Is Your Music on Hold Turning Off Your Customers?

small girl shouting on phone

Your choice of music on hold can make or break the customer experience. Here we look at where the concept came from and how the best companies are using it to their advantage.

Why use music on hold?

The concept of music on hold was introduced when companies realised they had to play something to customers to let them know that the line hadn’t gone dead, as silence just created confusion.

Studies have since shown that on-hold music can help to calm people down as they wait on the line, as well as encourage them to stay on the line for longer.

Many companies use on-hold “musac” instead of on-hold “music”

Instead of playing chart music or famous pieces of classical music, many companies choose to play musac to their customers on hold.

According to Urban Dictionary, the term “musac” refers to “any generic commercially produced music for public establishments such as dentist offices and grocery stores”.

The main attraction of musac is cost, as you don’t have to pay royalties on these generic tunes in the form of a monthly or yearly fee.

One of the most familiar tunes is the default set by Cisco in the early 2000s

There are a handful of familiar pieces of musac that have been in circulation for several years. These seem to crop up on every phone line, whether you are calling your bank or your insurance company.

One of the most famous pieces of on-hold music is “Opus Number 1”. You can listen to it below (although you’ve probably heard it before):

In a BBC 5Live radio interview in July 2016, sound engineer and producer Darrick Deel, one half of the duo that created “Opus Number 1”, explained how the tune came to be so popular:

“We recorded it in 89, so it had already been in our collection for a pretty long time. I think it was 2001 when I was working at Cisco. They were creating a new hold feature for the call manager system. I thought this track would sound good on the phone lines, so I played it to a few people and they got excited. We it offered to Cisco to use as their hold music and they ended up using it as their default, which is why so many people have heard it.”

Click here for more on Darrick Deel’s story

You’ve also probably come across the Alcatel tune:

You can improve the customer experience with thoughtful on-hold music

Some companies are really creative with their on-hold music and embrace it as an opportunity to make their customers smile from the minute they pick up the phone.

Here are some fun examples we found recently:

  • Ikea’s contact centre plays songs by Abba
  • The Jamaican High Commission plays songs by Bob Marley
  • Admiral play the Star Wars soundtrack to their customers

All of these examples were brought to our attention by happy customers on Twitter, showing the positive impact and exposure that can be gained by giving a little thought to your on-hold music.

An insensitive choice of music can undo your good intentions

But companies need to be aware that they can quickly undo their good intentions with inappropriate music choices. For example, Elton John’s Rocket Man “I think it’s going to be a long, long time…”

You can also frustrate your customers by playing a few lines of a song, interrupting the music with a short “Someone will be with you shortly” message, before replaying the same few lines of the same song.

Jonty Pearce recently appeared on the radio to discuss on-hold music

Jonty Pearce, Editor at Call Centre Helper, recently appeared on a series of radio interviews to discuss the current trends for on-hold music.

You can listen to the replays here:

What has been your experience of on-hold music? What do you play to your customers?

Put your thoughts in an email to Call Centre Helper.

Author: Megan Jones

Published On: 10th Aug 2016 - Last modified: 7th Jul 2022
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, ,

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1 Comment
  • Hi! That’s a good post! I strongly agree that using good on-hold music will help to improve your clients experience, however licensing songs by Abba or Bob Marley may be tricky and expensive, especially for a small business.

    SafeMusicList 6 Sep at 02:45