Bad On Hold Music Hurts Callers’ Ears And Damages Your Brand

Leaders at more companies should follow Marissa Mayer's example of paying close attention to their on-hold marketing.

When Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer, complained that her company’s on-hold music was “garbage,” she got results.  Yahoo’s callers now hear a specially recorded ditty from New York’s Jingle Punks:

“You’re on hold, hold on Yahoo, gimme a second while I patch you through . . . The CEO didn’t like da’ hold music, so I wrote this jam for you” and, “Yes, it’s Yah – Yahoo!”

Mayer approved, as did contributors to tech blogs and readers at Yahoo’s forum.  But what does a company do when it can’t command that sort of high-level talent?  Find a full-service on hold service provider with the expertise to create custom on-hold messages that meet your marketing objectives and build a positive audio brand for your company.

Bad Music Is A Customer Service Problem
Bad online press can be a huge problem for any company.  Just Google “terrible on hold music” and listen to recordings of particularly bad music (if you can stand it!). You’ll find examples like these at Neatorama’s list of Terrible On Hold Music:

  • Bad On-Hold Music 1: 

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • Bad On-Hold Music 2: 

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Other sites list caller complaints about everything from sound quality to musical choices.  The longer they have to listen, the crankier they get, explained ZDNet columnist David Gewirtz.  He speculated about why the “on hold music is so bad for Microsoft’s cloud support, and the answer is not great from a customer service perspective:

On Sunday, I spent about an hour on hold for Microsoft at various stages of the process and their hold music (especially at the tech support level) is essentially static (very loud static) backed by an unrecognizable tune.

In my more paranoid on-hold moments, I sometimes suspect they’re doing it on purpose — just to get us to hang up and go away. But I’m tough. I can suffer through the terrible sound. I just get cranky and crank out cranky articles while I’m waiting. Then, of course, they have to deal with a crankier customer when they finally get around to my call.

Experiences like this do more than irritate individual customers, because people are more than willing to share negative experiences.  Many turn to social media to air their complaints and a single bad experience can quickly become a viral sensation.

Your company’s on-hold queue is an “invisible line” of customers with the same expectations for service as in-person customers.  Consider a long line of customers in your store who feel like they’re trapped in a seemingly endless line with no clues about wait time, listening to blaring music that sounds like it’s being played on a Victrola, and subjected to surly clerks who learned customer service skills from clerks at the DMV.

If that doesn’t kill your brand – and your business – nothing will.

Keep Music And Equipment Up-To-Date

Customer service people can be trained, but equipment can’t.  Companies should regularly review their on-hold music and message choices and keep their equipment up-to-date.  Marissa Mayer knew what callers to Yahoo were hearing.  Do you know what your customers listen to while they wait for service?

If not, it’s time to find out.  Call your company as a customer: if any of these three warning flags is waving, it’s time to update your telephone on-hold system.

  1. Static or scratchy, unrecognizable music. When Adele records a song, the sound is mixed to play optimally on, well, just about anything but a telephone speaker!  Sometimes even human voices can sound distorted and will sound even worse when the wrong type of music composition is chosen.
  2. Sound distortion. Just like most music isn’t composed for the telephone, many audio files aren’t optimized for the limitations of telephone speakers either.  Furthermore today’s Voice Over IP technology often uses audio compression CODECS that reduce the size of the data streams while reducing the overall audio quality as well.It is vital that your on hold provider know how to format your audio to compensate for these extreme situations. Bad on hold audio is bad for your brand.
  3. Outdated messages or poor musical choices. Are you still playing Christmas carols in February?  Are callers to your divorce law practice listening to the “Wedding March?”  Do you hear about a terrific special offer – that expired weeks ago?  It’s time to update.A less obvious problem is musical choices. Consider your genre selection: set aside personal preferences and consider your business.  Then review individual songs that are in rotation.  “Suicide is Painless?”  Not a good choice for a hospital or crisis hotline.

When choosing an on-hold service provider, ask the company to describe its service and support.  Using a single on-hold message isn’t a solution.  It’s a big problem, because messages quickly become outdated as your business changes.

Building an effective audio brand using on-hold messaging and music is both an art and technical challenge.  The right full-service on-hold messaging provider will partner with you and help you reinforce your company brand while offering callers an excellent user experience.

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