on hold message

Last updated 24th of January 2017

Author Lisa Hartwell

Your On Hold Message May Be Doing More Harm Than Good

Previously, I urged you to call your business telephone system and put yourself in the place of your customers. The article was specifically focussed on IVR systems; however, the same applies for your on hold messaging.

Call your business and ask to be put on hold or transferred, or simply review your on hold recording. What do you hear? 

Are Callers Hearing Anything At All?

I was going to assume that you have some sort of on hold audio. But then I remembered the old saying about assuming. So, my first question is, what is your caller hearing?

If your callers are hearing silence, beeps or dated music then you need to change this immediately. You may tell yourself that it doesn’t matter because your employees answer the telephones quickly but even that short time on hold can make a big difference to the way your business is perceived. 

At best, it’s a wasted opportunity to inform your callers about what you do, your opening hours, where to find you and how to connect with you online. For some callers, that information might be all they need and you will have solved their enquiry or problem without them taking up any more of their (or your employees’) precious time.

At worst, hearing silence or beeps can be confusing to the caller and make them wonder if they have been cut off. Some phones (especially on VoIP systems) will end a call automatically if there is no sound from the other end of the phoneline. 

Then there is the perception of time. When the caller hears nothing, beeps or annoying music, their perception of how long they are waiting increases. People hate waiting if they feel their time is being wasted and in a society where we can have instant information with the press of a few buttons, that tolerance for waiting is decreasing. 

All these problems reflect on your business and your commitment to customer care, and within the space of 15 – 60 seconds* you could lose a customer forever.

Does the On Hold Message Reflect Your Brand?

Your on hold message is an extension of your marketing and often a caller’s first contact with your business. Do the voice, style and music do justice to your business image? Is it in keeping with your other marketing?

For example, if you are in the care or health industry you probably want your callers to hear a friendly, reassuring voice and message when they are on hold. A clothing store might aim for a younger, laid-back style, and a building company would be most effective with a down-to-earth, no-nonsense recording. 

A female voice tends to be perceived as more pleasant and helpful while a male voice is considered authoritative and you should give thought to which would work best for your business and whether your callers would prefer a local accent over a neutral one.

Some businesses believe that using their own front-office staff for the recording is enough; after all, these are the people who are so effective talking to customers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in practice. Usually, the same person who seems so natural and friendly in person becomes monotone and stilted the moment they know they’re being recorded.

And it’s not just the voice. Any phone system music should be in keeping with the business brand. You can't pump chart music or Classic FM down your phone line without paying a lot for licensing but there are plenty of alternatives that will be easy on the ear and in-keeping with your image.

Is Your On Hold Message Packed with Clichés? 

One of the biggest gripes callers have with on hold systems is hearing the same or similar clichéd messages. You may think it’s polite to tell a caller that their call is important to you every 10 seconds but every business on hold tells them that and their reaction is, “If my call is so important, why am I on hold?”

Similarly, it can be useful to share website information while a caller is waiting, but saying, “Did you know you can find all our business information online at…” may increase their frustration. Nowadays, people are generally tech-savvy and know that most businesses have a website. It’s likely they have already been to the website or are not able to get online currently. You need to find a way to provide that information without using annoying or patronising stock phrases.

Share business information or tips for your industry. Tell callers things they may not know about your business. For example, a building supplies company might share that they offer a free bathroom and kitchen design service; a financial services business could provide simple money-saving tips; and a retail store might include their latest special offers. Intersperse this with other frequently asked questions (like where to find your business or your opening times) and you have the makings of an on hold message that will prevent a potential customer from hanging up and never calling back.

If you lose a caller you might have lost a customer. Do you want to take that risk?


If you'd like more information on how we can help you, please get in touch using our online contact form or call Jo on 01752 229246. You might also like to read this page on On Hold Messaging to find out more about the importance of On Hold Marketing and see some of the facts and figures associated with it.


*67% of businesses put their callers on hold for 15 - 60 seconds [Audio Marketing Association (Europe) and OHMA (US) survey - 2012] 


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