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Messages On Hold Deliver Fewer Hangups, Better Branding


Interview With Easy On Hold Founder Reveals New Research-Based Approach To Music and Message On Hold.

tim brown easy on hold

Easy On Hold’s Tim Brown on the Systems For Business Success Podcast

Interview by business consultant Tom Borg

Tom: Tim, let’s talk about the new way your company is doing messages on hold. It’s a fresh approach. I’m always impressed with the technology that’s out there today and what has it done for businesses. When it comes to being able to communicate with the customer when they’re calling in, that’s got to be a bit complex with today’s technology.

Tim: Thank you, Tom Borg for having me on. Most small and medium-sized businesses have a telephone system that has evolved in the last 10 years. We’ve seen it go from the pile of wires stapled to a wall to something a little more sophisticated. And now even in the cloud where businesses may not even have any equipment on site other than the phone itself or sometimes no phone at all, just headsets and what they call a softphone in your computer. So for many business owners, the phone is sort of out of sight and out of mind these days.

New Phones, Old On Hold Sound

With your new phone system, your callers might by default hear silence or an embedded royalty-free music track that came with the phone. However, while you are enjoying the new features of your upgraded phone system, your callers are hearing silence or some default music or thank you for calling messages on hold, something that hasn’t changed in 50 years!

The inbound telephone call is a part of customer service, and according to the 2018 Microsoft Global Customer Service Report, the quality of the customer service interaction is very influential in whether your brand we be chosen and if your customers will continue to be loyal.

Are Callers Making Purchases? Yes.

Tom: It’s so easy now with the technology reaching everybody with some sort of branding, some sort of messaging, people are getting bombarded. So are they still using the telephone to make purchases?

Tim: Well, my research tells me that the customer is still on the phone and that’s actually good news because now we can actually get to them. In the Microsoft survey, 39% said they prefer the phone as the main communications channel with a business. And the next preferred method was email and that was only 20%. When a mobile user is in the purchase phase of the buying cycle, they’re going to use that phone to make the purchase. 61% of mobile users will call a business during the purchase phase of the buying cycle.

Tom: Wow.

The telephone is still king

Tim: That’s a study that was conducted by Google. It’s pretty fresh. This is a more informed buyer than we’ve ever seen before. I can get a video demonstration, a testimonial, pictures, and videos on YouTube; I can in very short order get all the background information on your brand and your products. But at the end of the day, I’m usually holding a device in my hand that is going to make a phone call. Most of those calls are placed on hold, and that’s why we need to focus on messages on hold.

Tom:  So, the telephone is still how buyers reach out.

Tim: And some companies are doing a great job of embracing that fact. I did some reading up on Zappos. They actually prefer people to call. Tony Sheh, the CEO, said that these inbound calls give them the opportunity to really wow the customer. He says, “We’re going to continue even experimenting with ways to get more people to call because it is our most valuable brand builder because our people are trained how to build the brand through better customer service.”

Tom: Right, Tim, isn’t that one of the companies I’ve heard that actually puts their phone number at the top of the website page?

Tim: Yeah, that’s right. I think some companies would prefer to have an email contact, because they have a limited number of personnel available to answer inbound calls. That can mean more hold time.

Phone On Hold Time Causes Friction With Callers

Tom: Well, then how can a business solve that dilemma where they’re going to have to put people on hold when they call in. What can a company do about that?

Tim: If you’re calling a business as a consumer, 86% of the time you’ll be placed on hold. That causes friction. We need to focus on that point of friction. Let me explain. We do a lot of work with medical facilities, even systems as large as Cleveland Clinic and Baptist Health and they have what’s called patient satisfaction ratings. Less friction between callers and the hospital improves patient satisfaction.

Tom: Some messages on hold at medical offices are now telling callers that they have an option of going online to set up an appointment. I think that’s a good use of your on hold time.

Tim: We have a client in California, Wine Country Gift Baskets which makes wonderful baskets of wine and gifts that can be sent anywhere. As a professional call center, they tracked how many of those hold calls were being abandoned during “hold time”, so what they wanted to do was change their caller abandonment rate. They began to use their messages on hold audio to tell success stories, and talk to callers in a way that makes them feel that you understand why they called. They give customers some ideas to kind of warm them up to what they can expect when a human agent does get on the call. The result was a huge reduction in abandoned calls and lost opportunities.

Tom: So they created a positive phone on hold experience. Not every business understands how to do this. So what works and what doesn’t work?

The Problem With Traditional Music Messages On Hold

Tim: When most of us think about being on hold, we think of background music, and every 20 or 30 seconds we hear something like, “Your call is important to us. All lines are busy. Please hold.” In a university study, people were asked to call a number. When they called they heard the announcement, “All lines are busy, please hold.” We all know what a bad on hold experience sounds like, and that’s it!

Maybe music that people want, right? So in another study, callers heard the original recording of Hey Jude by the Beatles. Another group of callers heard Hey Jude being played on the panpipes. I mean if you think about the cheesiest version of a Beatles song in the world, right? And you think that would be the worst thing. The fact is the participants that heard the Beatles’ recording of the song, hung up the soonest. The people that heard the panpipes did not. What happened?

Repetition is a problem

When people heard the Beatles song start over again, it triggered in their brains, “Here we go again. I am now on hold again.” People can count, right? A record is three minutes long. It started three times, “I’ve been on a hold for nine minutes.” So that’s the kind of thing, the repetition that you want to avoid. And the problem is many of these default on hold music tracks are fairly short and they start over again and over again and over again. One of the ways to get around that is what we call streaming on hold, which has randomization.

It is best to avoid any kind of pattern, such as a repeating song or uniformed lengths of messages. When our brains detect a pattern, what do we do? We do the math, we just can’t help it. Where there’s a pattern we try to predict what’s next and we start counting. The conclusion is that we are convinced that we’ve been on hold for a longer period than we really have!

For a positive experience, let’s give randomization and unpredictable lengths of messages. Let’s keep the brain guessing so that we don’t give callers patterns and let’s not give any standard cues that bring to mind the same bad on hold experience that we expect. Don’t use the phrases like, “your call is important to us” because that has been proven to increase call abandonment.

Tom: Sure. Just like telling them one thing and then just demonstrating the opposite. You don’t care about them.

Tim: Frustrating, isn’t it?

Tom: Sure is.

Tim: Apparently my call is not important.

Tips On How To Engage Callers And Improve Customer Service

Tom: When that call comes in and the caller has to wait on hold, it’d be important to engage that customer in some way. And I guess the first question I’d have for is what’s your definition for engagement.

Tim: Engagement is a communication that makes me feel a little closer to your brand. I suggest breaking down the customer journey into various touchpoints. Each touchpoint is an interaction with your brand. The website is a touchpoint. What can I do with my website to make my brand more vibrant? Eventually, 61% of buyers are going to get into that phone call. This might be the final touchpoint on their customer journey, so we definitely don’t want any friction there. We have to look at some tools we can use in that specific engagement moment, that touchpoint.

Tom: So what are some of those tools?

New Messages On Hold Approach: Tools For A Better Experience

Tim: The human voice. We’re reading less, listening more, using Alexa and texts. When we’re in our car we don’t want to be texting and driving. So our cars are now getting smarter where we can just talk to the car and it’ll send the text for us.

We are experiencing the rise of the age of sound. People are using listening and talking more than they’re using reading and writing. And so the human voice is absolutely critical to some engagement.

The next key component in engagement is relevancy. If I call the hospital and learn how to use their office to my advantage, I’m getting information that’s relevant to me. I want to make sure that when I come to my appointment I want to know that I can get a parking space. And how long will I have to wait in your office? And which paperwork do I have to bring?

Customer focus

As a business, we ask, what keeps my callers up at night? What makes my callers want to call me in the first place? Callers need to know you understand them. For someone that might be calling a credit union, a concern is, “What about security issues?” “Is my money safe?” “Is my identity safe?”

Tom: Yes, that’s what I’d want to hear, something that’s going to relate to me.

Tim: And probably one more thing I would add is that the message on hold needs to be conversational, The canned pitches don’t work anymore. We have a term, virtual intimacy. People know it’s a recording, but if I can use the language and the style of a normal conversation, it will be much better received. And finally, I would say, think of the call to action.

Tom: Right. That would be the most important step at this time after they’ve been engaged, they need to have a call to action to help them buy what they want to buy or do what they need to do.

Tim: Your messages on hold could be in the form of useful tips. “Hey, did you know that there’s a way that you can utilize our website to get the information you need?” Or, “Here’s a new hack for getting faster results from your computer.” It might be an invitation to a special event.

Music and Messages On Hold: A Topic Worth Thinking About

Tim: I know that people hearing this might say, “I’ve never thought so deeply about what people hear when they’re on hold. Don’t you just put a piece of music on and it tells people that their call is still connected?” The fact is we’re going to spend up to 10 to 20 full days of our life waiting on hold.

Tom: Wow. That’s the average consumer you’re saying.

Tim: 10 to 20 days of our life…

Tom: Jeez.

Tim: … will be hold time. Now a lot of the traditional solutions are prompting more complaints than creating more benefits, so that’s why what we focus on is this research-based approach that answers, “What can I do with this hold time to get my brand loyalty going?”

We know how to reduce call abandonment and provide an unexpected call waiting experience that might just be memorable. Will your caller go on Twitter and tweet, “Hey, I just had a great phone on-hold experience with my company?”

Learn more

Tim: Well, that’s a lot to ask, but we’ve actually seen it in some of the results. We’ve put some of those tweets in our report that’s on our website, easyonhold.com and if you go to learn.easyonhold.com, you’ll see a link to the report that has all of this data.

Tom: And, Tim, I must say that with so many different companies out there that offer services somewhat like yours, I always tell them to go with the best. Go with somebody that knows what they’re doing, like a company like yours so that you really get your dollars’ worth. I think that’s really critical. You want to have your best foot forward when those people call in and have a good system in place, it’s going to help you with that. Tim, how do our listeners get ahold of you if they’d like to contact you?

Tim: 888-798-4653. We are a Michigan-based company with a good size staff that helps businesses from Fortune 100 to small single-location businesses. Our music and messages on hold make a small business sound a little bigger; make a big business sound friendlier. We handle all of the on hold for Expedia, Hulu, Republic Services, Cleveland Clinic, and Frontier Communications, we’re T-Mobile’s go-to for music and audio across their many call centers. They have as many as 12,000 agents, so if we can handle those situations, we can handle your hold queue and apply the same technology and the same research and get the same results that the big brands are getting.

Tom: Great. Well, Tim, I want to thank you for being in our program here today.

Tim: Thanks, Tom.

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