Hold music isn’t a particularly glamorous part of setting up a company. But having the right songlist can set the tone for your inbound callers. Enjoyable music can shorten their 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.
That’s why we’re going to hash out what your hold music should accomplish. We’ll also offer a few tips on how to pick the best hold music for you.
First, because getting placed on hold is inevitable (a whopping 70 percent of business calls are placed on hold, and the average person spends 60 hours on hold every year—depressing, I know).
Second, because hold music is a better alternative to silence. Repeated studies have found that, when confronted with either music or silence, callers prefer hold music. Those who were placed on silent hold reported a feeling of being lost or forgotten, with 90 percent hanging up within forty seconds of waiting. With hold music, callers are less likely to hang up (only 13 percent hang up after one minute) and more likely to stay on the line longer. This gives companies a greater chance of answering the caller’s concern and creating a positive customer experience.
Besides reassuring callers that they haven’t been forgotten, hold music also serves callers by:
Besides knowing your audience and what kind of hold music they like, it’s also important to consider other factors, like:
Most hold music falls into three categories: classical music, popular music, and Muzak. (Muzak is what you usually think of when you think of hold music. It tends to be generic, orchestral arrangements that could hail from any music genre.)
Each of these come with their own set of pros and cons. The younger crowd may like music from the Top 40, but popular music can come with licensing fees and may be off-putting to the older generation. The same is true with classical music. The older generation may prefer it, but you risk turning off the youth. Surprisingly, in one study, a group of music psychologists found that the music that retained the most callers the longest was Muzak—because it corresponded with callers’ expectations for hold music.
Our friends at Cisco use what is considered one of the most popular Muzak compositions as the default hold music on their phones. The friend of a Cisco employee composed it as a teenager and later allowed Cisco to adopt it. Now it’s the default hold music on millions of phones, and has actually won its own fan base. You can listen to it below:
In the past, companies leaned toward simple, repetitive hold music because it didn’t require much of the listener’s attention. But it came to light that hold music that fails to hold callers’ attention also fails to warp their perception of time. More complex hold music draws the caller’s attention and engages their thinking processes. That way, the caller doesn’t have to find other things to occupy his or her mind.
Don’t let your selection become stale. Shake it up so callers aren’t subjected to the same songs every time they call. This is particularly true around holidays. Updating your hold music to reflect the season may seem like a hassle (it doesn’t have to be—with Jive, you can switch out hold music in minutes), but it communicates to your customers that you’re eager to engage with them on multiple levels, including through hold music. Just make sure you’re not still playing Christmas music on Valentine’s Day, or you risk sending the message that you don’t care.
When approaching hold music, another question that comes up is, “Should I include messages with my hold music?” The answer is yes, but with some caveats. Studies have shown that a majority of callers (88 percent) like to hear messages while they’re on hold. But what kind of messages should you use?
One message to avoid is the apology: “We value you and your time, and we apologize for making you wait 89 minutes to reach a service representative. Please stay on the line.” The problem with apology messages is they come across as impersonal and disingenuous. They also interrupt the hold music, which initially fools callers into thinking their wait is over. That’s why, when different kinds of hold messages were evaluated, the apology message tended to do more harm than good (67 percent of people who heard apology messages hung up).
Hold messages should only include information that’s worth interrupting the music and risking your callers’ ire. This information could include educational or entertaining facts about a product or promotion. In one study, 20 percent of callers made a purchase because of an offer they heard while on hold.
You may ask: “If there’s a problem with interrupting the music, why not just play the messages over the music?” This isn’t recommended. Callers may already be edgy. Hitting them with a combination of messages and music can come across as messy and chaotic—not the impression of your company you want them to take away.
In the end, only you can decide what music best fits your company, your product, and your audience. You’re never going to please every caller, but finding the right fit for your hold music will help you define your brand identity and better serve your customers.