/ Shopping, Technology

Your view: letting go of hold music

Phone and radio

In Lisa Barber’s discussion about background music on shops (more on that soon), the conversation turned to hold music. I decided not to accuse commenters of going off topic, as hold music also gets my goat.

Malcolm R gets our Comment of the Week for bringing up on-hold music:

‘I’ve just endured 12 minutes of what might have been “heavy metal” music (if I knew what it was – lots of loud jangling and thumping, anyway) whilst waiting on the telephone.

‘When you have to put up with long waits you need something to let you know you are still connected, but why not play gentle music – some Chopin piano perhaps – unless, perhaps, the aim was to get you to put the phone down.’

Tell me about it Malcolm. Is there anything more annoying than hold music when you’re calling up to complain? It especially enrages me when the music is ‘happy’, as Lee Beaumont says:

‘When you speak to the complaints team at network Three they have a song called Happy by Pharrell Williams as the on-hold music. Really strange.’

Wavechange has a tongue-in-cheek response to overly cheerful hold music:

‘Perhaps we should give them a bit of their own treatment. If we have to go to the customer services desk we could play something awful like (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.’

I’m not sure I’d call Rolling Stones awful, but I like the message all the same.

Solutions to annoying hold music

Another option would be to be able to pick your own hold music, as Nigel Clarke points out:

‘I agree some hold music is truly awful and not having to wait on hold is the best option, but at least at least some companies like Aviva give you a choice of music…’

Elaine Jacobs’ answer is to get companies to phone you back:

‘Scottish Power go one better and offer to phone you back within, say, twenty minutes.’

There is some hold music I do enjoy. One of the companies that provides photos for Which? Conversation plays Mahna Mahna by The Muppets. I can’t help but reply ‘do do, do do do’, sometimes to embarrassment as the phone is answered mid ‘do do’.

Does on-hold music get on your nerves, or is there some hold music that you do like?


One that made me laugh but might not have been so funny for a grieving relative was when I phoned a LIFE insurance company a few years back: on comes the “hold” music – Queen’s “Another one bites the dust”!

Norma says:
28 July 2014

Couldn’t agree more! This is a very timely topic. I have just spent the last few days on the phone to O2 about my mobile contract and have endured what seemed like a lifetime of waiting on each occasion. I complained bitterly to them mire than once about the truly dreadful ‘music’ being played and on each occasion got a sympathetic response from the person on the other end who said that they hated having to listen to it also!! Each time, they explained that there was nothing they could do as the music was probably selected by some firm with a contract with theirs! Marvellous. What interests me is the way these people -on the phone and in the shops – always seem to take the view that nothing can be done and that ‘we all’ just have to put up with it. I am fed up with trying to explain that, as the customer I should NOT HAVE to put up with it! Very pleased to see Which is taking up the cudgels on our behalf!

I would just like some extra options on the phone line : “Press 1 to continue without music or Press 2 to listen to our choice of music”.

I suppose somebody would then add further options under “2” for rock, pop, easy listening, jazz, classical, vocal, orchestral, steel band, etc etc, with further sub-sets for specific genres [Val Doonican, house, garage, Wavechange, hip hop, Beethoven, Bernstein, Beyoncé, The Singing Nun, and so forth].

I’m not familiar with Wavechange music, John. 🙂 If I have visitors I won’t inflict my choice of (mainly orchestral) music on them.

John, you would spend so much time listening to the choices you would not notice how long you were on hold. A great idea! I must check on Wavechange and the Singing Nun, is it in Amazon?

I don’t mind ‘hold’ music – provided it is not too loud. When you are on hold for 10 minutes or so, a silent line would be worrying to me as I would be anxious about being disconnected without realising. As I put my phone on speaker and go about my business the music reassures me that I’m still connected. But I still have no wish to be on hold, to music or silence, for more than 5 -10 minutes.

A campaign to get our major companies to answer the phone to their ‘so important customers’ within 5 minutes would benefit all of us.

I say again, cut out the click every 20 seconds with a voice announcing the lie that the call is important etc. If the caller leaves the music playing on speaker he would then know that when there is a click and voice then someone is saying something important, not just repeating a barefaced lie.

But companies should be required to provide contact by several media so that customers can chose that which suits them the best.

If I have been waiting long I mention this when I finally get to speak to someone. The phone records the time since the start of the call. I have also commented on the annoying music and it is evident that some people working in call centres are not always aware that we are hearing music while on hold.

To make the wait less painful I put a handset for my cordless phone in my pocket and get on with some housework until the music or repeated messages stops.

To add detail to my previous post . . . Val Doonican was a popular Irish crooner from the 1960’s with an extremely relaxed style and noted for bringing the cardigan back into fashion. The Singing Nun stormed the UK charts about fifty years ago with a song in French called “Dominique”; I think she really was a Belgian nun in the Dominican order. Wavechange Music is harmonious and easy on the ear with never a hint of syncopation; it is in the Middle Metal range as it is usually scored for domestic appliances, laboratory appparatus and radio valves. I am glad Which? is taking this seriously because we all seem to want Peace in Boots and All Quiet in the Homebase.

Your wisdom and with are a powerful combination, John. 🙂

I hope that everyone who is opposed to extraneous music is doing their best to make the perpetrators aware that some of us really don’t like it.

O.K., yes, I find having to listen to music tedious, but can someone tell us what else (besides more staff, which is not practical) would be an acceptable alternative. I quite agree with Joan Armstrong that Utility Warehouse at least keeps a caller up-dated about where they are in the queue. The caller then has a choice, maybe trying again at a less busy time (there must be some!). Using the website or e-mail isn’t always convenient. A decision might need to be made based on information supplied there and then, and time could be the essence.

I would prefer all call centres to provide a periodic announcement of where I am in the queue. What annoys me as much as music is the constant repetition of ‘Your call is important to us’.

A few companies offer a call back service, which can be very useful. I may have to go out before they call back and nothing will have been achieved, but at least my answering machine does not confront callers with music.

If “time is of the essence” a telephone in an office is the only solution. A call centre is no better than a web form or email. In the end, someone has to answer.

If a company is involved with situations where time is important, it needs to provide other avenues of communication than call centres.

Your article mentioned ScottishPower as offering callback. I did that once and, when the automatic call came to me, I was asked to hold while I was put through to another department before being promptly cut off. If you try to book a callback from them online slot times are days ahead. But, back to the real subject, their on-hold music has got to be the worst I have ever heard. I have no idea what it is but it’s rather like a pig being stuck, I imagine.

The only time I have asked Scottish Power to do this, I got through promptly, requested a call and they called me back within half an hour. I have always tried to choose quiet times when calling companies and other organisations, but I know it is a problem for those who would not find this convenient. I love your description of the SP music and I don’t look forward to having the pleasure. 🙁

I constantly complain about what these companies call music they would not know music if they fell over it !

This music usually loud and painful to those with hearing loss and wearing aids – and music can be painful with dodgy hearing so health and safety please help. Press 1 if do no want music?

I suspect that many companies choose what they think will be restful or pleasant music to hold by, and this is then scrambled by poor lines or VOIP phone systems, so that all that arrives in the listener’s ear is a jumble of distorted sounds. (some shops have badly tuned radios- and that is as bad).
Many phone service companies ask for feedback at the end of the call. They need to include a question about the music, its quality and suitability and I suspect that they will find that the music service that is probably costing them a lot in licencing and rebroadcast fees, such as PRS is not regarded as a benefit by a lot of customers

Just in case anyone has missed it, there is also a Which? Conversation going on here (dating from 5 July) on piped music on shops and restaurants etc. Find it from the main Conversation page.

Thought it was just shops, Richard. If Which? wants our views on background music in restaurants, too, I suspect there will be no shortage of comments. How about it, Patrick/Lisa? Do you want to know how we feel about piped music in restaurants? Or background music on TV/radio or at sports events?!

Ah yes, I see what you mean, and most folk have confined their comments to shop-based music. Unwanted music is a pain in any setting of course.

background music / noise on TV programs and the fact that adverts get played with a higher volume then the programs around them could quite easily have its own convo.

Tilly says:
3 August 2014

Background music in restaurants is unnecessary and nearly always dreadful. I have a congenital hearing disorder (from birth) and always try to sit in a corner with a wall behind me to hear conversation. And guess what – this is always where there is a speaker where the music is played the loudest. Add to that the extraneous background noise of restaurants without carpets or curtains to absorb it which then bounces off walls and floors and you can see why many people in my position have virtually given up going out to eat at all.
What’s wrong with a bit of quiet in restaurants??

A bit off topic for a campaign against telephone misuse, but it may be a good idea for Which? to have a separate one about noise in restaurants. The idea of deadening sound in restaurants is often ignored by many proprietors. We try to avoid taking guests who have hearing problems to restaurants with no carpets and curtains, as every customer ends up shouting at each other in such premises.

Catherine Tees says:
1 August 2014

The last thing I want to do is to listen to music, particularly raucous rock/heavy metal, through a very poor speaker which is my phone. I’d much rather listen to a nice story – then maybe I’d want to hang on longer to hear the ending!

The worst thing about on-hold music is the drop-outs, which remind you that the tape has not been changed in ages and succeeds in mangling even the pleasantest music.Do these companies really want our custom or support?

Helen says:
14 August 2014

I like hold on music as you know you have not been cut off. Music should be something gentle, that most people would enjoy, especially the elderly.

That would be a reasonable comment, except for the fact that there is a click every few seconds and a voice starts up that makes you think you are being answered. However you are not, the voice spouts the lie that you call is important. It isn’t. If it was, the company would have provided a proper line in an office with a knowledgeable person on the other end.

If companies want the music to fulfil the useful service that Helen mentions, then they should leave out these interruptions to the music. The only interruption to the music should be when a telephonist answers the call.

I am not sure there is music that “everyone” would enjoy. My taste is eclectic, from Meatloaf to Mozart with a great deal of variation in between, but I do not want Bat out of Hell pounding in my ears on hold, and neither do I want Eine Kleine nacht played off-key by an instrument of torture. (the phone only transmits sound in a limited set of frequencies so you are unlikely to hear music as it is supposed to be heard, anyway)

The (deliberately) limited frequency range of phone lines makes them unsuitable for music.

Kate’s comment makes me think that time on hold could be useful to provide recipes for meatloaf or other dishes. Meatloaf might not be to everyone’s taste, so press 1 for vegetarian, 2 for soups, 3 for puddings, and so on.

Of course it would be frustrating if someone answers half way through the list of ingredients.

The frequency range is limited as a legacy throwback. Before PCM or digital telephony was introduced by STC, Bell and other telecommunications companies something called FDM or frequency division multiplex was used. This is where the speech band is shifted up by a different amount of for each of 128 users so you could get them all on one inter exchange line. (And down again at the other end.) Obviously if you had the 15kHz of FM radio fidelity, you would get five times fewer people on the one line.

There is presumably some sort of economy with PCM, but very much less once a compression algorithm is used. It is possible to experiment with this by recording a bit of speech and mess around with the settings in Audacity or another audio processing program.

But frequency limitation is unlikely to make much difference now, and I would suspect if the telecomm providers such as BT were to have the will, better fidelity of speech would be possible and people would have greater ability to understand each other on the telephone. Or, of course, you can persuade your friends to use Skype.

I still predict that a Skype like service will eventually replace the voice telephone entirely. A great advantage the many people haven’t grasped yet is the ability to set up calls with texting and thereby make them when both parties, not just one, are agreeable to the timing. Again this will mean that there will be less frustration and stress associate with phone use.

I love the idea of recipes in the hold time. Instead of tapping your fingers in frustration you would be wanting to complete the recipe. The companies could provide the full recipe on their site so that if it was interrupted you could still get the whole thing.
No doubt someone would accuse them company of making them fat – 10 years down the line after several hours on hold 🙁 (if not in the Uk, in the USA – lol)

I think we would have had more chance of getting recipes played to us, before companies were mildly suggested to stop using revenue generating numbers for helplines. I could imagine a greedy suit type suggesting such a thing, in the hope that people would keep calling back to get the rest of a recipe.

What is it with recipes that people can’t get enough of them? Every magazine seems to regard it as obligatory to print pages of recipes [with the honourable exceptions it seems of the the nerdy ones – cars, trains, boats, cameras, Which?, etc – and “Total Carp” which I thought would at least have a new twist on fish pie], and the Top Twenty books in Smith’s include 15 cookery books. So the last thing I want is ” cook for three hours at regulo 9 . . ” when I’m complaining to the gas company, or “bring the water to the boil . . .” when I’m trying to get the bill right for the water. What I really want is someone to answer the phone pdq : I’ve rung the right number, pressed all the right buttons – all in the right order of course – and been thanked for my patience [endurance, more like], so why can’t I have the correct treatment and be put through to someone half way round the world in Southall or Wembley as set out in the T&C’s?

The problem is that playing music on hold is just a recipe for annoying people kept on hold, especially if they are being billed for the call. Perhaps it would be best to given the option to be called back as soon as possible, preferably before the usual announcements. We could then get on and do something useful until the phone rings.

I had not realised that Which? is a nerdy magazine, but it’s amazing what we do learn on Which? Convo.

John Ward, you are spot on with your comment ” What I really want is someone to answer the phone pdq”. I phoned a large overseas organisation last week and after pressing the relevant buttons had to listen to a loud ringing phone interrupted by a voice telling me how busy they were and how sorry they were for my wait, this was in a 15-20 second cycle. By the time the phone was answered I was begging to hear heavy metal or opera – anything but a ringing phone. We should be campaigning for companies to have sufficient staff in their call centres to enable them to answer calls within 5-7 minutes. If our calls are so important then they are ‘dissing’ us by keeping us waiting so long.

Some companies do call back, Apple for example. My wife had a problem with her iPad, clicked the link on their web site, and she got a call back from America within a few minutes, all at no cost.

Of course the trouble is if the call back comes hours rather than minutes later, when it may not be convenient or the customer has forgotten some of the points (s)he wishes to ask.

I agree that it could be a nuisance if they call back much later but when I have been given the option I have been called back fairly promptly. It’s better than being kept on hold.

If the call back hours later, keep them on hold and play them some music while you find your notes.

And of course not forgetting to repeatedly tell them how important their call is to you.

Ditto, how satisfying that would be.

The entire concept of hold music is actually quite obnoxious. This is the company saying to you “We not only don’t give a crap about you but we don’t even respect you enough to give you a choice”. Here are some of the presumptions of hold music.

EVERYONE is going to enjoy or at least tolerate the kind of selection of music WE choose. That’s an idiotic assumption. Two, even for those who might enjoy the music, they’re obviously going to get sick of it over time. Third, if you’re on silent hold, you can be having a conversation with your friends, family, partner or do some work, watch TV, etc. With some stupid annoying crap playing or repeating constantly, you won’t be able to do any of those things. If you are sick of the hold music and turn it down low, you won’t hear the agent when they do come on the call. Especially for organizations or companies with LONG hold times, the silent option should be a MUST.

The ONLY argument in favor of hold music is that it lets the customer know they’re still on the call. For that, have a short blip every 30 seconds or so.

I would be happy with the beeps or being told what place I am in the queue, as long as the the queue does not become longer, as has happened.

What’s as bad as the hold music is marketing announcements before you are even put on hold.

24 January 2020

Apparently when you sign up to a dentist/doctors etc you automatically “opt in” to hearing the “canned” music- Up to now I haven’t found somewhere to “opt out”.