing a 2 minutes tune on repeat. 

Check the sound quality over the phone because not even Beyoncé sounds good on an old phone. 

Some studies show that jazz and classical music relaxes people. Research also reveals that rap can fight depression, and pop music increases performance when exercising. But the truth is that the effect the musical genre has on the caller depends on their personal taste. 

It’s wise to stay away from songs whose lyrics, people can interpret sarcastically or ironically. You may like Taylor Swift, but she isn’t the right artist to play in your clients’ ears when they wait for a plumber to fix their leaky pipes. 

The bottom line is that on-hold music can calm your clients when picked right. But it requires extensive research and trial, to understand what tunes get the best response. 

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