'On hold' time falls into the zone of high frustration for most consumers. It's time that could, surely, be spent on better things, but which ultimately seems to remain in the grip of an abstract power telling you to wait, or offering you special deals, or, worst of all, looping the same 30-second clip of music over and over again.
“On hold is a very strange space,” says George Smalberger, MD of telephony specialist SS Telecoms. “It's a space where many companies struggle, because a lot of clients are calling with complaints and queries. They're ready to fight, and so what happens in those few minutes of empty time is actually very important to the brand. You can lose customers before anyone from the company has even spoken to them.”
The key to managing the quandary, according to Smalberger, lies in understanding two separate brand dynamics, and addressing both of them effectively.
“You have to understand your own brand identity, first and foremost, and then you have to have the ability to encapsulate that identity in a way that will make your customers relax. You have to play the right music! That sounds very simplistic, but it's not – because the criteria change radically for each organisation.”
Take, for example, a brand servicing a middle-aged parent – an insurance brand, perhaps – and compare it to a brand selling fashionable sneakers to teens. In both cases, the music selection can irritate or calm, amuse or annoy.
“You can play a Steve Aoki house track to a 50-year-old, but it's not going to help ease them through the day,” says Smalberger. “Play the same track to a 17-year-old and you may have their loyalty for life. It's common sense really, but that doesn't make the execution easy.”
In the quest to harness on hold time to the brand's benefit, the right tools are essential.
“If the quality of the audio is really low, as it is with many on-board PABX systems, the Steve Aoki track will drive everyone insane, regardless of age or brand,” adds Smalberger. “If you don't have the right tools, you can forget the larger strategy completely.”
SS Telecoms recently released a new-generation version of its renowned SS-65 Music On Hold (MOH) device, the SS-65NG, which supports a USB interface and boasts internal flash memory. The SS-65NG has eight minutes' of recording time and allows users to pre-prepare a track list on the USB stick. Alternatively, it can accept a direct analogue audio input, such as a radio station feed.
“It's a really simple device that plugs straight into the PABX. Anyone can use it,” says Smalberger. “The feedback from the market on the new-generation version is very strong. It gives users the ability to control the customer's 'on hold' experience completely, and to ensure the audio quality is at the right level. For businesses that have customers calling in a lot of the time, it can make the difference between a positive call and a negative one, before the talking has started.”