Although it's essentially just a tiny speaker next to your customer's ear, the phone can have a huge impact on how your customers feel about your brand.

The period when a customer is on hold on the phone is probably one of the most attention-focused customer touchpoints there is. However, it is a purely auditory touchpoint, and very frequently businesses don't pay attention to audio in a strategic way, unlike the visual and written aspects of their communications.

For on-hold audio, you need to think about two forms of content: music and recorded-voice messages. Whichever form it takes, some type of continuous sound is necessary for holding, because people need to know that they are still connected. Complete silence while on hold gets increasingly deafening by the second!

Let's look at some do's and don'ts of hold music and voice content.

Three Don'ts

1. DON'T repeatedly remind people to use your website

It's not 2001. Most people know they can manage their account or transact business online. Chances are they are calling after already being on your website—or, worse, because something on your website isn't working. Think of how annoying it would be to repeatedly hear such a message in that context.

One initial reminder is fine, but don't loop a "use our website" message.

2. DON'T use music that is improperly formatted for the phone

You've likely heard hold music that sounds highly distorted and grating, or music that keeps cutting in and out. Some of those issues are more noticeable on a mobile phone.

If you are creating audio for your phone system, make sure your audio producer adjusts your music and audio files for phone use, and don't sign off on the music until you've tested hearing it just as a customer would—on the phone!

If you're using music provided by your phone company and it's badly distorted, be very vocal about the issue... and perhaps they will change it.

Nobody expects a hi-fi sound experience when on hold, but you can often reduce the cringe factor with some minor adjustments.

3. DON'T oversell in your recorded messages

Keep in mind that many people are probably calling you with a problem—or that a problem is forming for them because they are on hold for longer than they want to be. So it's not a time for hard-selling! An occasional gentle notice might be OK, such as new products/services and special events—things that many customers may not be aware of. But you should avoid a continuous sales pitch.

Five Do's

1. DO offer helpful information

Let's say you produce lawn care equipment: Maybe you create a voiceover message with a quick tip for properly maintaining the gear, or even just general lawn care advice unrelated to your products. Are you a hospital? Maybe you offer some health and wellness tips. You get the picture...

2. DO be creative

I was once on hold with an advertising agency, and the hold audio featured old-time, nostalgic jingles and TV show themes. It was charming and appropriate to the brand, and I found myself slightly disappointed that my hold ended!

Try to think of music and audio that would work for your company, though you will need to make sure you have proper copyright clearances for any audio you use.

3. DO think about a longer loop

Rather than having the same voice message or music track repeat every 90 seconds, perhaps you can come up with a loop that lasts five minutes, or even longer (the length should be appropriate to the wait times for your business on a busy day).

Think of how many times someone will have heard a 90-second loop during 20 minutes of hold versus a six-minute loop.

Keep in mind the caller's state of mind while on hold for long periods of time and the irritation or aggravation resulting from hearing the same thing repeatedly; each cycle only ensures a more angry customer by the time your rep answers to help.

4. DO incorporate the elements of your audio branding program

Do you have an audio logo or jingle melody? Is the sound of a certain person's voice synonymous with your brand? Such elements should be thoughtfully included in any custom content that you create for your hold audio.

5. DO consider installing an automated call-back option

Even the most thoughtfully created hold audio program won't fully negate the frustration of long hold times. The technology exists for not only giving people the option of having a rep call them back but also quoting an estimate of when that call will happen.

People want to be able to run an errand, conduct business, or do other things that they can't do while they are waiting intently to hear a person answer the phone.

You will no doubt deal with kinder, friendlier customers if you institute a call-back option.

* * *

Effective hold audio (and phone procedures generally) all boil down to being thoughtful and putting yourself in the customer's shoes.

When a customer is already experiencing a problem, adding a bad phone experience on top of that can very often lead that person to seek out other providers. What's worse is that these days they will often document their entire experience on review sites and social media for all the world to see.

Do whatever is in your control to make sure your phone experience sets you up for glowing, positive reviews.

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Is Your On-Hold Audio Irritating Customers? Three Don'ts and Five Do's

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image of Peter Linn

Peter Linn creates custom music and sound for branding, advertising, and other media that need the right music to help tell a story.

Twitter: @PeterLinnMusic

LinkedIn: Peter Linn