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8 Tips For Choosing your Message On Hold Provider

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It happens to you just about every day. You call a business and are told to "hold on". Then you hear it: a fuzzy radio station, computer-generated music or the black hole of silence on hold. "This is terrible!" you think to yourself. Then you wonder, "What do people hear on hold when they call MY business"?

So you've decided it's time for a little help from a pro. You start your search online, but soon questions pop up. Do I need a contract? Is a buyout option a better deal? What about the technology? Can my phone system take a file or do I need equipment? It can be confusing just finding out how the on-hold audio even gets through the phone to the caller on the other end.

A Common Problem

You're not alone. Most businesses have ignored on-hold time most callers endure. Estimates suggest that 70 percent of business callers experience time waiting on hold, and that helpful messages on hold keep callers from hanging up and can even influence buying decisions. Yet, in most businesses the hold button is ignored.

Tim Brown, the founder of Easy On Hold in Portage, Michigan, interviewed business owners about what they think about the silence or music callers hear on hold. The overall feeling was that "it was too much of a hassle to deal with." It's why Tim named his company Easy On Hold 16 years ago.

"It was obvious that most businesses didn't have a good source of music on hold and custom announcements," Tim says. His story about why he started Easy On Hold goes something like this: Tim calls a restaurant to make a reservation. He hears a radio station that—oddly enough—is playing a commercial for a different restaurant than the one he had called. He quit his day job and started Easy On Hold.

Over the years, Tim has sought out every aspect of on hold messaging and has trained his staff to be "music on hold experts". If you're ready for custom on hold messaging and music, here are some tips from the experts at Easy On Hold.

Contract Or No Contract?

There are services with ongoing contract payments and there are buyout message-on-hold providers. If you want to own your equipment and messages without recurring costs, mention this up front. For businesses that will use on hold time as a marketing opportunity, monthly fees can be a better deal, especially if equipment is provided (if needed).

The pay-as-you-go model may provide unlimited message on hold changes, however it might be limited to as few as 1 updated message per year. Be specific in asking about how much content you can have created over the course of the agreement.

If you won't be changing the message on hold content frequently, look into a pay-once play-forever model. A buyout means you may play the message on hold as long as you like, with no obligation to buy again. If you purchase 4 complete productions, for example, you can use them in 12 months, 20 months, 36 months or more.

What Is A Message?

If a message on hold provider offers a package of "eight messages", be sure to delve deeper. Some on hold providers refer to a paragraph of copy as a "message". Others mean to say that a message will include several paragraphs of content over 3, 4 or 6 minutes.

Ask about word count. How many words will I get in my script? How many unique scripts?

Do I Need An External On Hold Player?

If you have had music-on-hold on your current phone system, or have it now, mention this to your prospective supplier; it may keep you from paying for unnecessary equipment.

Your phone system may allow messages to be entered into an internal memory, in which case you may not need any equipment at all. Most VOIP off-site or hosted VOIP systems allow you to upload a file to the system. Some hosted VOIP systems will accept a streaming audio channel. Easy On Hold can set this up for you.

You might have a 2 or 4 line phone you purchased at an office supply store. These types of phones cannot play music on hold without the help of a special adapter that allows music to be piped into the phone line.

What about my iPod or a CD player? Professional message on hold equipment is made to stay running 24/7. Avoid solutions with moving parts, such as the old tape or CD based systems. Any device with lithium batteries should never be used, as it may not be safe to keep these devices plugged in and running all of the time. Such operation of an iPod, for example, will void the warranty and the manufacturer will be off the hook if the unit fails.

Marketing, Greetings Or Just Music?

A professional message on hold provider such as Easy On Hold will ask you about who is calling your business. Are you taking orders? Answering questions? Taking care of patients? In any case, you've got a captive audience on that hold button. If you have a marketing team, they should get involved with the decisions regarding on hold content. Don't leave it to the I.T. department or phone installer to choose what your callers are hearing.

A mostly-music message can include a few short spoken statements. For decades, callers have been hearing "thank you for calling" or generic messages on hold. While these friendly greetings add a human voice to the waiting-on-hold experience, they serve only to remind callers that you haven't yet come back on the line. Consider a custom recording that includes your company name and information that will be of specific interest to the caller.

When creating on hold messaging, keep announcements brief, simple and focused on just one single topic. Callers can only comprehend so much in half of a minute.

Knowing how long your hold times are, and who is calling will help determine what content is appropriate. Companies with callers that are internal or departmental won't need a marketing message, so just music will do. Extremely long hold times may be better tolerated with longer music segments and shorter voiced announcements.

How Often Will You Change Your Message?

The more specific and targeted your voiced messages are, the more impactful and successful they'll be as a marketing tool. Be relevant to make callers feel cared for. The on-hold message industry calls message changes updates. If you have a seasonal business, or if you hold monthly webinars, events and shows, you should ask for pricing on a package of custom hold messages, to allow frequent changes. You may also find a plan that allows unlimited message changes over the course of a year. For example, Easy On Hold offers an Anytime Plan for a flat annual fee, which can reduce the per-production cost considerably.

Beware Of Unnecessary Installation Fees

It may take a few phone calls, but it's always good to know a little bit about your phone system. Knowing whether your phone system requires an external message on hold player can be a roadblock to getting a hold-message program started. If you have never had music on hold playing on your phone system, you can ask your system installer whether equipment is necessary. You may found about the MOH INPUT, meaning setting up on hold messages may be as easy as plugging in one connecting cable. There are internet-connected message on hold devices that require an internet connection, in which case installation may be best handled by your own I.T. department, your phone installer or an outsourced technician. Beware of unnecessary installation fees for your messages on hold.

Request A Custom Demo

Typically, message on hold providers will play an audio sample of messages on hold they've produced for other businesses. That's fine, but it doesn't really show you what they'll do for you. Will you get the same voiceover/announcer, script quality, production quality, etc. as the sample? A custom demo, made from scratch and specifically about your business, provides a high level of confidence in moving forward with your message on hold provider. It may take a couple of days to write up a short script and record a couple of minutes of it. Listen for customized content that will appeal to your callers. Listen to how the music works with the voice. You don't need to be completely satisfied, as the script can be modified and the music track can be changed, but a custom demo should tell you if the producer "gets" your business. Also, consider how the production process was handled. Were deadlines met? Did the script speak to the caller, or was it all fluff and corporate-speak? Don't let the script writer get away with using a boring template.

Should I Buy A Music License?

It's true that all music used on your telephones requires a license, but that doesn't mean you need to provide your credit card to BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. A reputable music on hold provider will have paid for a blanket license that allows all content to be used on your phones. In some cases, larger companies require a copy of the license clearance in writing before making a final decision on a music on hold provider.

Now Is The Time!

Go ahead and call your own business and ask to be placed on hold, if you dare. Then remember that you have some simple and effective options for improving your customer service with quality on hold content.