Making the Most of Music-On-Hold

By Gary A. Pudles and Brendan Read

Music and messages-on-hold, collectively referred to as MOH, has been a key part of telemessaging call centers for years. Even so, MOH has some pratfalls that could trip even the most experienced call center manager.

Studies have long shown that callers will stay on hold longer if presented with music or marketing pitches instead of silence. MOH minimizes hang-ups and call-backs that cost telemessaging firms and clients money. It also improves caller satisfaction.

There is a debate, however, over whether messages or music is more effective. Message suppliers claim their offerings keep people on the phones longer. Having callers on hold is a great opportunity to sell and cross-sell or upsell. Call centers can also use messages on hold to impart vital information such as service outages, new office hours, or new locations.

The risk telemessaging and teleservice call centers run with messages on hold is repetition, which may annoy callers if they hear the same pitch repeatedly. In contrast, there is enough variety in music to avoid that issue. Also music is aural wallpaper; you know it is there but you don’t pay much attention to it, unlike a sales pitch. If your client’s customers do not make many repeat calls, avoiding the repetition issue, marketing messages are fine.

As a service to your clients, you can also offer to custom-recorded messages and change them often. Many phone systems allow for custom music and messages on hold for particular clients. You can charge an extra monthly fee for that service.

On the other hand, music poses its own hazards. You can easily offend customers if you’re not careful. Some of today’s popular contemporary recordings contain offensive lyrics. You can use contemporary music if you have clients that are targeting almost exclusively hip young people, such as concerts, nightclubs, and specialty boutiques. Offer to provide custom music for them. They will likely want the MOH to match the products and image. Similarly, if your client is promoting a jazz jam, you may look to provide recordings of featured artists. Otherwise stay with light instrumental music. It is mildly upbeat and easily listenable. For a little variety, consider some new age music that has the same characteristics.

When providing MOH, be aware of clients and their environment. For example, don’t play cheery numbers for funeral homes unless clients want it. Don’t laugh – it has happened.

When choosing music, buy CDs or downloads or contract with a commercial music provider. CDs and online music is cheaper but as will be noted later, commercial suppliers offer their own unique and important benefits.

If you’re still using tapes or your CD player is about to die, purchase an MP3 player. They are inexpensive and extremely reliable. There are no moving parts to jam or wear down. Make sure you buy a player with sufficient memory to hold a few CDs worth of songs, to avoid repetition.

Do not go cheap and play radio station feeds. You have no control over content. You may end up offending callers or, more embarrassing, you present them with clients’ competitor’s ads. Moreover, you may be liable for copyright violations.

A few words on copyright. You can be fined up to $50,000 for each infringement. The more flagrant, like having copy written music on a concert hotline without permission, the more likely you will be caught and punished. To avoid copyright issues, switch to public domain music (that is, music written/published in the United States before 1922). You can also contract for specialty written music. Alternatively, there are musicians who offer their music royalty-free in exchange for a one-time fee.

Otherwise, contract with commercial music providers that have paid royalties on your behalf to ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) or BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.). ASCAP  and BMI have licensed most copy written music. They police performances including recordings like MOH to protect music creators and ensure royalties are paid. By keeping an ear out for your clients and their callers, and for matters like copyright, MOH will continue to be valuable service.

Gary A. Pudles is President and CEO of the AnswerNet Network based in Princeton, NJ. He can be reached at or 609-921-7450.

Music-On-Hold Flexibility

In a teleservices call center, every client seems to have a different requirement or expectation for music-on-hold (MOH). No single type of music or message will please everyone. A system that offers maximum flexibility will allow a call center to please more clients.

One such system is Prism by Telescan. Prism enables call centers to offer a client’s specific music or recorded messages on a customized schedule. The music can be directly played through a port from any type of external device such as a CD player or MP3 player. It will allow up to eight different music files to be stored, so clients can be offered a variety of music styles or artists. Prism also allows call centers to record their client’s personal on-hold message. It will then alternate the music and messages in a variety of patterns, as selected by the client. Up to five different announcements can be scheduled for each account to be activated at different times of the day or on a calendar schedule.

Alston Tascom‘s Evolution System MOH will accommodate up to 128 standard recordings and an unlimited number of custom recordings; plus there can be up four external inputs. It has a total independence of voice mail; all of the functionality is contained within the Evolution system. The Evolution’s MOH includes the feature of time-sensitive playback and can be programmed for continuous play or to start at the beginning of the recording when a caller is placed on hold.’

Infinity system, from Amtelco, offers a variety of sources for MOH that can be configured on a system-wide or per-client basis. The only limits to the number of music sources are the number of available music source ports in the Infinity Host CTI server (typically a loop-start or E&M port) and the space requirements for locating multiple audio devices.

Amtelco’s optional Infinity audio file importer/exporter application provides the capability to import pre-recorded audio files into the Infinity database, providing call centers with a powerful tool to manage and customize client greetings and announcements as well as on-hold music. This makes it practical for client announcements and customized MOH to be professionally recorded in a studio and saved as a .wav file, which can be imported into Infinity for use as a client greeting, auto-answer recording, or on-hold music.

Professional Teledata‘s PInnacle telemessaging system can be configured to provide unlimited inputs for MOH. Separate selections can be assigned to various account types such as funeral homes, medical accounts, or general background music. Input is via any music source (such as CD or MP3 player), which can be easily changed for seasonal music, advertising messages, or simply for variation. Custom messages or music can be setup for any (or all) accounts via the integrated voice announce or voicemail system.

[From Connection Magazine September 2005]

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