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On-Hold Music: Music to Your Customers’ Ears, or Not?

There’s one aspect of customer experience that’s part of almost every customer interaction with a contact centre but which, compared to all the others, seems to get little attention as to its impact: on-hold music.

Why is on-hold music important?

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone who has had the misfortune to listen to it that Centrelink has a reputation for having the worst on-hold music in Australia. But surprisingly, another gargantuan government agency, the Australian Taxation Office, is said to have one of the best, and has been using the same tune for over 30 years!

On-hold music is important, as this US web site points out: “Enjoyable music can shorten [customers’] perception of wait times, manage customer anxiety, and create brand awareness. The wrong choices can leave your callers cringing as they suffer through waiting on hold.”

A survey carried out by US telco AT&T found that customers who are put on hold without background music thought a 30-second wait lasted 90 seconds. On the other hand, customers who did listen to hold music thought a 30-second wait lasted only half the time, just 15 seconds.

One style does not fit all

The question then arises: what sort of on-hold music works best? There are two aspects to this: what keeps customers happily holding, and what is appropriate to the company’s image. It can be hard to please all the people all the time.

For instance, according to this Slate article on ‘the history and psychology of hold music’, a 1990 study in the Journal of Services Marketing found that younger people reported their in-store shopping time to be shorter when it was accompanied by Top 40 music; that equation, however, reversed itself for shoppers over 25.

But familiar songs do pose another problem, however.

The same article also draws on a 1999 study by a team of music psychologists, who solicited callers to a fictional business in response to a newspaper advertisement.

Somewhat surprisingly, the music that got respondents to hang on the line longest was in fact not the Beatles, but their panpipe covers. The study speculated that this might have been because the instrumental covers corresponded more closely with callers’ expectations of typical on-hold music.

Or according to another theory, it could also be because overly-familiar music is more accessible and predictable in a caller’s mind, which can extend their perceived duration of time, making time spent on hold seem even longer than it really is.

Taking it one step further – commission your own

Most organisations opt for off-the-shelf music from the many companies that supply such, but if you really see your on-hold music as a key part of your brand image then, like online graphic design company, 99designs, you can commission your own.

The design firm, which has a tagline of ‘Design loves a good surprise,’ chose Berlin-based artist and musician Lvis Mejía to compose their “acoustic business card.” 99designs’ content manager, Antonia Zimmerlich, describes the music thus:

“His intention was to add an element of surprise and to improve the experience callers have while waiting. He created a relaxed sound that is different to what you would expect. With a combination of jazzy bass and flute Lvis Mejía’s piece perfectly fits the 99designs style.” Listen to it here and see what you think.

We also highly recommend having a look at Image On Line, a Melbourne-based firm who have been providing on-hold messages, jingles and sonic branding for over two decades. The local audio production company recently won two awards at the May 2018 On Hold Messaging Association’s annual conference in Florida USA. The two wins, for Best Audio Branding and Best Overall Production, speaks volumes about the company’s dedication and professionalism to helping organisations around the world improve customer experience. Check out their winning entry here.

Improving CX with on-hold music

A lot of the time, putting a customer on hold is unavoidable. So make that wait time less painful for your callers by carefully considering what you’re making them listen to. With Premier Contact Point, you can utilise our range of on-hold music or upload your own music and custom messaging quickly and painlessly. Contact us today to find out how.

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