The Power of ‘On Hold’ Music

by Jeff Wiener on June 28, 2013

Being ‘on hold’ when you have a query or complaint is never an ideal situation. In fact, I would guess that all of us have at least one story of the dreaded never-ending call, hours spent on hold listening to hollow promises about just how important our call is or how our call is next in the queue. The only thing worse than waiting, however, is having to listen to some grainy music recording–one that sounds like someone dubbed it off the radio– endlessly blaring in your ear.

Developing an effective on hold music strategy is an aspect of customer communication that businesses often overlook, and given the power of music over our emotions—and the accessibility of instant social media for us to immediately vent our frustrations—it can either be an effective communication and marketing tool or just one more thing for customers to complain about.

Although music on hold isn’t likely to be remembered by callers beyond the call itself and certainly won’t make up for poor customer service, finding the right music for customers will compliment an already solid operation, it may even make the lives of your customer service staff just a little easier.

Music exerts a great deal of power over our emotions, able to soothe the soul or enrage the savage beast inside. As CallCentre Helper writer Matthew Brown notes, “A suitable piece of music can distract the caller from the boredom of being on hold. It reduces the perception of time passing, making complaints about waiting time less likely.” Therefore, despite being an innocuous part of a company’s overall communication strategy, music on hold truly has the ability to make or break each customer interaction.

Further, customers on hold represent a unique opportunity for businesses, as almost nowhere else across the gamut of communication mediums does one have such an captive audience. Use it well, and you have a new marketing avenue for your business; use it poorly, and you have likely seen the last of those customers.

Now it can be extremely difficult to develop an effective music on hold strategy, particularly now that customers can instantly complain via Twitter and other social media feeds, but here are a few suggestions I’ve gleaned that might help your business:

1) Music to Represent your Brand

Aside from being a welcome reprieve from growing boredom and frustration, on hold music can be used to represent your brand, particularly if such music is aligned with music used in your company’s ongoing TV or radio spots. By connecting the two, on hold music becomes an effective tool to reinforce your message.

2) You Can’t Please Everyone (Opt Out options and Music Alternatives)

What is interesting, quirky, or engaging music to one caller will always be unbearable noise to another, so accept the fact that you can’t please everyone and give those who are annoyed the opportunity to opt out. That said, if they don’t like your on hold music, don’t leave them in silence, provide them with a quality alternative like a news feed exploring current events.

3) Don’t Depend on Music

As I said, while music has the power to make or break a customer service interaction, it does nothing to cover up bad customer service, which is why a voice at the other end of the line is always best. Further, music will never compensate for long wait times, and it probably won’t matter what someone is listening to if you’ve just wasted an hour of their lives. If call times are consistently mounting up, there are other tools to help.

In the end, music is a powerful tool, and finding the right on hold music strategy is just one more piece of the complex puzzle of effective customer service.

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