How to pick the perfect Hold Music

How to pick the perfect Hold Music

Posted in in Articles by Mark Malekpour on

How to Pick the Perfect Hold Music

Choosing on hold music for business may not seem like an overly important part of marketing. However, it could be the first point of contact a potential new customer has with your business, and first impressions are everything. That's why it's important to choose the best on hold music for your business that suitably represents your company, brand, and identity to create the best impression and connection to your audience.

Jump to:

Origins
Purpose
Why
Different Uses
Messages
Types
Sound Quality
Bad Music
Update


The Origin of On Hold Music

The telephone was invented in the late 1800s, but the use of playing music over the telephone did not arrive until much later, and the idea of On-Hold music was discovered entirely by accident by Alfred Levy, an inventor, factory owner, and entrepreneur. In 1962, Levy discovered a problem with the phone lines at his factory. He discovered that a loose wire was touching a metal girder on the building. This made the building a giant receiver so that the audio broadcast signal from a radio station next door would transmit through the loose wire and could be heard when calls were put on hold. So, when customers were waiting on-hold, they could hear whatever music was being played by the radio station.

Inspired by the fault, Levy developed the technology to create an on-hold music system and patented his work in 1966.




The Purpose of Hold Music

While it has gone on to evolve, the implementation can be traced back to elevator music. Pioneered by the Muzak company in the 1930s, elevator music was exactly what you think it is. Music played in elevators as you travelled to create an ambiance, usually fitting with the establishment in which you were visiting. The type of music would often be easy listening, relaxing and lounge. Over the years, the use of music in this type of setting could be heard in lobbies, supermarkets and the workplace with speakers fitted in ceilings and often hidden by scenery to create an ambiance for customers or employees. The quality of music was often not of utmost importance but intended to be 'so background' you barely knew it was there,  but it broke the silence. Over the years, the name 'Muzak' was associated with 'cheesy' background music and became a noun with negative connotations. Companies looking to use music in the workplace either for employees or customers would steer clear from 'Muzak' as it represented poor music. This ultimately led to the demise of the company, which went bankrupt in 2009 and was acquired by Mood Media.




Why Have On Hold Music?

The larger the business, the greater the influx of calls from customers and potential new customers. Many callers will ultimately have to wait to speak with someone and are put on hold. The main reason telephone systems have hold music is to avoid silence. Studies show that over 50% of customers put on hold with no music, and simply greeted with silence often hang up after a minute. This is because they feel either forgotten or don't feel their call will be answered. Silence is a dead end. For all the customer knows, they're out of the system and just hanging on for nothing. At least if music is playing, it reinforces the idea that you're in a queue and will be answered at some point. In a study conducted by USA Business Telephone Today, 30,000 callers were placed on hold and split into 3 separate groups. One with no music, one with music and one with music and messages.

Silence Only
Music
Music and Information
52% hung up after 1 minute
13% hung up after 1 minute
2% hung up after 1 minute
100% of callers estimated they were on hold for longer than 1 minute
44% of callers estimated they were on hold for longer than 1 minute
19% of callers estimated they were on hold for longer than 1 minute
27% of callers estimated they were on hold for longer than 5 minutes
0% of callers estimated they were on hold for longer than 5 minutes
0% of callers estimated they were on hold for longer than 5 minutes

The study revealed that customers who were put on hold with no music and silence only, were much more likely to hang up, and their perception of time was greatly exaggerated. When a customer calls a business, this call is their first point of contact for a business so it is important the experience of being on hold is as pleasant as possible. By playing music to a caller, this helps the time pass much quicker and helps maintain their positive mood.




Different Uses for On Hold Music

Aside from breaking the silence, using on hold music for business can be effective for several reasons:

Offer options to customers

While being placed on hold and listening to music, recorded messages can be played over the music that informs customers of specific departments they can reach by pressing specific buttons, or informing them of further information, waiting times and more. Sometimes, a customer query can be dealt with during the hold process itself. For example, a customer may be calling to update their account. A message informing them they can do this via a website or app could be all they need to do this, and handle their query without even being answered, and freeing up the queue.

Helping time pass

Studies show that when being placed on hold, time goes by much faster when there's music playing. Similarly, if you're placed on hold with no music, the wait feels even longer. So if you're playing music to your customers while they wait, they may feel like they were answered quicker.

Establishing a brand identity

The type of on hold music implemented by a business is important. Again, it's potentially the first point of contact a customer has with a business and first impressions are everything. If you're a company that provides over 50s life insurance, it wouldn't make sense to play the latest chart pop music as your audience wouldn't associate with it and immediately feel as if the business doesn't 'get their audience'.

The right music can be used to maximize your company's first impression with callers. If a hotel/spa has an on hold system that uses relaxing, tranquil music it not only provides a soothing on hold experience but it's making the connection between the caller and what the hotel/spa is all about. A relaxing, soothing experience. Instead of being frustrated and being put on hold, the caller is already picturing the pool and treatment facilities. We have an article that goes into this more, here.

Managing the caller

As previously outlined, the right music choice makes all the difference. The wrong choice can irritate your caller so when they are put through to speak with someone, they're already unhappy. For many, making a call to a business can create anxiety. If you offer relaxing music that doesn't sound cheesy or repetitive, you can improve their experience.




Include On Hold Messages

As mentioned previously, including messages can be effective for directing customers to the most suitable department without having to wait for a transfer. It can also inform them of waiting times and the particular services you offer. So if you're a Spa, you can include messages that detail specific treatments and costs that inform the caller who may be calling to book a Spa related experience.

Use a professional voiceover artist

If you're recording voice messages for your on hold system, have your script read and recorded by a professional voiceover artist. Voiceover artists know how to annunciate and present words correctly. All breaths, pops, clicks and hisses that are heard as standard when talking into a microphone are removed, and the audio is cleaned so that it is crystal clear. A correct recording environment/studio is used with the necessary equipment to ensure a high quality recording.

This recorded voiceover should then be professionally mixed with your music track of choice by an experienced audio engineer. This will ensure the voiceover messages play clearly over the music so that they can be heard but do not interupt the flow of the music and on hold experience.

Do not:

Repeatedly apologize to the caller for putting them on hold. "We're sorry to keep you waiting so long. Your call is important to us and we will answer your call as soon as possible." After hearing the message for the twentieth time waiting on hold for half an hour, it loses its appeal. It also has an impersonal feel to it because it's an automated message, on repeat. It also interrupts the music and callers think their call is being answered which becomes increasingly frustrating.

Bombard the customer with sales ads during on hold. Having a customer waiting on the line is not an excuse to advertise to them. Not answering the phone but trying to sell to someone who may already be unhappy with your product or service will not work and angers the caller.




Classical Music, Pop Music, Royalty Free Music

There are 3 main forms of music that are considered for use as on hold music for business:

Classical Music

Familiar tunes like Beethoven's Fur Elise are commonly used in telephone on-hold systems. It's fairly relaxing and doesn't sound too bad over the phone. However, the drawback to using classical music is that it doesn't sit well with a wide audience (the younger callers won't appreciate it). Also, it can sound quite distorted or full of static during quiet sections. Because classical music is quite dynamic in nature, having very loud and very quiet sections throughout a piece, when used in telephone on hold systems it's impossible to get a good medium level. Therefore, either loud sections are overly loud (to compensate for quiet sections) or the quiet sections are too quiet and effectively just fuzzy noise.

Pop Music                                                                                                              

The idea of using pop music may be attractive, however, there are a few caveats to using 'current' chart/pop music. Firstly, to use commercial pop music in your hold system you will first need a PRS or PPL license. Depending on the size of your business and offices, the price will vary. This would allow you to use any chart song in your on hold system but could incur large annual fees. Secondly, listening to a pop song over the phone with low-quality vocals is awful. You also cannot overlay pop songs with on hold messages. A pop song that was top of the charts one month could be forgotten about a few months later and immediately makes your business sound dated. Lastly, chart music is played everywhere. That's why it's in the charts. So the last thing people want to hear when calling your company is the same song they heard in the supermarket, on the radio and everywhere else.

Royalty Free Music

This music has been composed and recorded specifically for use as on hold music for business. The type of music is produced with the sole intention to be played in the background (over the phone) where voice messages can be layered over the top. It's also not too complex so that instruments and samples are not lost in the encoding process when converted to the on hold format. Royalty free on hold music offers tracks in a wide range of curated collections so businesses can choose the best on hold music for their callers. Hotels can choose from Lounge or Soft Jazz music, whereas a Spa can choose from a variety of Gentle Moods and Relaxation music.

When choosing the type of music for your on hold system, there are some genres that go down better than others:

Source: ZenDesk




Limited Sound Quality

Due to the limitations of telephone lines, the amount of data they can carry is restricted. Therefore, whatever music you choose, needs to be compressed to be played down the line. This type of compression is what gives you the typical telephone sound. You can hear this clearly when listening to a caller on a radio station. The presenter is crystal clear, but the caller has a very low-quality sound. The same applies to music.

When music is encoded for use in a telephone on hold system, the bit-rate is compressed down to just 64kbps. Music streaming services like Spotify typically offer music at 128kbps for their low-end quality and 320kbps for their high-end quality. As you can see, that's a huge reduction in quality for on hold music. The video below shows the difference in music quality for the same track:


This factor is important to consider as dynamic, complex music tracks just won't sound very good over the phone. Various guitars and drums will be lost and replaced with a muddy, fuzzy static sound. That's why the best on hold music is typically simple in structure and instrumentation so that it can sound as clear as possible when encoded to the lower quality format.




Bad Hold Music

The use of Hold Music is incredibly important for a business. However, if you implement 'bad' hold music, this will have the opposite effect to all of the advantages discussed above and could even turn your customers away. Notoriously bad hold music has become associated with certain companies and given them a poor reputation for customers calling. One of the worst culprits is Cisco. So much so that people have uploaded their hold music just to showcase how bad it really is. The music itself is called Opus No. 1, and was composed in 1989 by Tim Carleton and Darrick Deel and recorded on a four-track in a garage. The music is nothing more than a drum loop with a retro 80s synth, and would probably never have seen the light of day until Deel secured an IT job at Cisco and offered the piece as hold music for Cisco’s phones. Due to the size of Cisco, it was installed on over 65 million phone systems and has become synonymous with 'bad' hold music. It is so bad, it's become popular by those who hate it so much, with some going so far as uploading hours of it to YouTube and receiving over a million plays.


The purpose of hold music is to relax the caller and ease the passing of time. The monotonous, low-fi and boring music above actually contributes to caller agitation and increases the likelihood of them hanging up. It's incredibly important that your on hold music fits your business, brand and a high-quality music track.




Update Your On Hold Music Regularly

Calling a business and being put on hold isn't something anyone looks forward to. If people need to call a business a few times over the course of a year, hearing the same on hold music will make the experience all the more laborious. Some callers may dread calling a business because they can already hear the music that will be stuck in their head for the rest of the day.

If you update your music for seasonal times, such as Christmas it's a great way to relate with callers during the season, but make sure you change it to something different after Christmas Day! The last thing people want to hear when calling a business is Christmas music outside of the season.

Posted by Mark Malekpour

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