/ 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?


It’s not so much the music but the volume that annoys me, why is it always so loud ?

Hold music is every bit as intolerable as piped music in stores and restaurants. It’s someone else’s choice of music which they rudely assume will be your choice too.

I would rather listen to ‘on hold music’ at a reasonable volume level than listen to annoying adverts or even listen to a silent line and wonder if I am still connected. When on hold, I put my phone on speaker and go about my chores until I hear a speaking voice. Perhaps we should e campaigning about the length of time we are put on hold rather than the music we have to listen to. If our custom is SO VALUABLE, then they should answer our calls promptly.

I would rather listen to ‘on hold music’ at a reasonable volume level than listen to annoying adverts or even listen to a silent line and wonder if I am still connected. When on hold, I put my phone on speaker and go about my chores until I hear a speaking voice. Perhaps we should be campaigning about the length of time we are put on hold rather than the music we have to listen to. If our custom is SO VALUABLE, then they should answer our calls promptly.

I hate hold music of any description. The other day I endured 45 minutes of earache while calling Scottish Power before finally getting a reply. Telephone lines were made for communications quality speech not music, they neither have the bandwidth, the level of fidelity, low noise level or the correct frequency response weighting to carry music. the result is usually a horrible noise. I once had the experience of dialling the Orange Internet helpline to be treated to what sounded like someone vomiting. Music affects the emotions & with me often negatively & is just not an appropriate accompaniment to waiting, it increases stress. I would rather hear the reassuring ‘burr-burr’ of the ringing tone. Companies should give their customers a choice, either have the ringing tone, silence or muzac.

Aged person says:
27 July 2014

I have just had this yesterday whilst I waited 52minutes to have a reply from ee about a problem which is(still not got my telephone landline working) entirely the fault of BT. It was insulting and nerve wracking to have this noise, I could not put it onto a rest as it was a mobile. What is Which going to do about it, is there not a route through your legal dept.?

I endured what felt like hours of “Don’t worry! Be Happy!” while on hold waiting to speak to my mother’s GP. My mother was terminally ill at the time.

A completely separate point – I often call a company who has been using the same tune for over 10 years. This was annoying after the first 5 minutes…

Sally says:
19 July 2014

The music is often so loud that I end up holding the phone away from my ear. Listening to it puts me in an extremely cross mood and it takes a lot of self control not to snap at the person who eventually answers my call. It’s not their fault that the music is being played but I am sure they have to deal with a lot of customers made even more grumpy by having to endure this aural assault.

Recently I was contacting an American company. I had to press a key to indicate whether or not I wanted to listen to music whilst I was on hold. Perfect.

I understand companies worry about silence when on hold, and that customers might think they have been cut off. No problem. All I would like to hear, certainly no more frequently than every 60 seconds, is the point I have reached in the queue. I don’t want to be told every 20 seconds how important my call is to them.

Today phone calls often end with the assistants asking if there is any other way they can help. I always make a point of saying I would much prefer not to have had to listen to loud telephone music. I suspect my complaint goes no further, but it makes me feel better!

My sentiments exactly. Furthermore I don’t want to be asked every 20 seconds whether I have looked at their stupid website for the answer to my query and then informed about all the things I can do online. I wouldn’t be telephoning in the first place if the issue could be solved on their website would I?

bechet says:
19 July 2014

It needs to be loud so that you can put the phone down near you and get on with something else. What bugs me is having to hold the phone up to my ear until my arm aches, even on hands-free.

Why do we have to put up with any background music. Phone supermarket shopping mall pub ad infinitum. If you have the radio or music on at your end of the phone, the clash of music is so annoying. If you cant turn it off its infuriating! The BBC are also one of the worst offenders, playing background music over radio interviews or documentaries! WHY? Cut it out!

I rang Lidl to find out if I had left my wallet in one of their supermarkets.

1. The Customer Services number was 0870xxx

2. They refused to put me through to speak to someone at the branch

3. I was kept on hold for ages, listening to some awful music

The poster didn’t suggest that they played music in the stores, they mentioned the music on the phone

I think Patrick’s response to my comment is fair enough and gives an example of how companies can be inconsistent in what they do.

Piped music and music on hold both get on my nerves. I’ve walked out of shops because of their over-loud and ghastly music. It’s more difficult – and absolutely infuriating – when it’s music on hold for a business you need to contact – and even worse if you are paying for the call!

If you feel the same I suggest you contact “Pipedown”, the campaign against piped music. According to surveys, more people hate piped music than like it. If you join Pipedown they can provide cards to hand in at shops, cafes and other businesses saying that you don’t like their piped music, and postcards to send to businesses whose music on hold annoys you. I’ve been a member for several years.

I suggest you complain about the music on hold when you finally get through to a person, and if the business doesn’t take any notice, then take your custom elsewhere as soon as you can. And make sure you tell them why they have lost your business – you don’t have to do it by ‘phone, you can email, text or send a letter.

I hate on hold music but worse is good music that gets interrupted every 15/20 seconds with an inane announcement or advert.

I think it’s a plot to prevent people ringing up and complaining…

The worst that has happened to me with “music on hold” was an entire morning I spent on the phone to HMRC to find out essential information I needed to do my tax return. I was sent from one place to the other, with long holding periods in between – and the most atrocious music to listen to! You can’t even hold the receiver away from your ear as you might miss the all important connection… (And in the end I got back to the person I’d started with, and never did get the information. It’s just quicker to work out yourself what you need to pay in tax! So all I got out of it was a thumping headache.)

Music for thought says:
23 July 2014

Piped music in shop: Too loud; not MUSIC, no tune; no rhythm, anything but calming, no “feel good”, no buying unless I know what I want immediately; certainly don’t linger to browse and buy as it prevents thinking straight and it is so irritating that I make my way out of the shop really quickly.
Many years ago, and I’m sorry but details are vague, I read of a shop “somewhere” in the world that plays classical music (Light, I may add); their sales soared, so did their coffee/tea drinking!!

Alan Quatermain (minus the R) says:
25 July 2014

I am uncertain whether this observation is appropriate to this forum.
What I find increasingly frustrating is that when presented with a string of 1st, then 2nd, then 3rd and sometimes 4th level of “press 1 2 3 or 4 or hold to speak to a human”, regardless of the music choice or volume, I already know the exact route I need to take to reach the person I need to speak to, but am not afforded any opportunity to shortcut the intolerable dross I have to listen to before I am permitted to make the choice that I know that I have to make.

HMRC are a classic example of this, as are most public bodies and mortgage companies.
In light of the fact that a significant number of these organisations are using 0800 numbers, I spend as much time listening to repetitive dialogue that invariably takes up a larger percentage of my call than actually conversing with the human being that can quickly resolve my query.

If I know who I need to speak to on a regular basis – don’t force me down the expensive automated Spanish Inquisition route every time I need to call.
It’s ANNOYING and WASTEFUL for everyone concerned.

Well that’s my twopence worth!

I usually hate it. It can depend on who I’m ringing. With Virgin Media I know I’m going to have a difficult conversation, so the hold ‘music’ is certain to annoy me at least, but often it enrages me because 1) it is not my choice, 2) I probably dislike their choice and 3) it is always too loud – it is louder than a normal conversation would be, and that is insulting. I have complained about this to Virgin on several occasions but they never do anything, presumably because they think they know best, even when a call to customer services is probably evidence that that is not the case.

I never like it. When I call a firm I want to speak to somebody. It’s of no concern or interest to me that they are having a high volume of calls and the incessant menus sometimes with no option that fits your reason for calling are also maddening.

pol says:
26 July 2014

It would be better if they employed more people to answer the calls quickly instead of expecting us to pay and grit. I try not to use these phone lines if I have choice. Emailing, even writing if not life threatening time response needed. What gets up my nose is them saying “your call is important to us”,oh no it isn’t , because they would make sure they answered it in record time. They must know when the calls get extra busy and should staff the phones more. We in the Uk are too easy going and don’t like to complain or take our custom elsewhere when we have chance to. If I get poor service in a shop I vote with my feet, I would rather cut my nose to spite my face then keep them in business, so why put up with bad service on line or on the phone. Speak up and move elsewhere as soon as you can and put the phone down and try at a later time if you can or have to.

I am sure there are soft unobtrusive tunes in all types of music so if I have to listen to pop, rock or whatever why, can’t they use one of those.

However what really marks out good practice is when I’m told how many there are in the waiting queue in front of me and being able to deduce some idea of how long it might be.

‘Music while you wait’ is usually played when you ring an 0845 number, and you are therefore paying a very high rate for your call. Even my bank HSBC do it, and I am really p…ed off with it. We should do a Which vote on getting these damn 0845 number stopped.
Thank You.

mb says:
26 July 2014

Heartily agree with Mr. Stewart. Come on “Which” – let’s have another of your campaigns to stop the 0845 and suchlike paying numbers from keeping us waiting hours for a reply whilst subjecting us to inane music and announcements. At the very least they should be free!

Ian Newell Smith says:
26 July 2014

It is not so much this type of “music” that bothers me as the practise of even the BBC of having loud background music playing over commentary made at sports events like golf. Why is any type of musical accompaniment necessary?