Aligning Your On-Hold Messaging and Music to Your Call Center

by Mindful
 • March 23, 2015
 • 6 min to read

Customers dial call centers for a vast array of reasons. From ordering products and seeking technical help to lodging complaints, the types of calls that representatives take are undoubtedly diverse. Because of this, on-hold music and messaging should be targeted to both customers and their reasons for calling.

Are You Unintentionally Irritating Your Customers?

If you’ve ever been agitated by a perky, on-hold recording being replayed again and again when you’re waiting to find out why your insurance premium has gone up unexpectedly, you have an understanding of misaligned phone messaging.

Maybe your financial services company randomly plays country music when you’re in the queue to speak to a representative about your 401k plan. While you may enjoy listening to “Achy Breaky Heart” at your favorite country western bar, it probably seems a little out of place when you’re focused on planning for your retirement.

Misaligned on-hold music and messaging is rampant across every industry that uses call centers, and its impact on customers is significant, yet often overlooked.

What’s Gone Wrong?

With today’s focus on creating strong identifiable brands, it is surprising that many companies, including some of the most recognizable Fortune 500 corporations, have continued to neglect what their customers hear when they dial in for service and support.

Like with print collateral, websites, advertisements, and other forms of marketing, the voice and music that customers experience when they call a company are very important touch points that should effectively represent a company’s brand. When they don’t match up with what callers are expecting, confusion, irritation, and even disengagement can occur. This ultimately increases the number of dropped calls and customer churn rates.

This begs an important question. When you consider the cost of acquiring and retaining a customer, why isn’t every company ensuring that their phone system recordings are fine-tuned to those who are listening to them?

Because a call center phone system is most often the responsibility of a company’s IT department, it can be overlooked as a marketing tool that requires relevant, engaging content. Instead, systems are installed and managed with little thought into what the customer actually hears while on hold. Generic, poor quality, and even downright incorrect on-hold messages and irritating music are being looped to captive crowds of customers who have the ability to take their business elsewhere.

Phone System Messages and Music Are Marketing Tools

The good news is that call center auto-attendants and IVR systems have amazing capabilities to segment callers and provide targeted information via recorded messages. A new caller wanting to place an order can be efficiently routed to sales. An existing customer with a technical issue can state their reason for calling and be directed to a service desk. With these capabilities and more, messages and music can be aligned to each type of caller to improve the quality of their on-hold time.

How much time on hold? Across all industries, the average hold time is 56 seconds before speaking to a live representative. In some industries, this time is significantly longer. When you consider that about 15 percent of callers will hang up in the first 40 seconds of holding, you can see the importance of keeping them engaged while they are waiting.

Even if you are using a call back software that lets customers save their place in queue and automatically calls them back when an agent becomes available, there will still be a significant percentage of customers who prefer to wait on hold.

The Sound of a Brand

The most successful on-hold recordings combine messages and music in a way that is similar to how a website combines both written text and attractive visual elements. Entertaining, informative, educational messaging will certainly keep callers on hold longer than a poor quality or non-existent recording. And the statistics that support this idea are actually quite startling.

A study from U.S. West concluded that information-focused on-hold messages increased caller retention by 40 percent. Another study conducted by the North American Telecommunications Association found that callers held up to three minutes longer when music and information were combined in on-hold messages.

In other words, on-hold messages not only tell a brand’s story, they also share information on new products, provide service information, and even affect a caller’s mood.

To build an effective on-hold recording, it’s important to carefully consider your brand. Is it serious and refined or more laid-back and casual? Do you have a history that dates back 50 years or are you a high-flying start-up? Who are your customers? Why do they buy from you? The voice and music of your on-hold message should be the sound of your brand and reflective of what you sell whether it’s insurance, software, beauty supplies or men’s suits.

For example, a well-spoken, male voice with a slight English accent might be perfect for the client service department of an investment firm. However, the same voice might sound utterly pretentious for a discount auto insurance provider’s on-hold message.

Generally speaking, a business that sells primarily to women will have better success with a female voice for their on-hold messages. Likewise, there are certain types of businesses where a male voice may be a better fit. Upbeat, enthusiastic recordings can be great for motivating customers to purchase additional products or services. A more subdued delivery will be better if customers are frequently calling to complain or to get assistance.

Classical music is typically construed as soothing to customers waiting to speak to a healthcare provider. Jazz may be a better fit for a web hosting company’s on-hold recording. Consider what your callers prefer and choose a voice and music accordingly.

What Do Your Customers Need to Hear?

Phone systems can give you an incredible amount of data about your callers and why they are calling. If 75 percent of everyone dialing into your call center needs technical assistance, you can safely assume that they want a fast resolution to their problem and may be frustrated. Having these individuals listen to a promotional message inviting them to buy more from you is probably not the best idea. Instead, you could be offering tips to solve the most common issues while also thanking them for their business and patience.

With nearly all phone systems, you can provide a unique on-hold recording for each extension. This means you can target messaging for sales, support, accounting, and more instead of using a generic message for everyone who calls. By doing this, you can fine-tune messaging, tone, delivery, and music in a way that will greatly encourage them to hang on until you have an available representative.

As call centers become increasingly automated, the need for personalization has become even more important to ensure customers feel appreciated. By targeting on-hold messages and music specifically to those who are buying your products and services and their reasons for calling, you have a unique opportunity to communicate your commitment to providing great service while also strengthening your brand.

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About the Author

Saul Ives is the vice president of business development for Snap Recordings, a leading provider of professional voice recordings for business phone systems. Snap Recordings offers more than 100 voice talents in both English and Spanish, as well as over 500 music tracks to create custom call center recordings that can be added to any business phone system. You can learn more about Snap Recordings at

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