On Hold Music Matters – Here’s Why

I have said it several times in many blog posts as “mistress of the obvious”: being on hold sucks. It just does and it is bad music that drives a lot of the negative feelings associated with this experience. Yet we can’t escape having to be on hold at some point so is there anything that can be done to make this necessary experience a more positive one? Would changing the on hold music change the negative feelings to positive outcomes?

On Hold Hell

Time Magazine recently addressed the issue with on holdOn Hold Music music in their article Why Being on Hold Drives You Crazy by Justin Worland. In the article, Mr. Worland points to the finding of a study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. In that study researchers found that by replacing nondescript instrumental “elevator” music with standard pop music, there were measurable changes in how people responded who listened while on hold.

The study’s author, Karen Niven, replaced the music at a call center and had the call center operators assess the temperament of the callers by measuring their level of anger when they took them off hold. The findings suggested that customers who listened to the standard pop were the least angry callers. Guess who were the angriest? You guessed it – the ones stuck with the elevator music.

Being Socially Aware Can Make You Anti-Social

There was another very interesting outcome of this study. They also introduced pop music with prosocial messages in the lyrics to be played while customers were on hold. Interestingly enough, customers were just as angry with the prosocial music as they were with the boring music. This was explained as a possible result of the reason why people were calling the center to begin with. With the purpose being to complain, it was theorized they were already in a state of annoyance and having to be told to “Save the World” was not helping them feel better.

Change the On Hold Music, Change the World

The researcher noted that despite the positive outcomes from the change in the music, it was not a practical solution due to licensing fees required to be paid to the artists for their music. That is where she was wrong because access to commercially recognized music is a basic option for any reputable on hold company to have in its menu of programs. For a small fee, popular music can be streamed and those pesky licensing fees are included in a reduced set rate so there is no need to worry about playing music illegally.

There are just so many musical options that improve upon the old school bland elevator music that there is no reason to make your customers suffer emotionally. Along with commercially recognized on hold music, you can also play themed music specially created for the on hold market.

As a shared experience, understanding what it is like to be on hold is almost universal so marketing personnel should recognize the import of this medium. The on hold experience can be improved at a small cost and the rewards can be great: happy customers, happy company!