Customer Abuse Through Music, 3 Mistakes And 4 Opportunities For Music Played While On Hold

TELEPHONE MUSIC ON HOLD, at one time, was a marvel. To have the technology to create music on the phone was a novel idea at the time. I am not referring to phonograph music for listening, offered to subscribers in 1901, but the music we hear when we wait for customer service or tech support. You mean, the technology for broadcasting music over telephones is over 100 years old? I was pretty surprised, but we are a creative lot. The idea in 1901 was for entertainment purposes and was a subscription service chosen by the customer. The custom that is the center of this article is initiated by the merchant with no permission basis from the customer.


1. Marketers know that people engaged in an activity are less likely to hang up while on hold and will maintain acceptance of the modern custom of playing music during hold time. Providing customers with music for listening while waiting assumes that people are sheep. This is the first mistake. We are not sheep. We have different tastes, different values of our own time, different ways of working and being. Any merchant who wants to play music to accomplish the mission of keeping us engaged during hold time should respect us as people and consider our rights when playing unsolicited music.

2. The next mistake is in hiding how inappropriate it is to force music on hold. If a company put a radio in your washing machine that only played one song with no way to adjust the volume, song, duration or style; you wouldn’t buy it. Right? Unless it were the only choice. Yes, I am used to freedom of choice that is afforded me in my country, so I am not happy when a choice is flagrantly removed, as with music on hold. It is inappropriate and resembles a slight form of slavery. Before I do business with a merchant, do I have to check to see what wonderful or abusive music I will be subjected to when I need customer service or tech support? Who needs a new item to factor into the buying process?

3. Choice of music style is the next mistake. We don’t have a choice. Except for one merchant,, who should be commended for leading the effort to afford the customer the choice to remove the music and be in silence, we get what we get when we call customer service. And, customer service and tech support agents, worldwide, say, “Do you mind if I put you on hold?” without realizing that they are subjecting the customer to a barrage of non-choice.

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1. From error comes great opportunity. From need comes new technology. So, here we are, people. The time is now.

1. Let’s create a non-astronomically priced phone system where we all have the choice of giving our beloved customers the choice of music or silence. Many of us work while on hold, so this opportunity for silence must be standard.

2..Let’s create a non-astronomically priced phone system where we can connect our favorite Pandora station to anyone’s on hold phone system. When we give our personal information or credit card info, there can be an extra field where we input a Pandora station or a specific genre of music, if we are not using this already established radio system. Right next to the drop down box that asks you whether you are using American Express, Visa, Mastercard (which is an unnecessary field because the first digit of each card number delineates which type of card it is) we can have a genre box for music preference including silence.

3. It seems we have lost sight of how personal music is to each of us. As a music therapist, I can discuss how the subtleties of rhythm, melody, tempo, genre, social proof, etc. permeate us and affect us. Let’s create a technology whose phone software is based upon the customer’s emotional state. There would be an additional layer of the familiar voice menu, common to phone systems prior to placing the customer on hold, asking the customer to rate her/his frame of mind, like motivation potpourri, pensive or frazzled, welcoming silence. Option 1 would direct the software to play music that motivates, which could miss the mark more times than not since our motivations are different. Pensive or frazzled would play spa music; and silence would let the customer keep on working, creating, doing whatever s/he was doing before the customer service/tech support phone call.

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4. Finally, we could create a productive and creative program that allowed us to do karaoke while we waited. We would be given a choice of 3 songs in the genre that the company knew we liked from the personal information field given in 2. The system would sing one line of the song and then play music only for that one line so that the customer could sing while on hold. The software would then sing the next line and repeat this line with music only so that the customer could continue to learn and sing. The process would continue this way. The customer could repeat the process with the same song until the customer service or tech support person came on. Email and other electronic send options could be made available to send lyrics or a lead sheet (sheet music with melody, rhythm and chord changes) to the customer in anticipation of the call or as an add-on during the hold process.

CONCLUSION. Progress is a wonderful thing. Our inventions are based on our inspired ideas. We all have them. It is our responsibility, though, to cherish our fundamental principles, those of freedom of choice, speech, creativity. Our duty to keep sight of our personal values and protect our personal time and space.

So, let’s create phone software that will stop the abuse and will be far more effective for the marketing team of each merchant than the forced music on hold ever has been. Let’s build our brand by caring for our customer base through respecting the fundamental right to choose. The element of music or the absence of music affect our buying decisions. But, the choice to have or not to have music on hold must be the customer’s.

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by Diane Gold