/ 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?

Joy Armstrong says:
26 July 2014

The best company for ‘hold’ music is Utility Warehouse because first when they put you on hold, they tell you how many seconds you will be waiting and always a live speaker comes to you within that time. If it is a busy period, they keep updating you with how you are moving up the queue and it always works exactly as they say. If you really cannot wait, you can call back later and see how many seconds you are away from a live person and then hold. It is a super system that works every time for me. Brilliant company anyway, they can always sort out any problems, not that I have many at all.

Other companies do the same, but is no substitute for not having enough staff to handle calls even at less busy times.

Vivid says:
26 July 2014

One ‘on hold’ tune made me laugh. An auto spares company played ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’.

C. Whitwell says:
26 July 2014

Yes – I also hate on hold music – but even more, when you are ringing up to complain, hearing constant advertising of the company’s products and/or constant PR announcements about how wonderful they are.

Its not the music as such, its the cost cutting that produce the queues,that we have to endure.

Jetaccount says:
26 July 2014

The worst ‘hold music’ is something short and purpose-written for the task. It’s short, so it’s cheap to have written and recorded. It’s been written specially to avoid royalty fees, and it repeats seamlessly. So after a half hour on the phone, you have heard the same thing 10 to 20 times, and your brain will echo it for the next couple of days.
My best example is HSBC’s business banking number. Horrendous wait times, and a very short piece of mind-numbing music.

Val says:
26 July 2014

Music is a personal choice. So playing it in shops & over the phone is bound to annoy a big percentage of people. Volume is also a big issue. Even music is distracting if too loud & with a strong beat. Equally annoying is a message repeated too frequently. We do need to know how long we may have to wait & that we are still connected. Low volume calming music without singing seems a reasonable compromise to me.

whitehorse says:
26 July 2014

i have had a hate campaign against piped music in shops, on phones,toilets and other places for years now. There are some shops I just won’t go into now (Morrison’s Co-op, Asda, etc etc. Thank goodness for Aldi and Lidl….NO MUSIC, just calmness! Music on phone-hold is dreadful. It is always too loud, too nasty and even if it is classical it is not real classical but synthesised. I so wish that we could be allowed NO music in shops, restaurants, and other public places. I hate all the music that goes with documentaries. Has anyone noticed that a lot of it is the same? chugging string quartets are my most unfavourite. Why do we need constant, loud music? It devalues it. I could go on for hours and I do complain but it never makes any difference! A proper campaign would be a good idea?

On a constructive note, there are things you can do : –

– Having to pay through the nose for music on hold on a higher-rate number is adding injury to insult. To avoid paying to ring 084 or 087 numbers, use the “saynoto0870.com” website, which is often able to provide an alternative geographic or 0800 number.

– Companies often have 0800 numbers for sales and new customers, but 084 or 087 numbers for existing customers. When you first contact a company on an 0800 number, make a note of it. Later if there is a problem, use the 0800 number not the expensive one. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a try!

– Always tell the person you eventually speak to how you feel about the music, and the waiting. (Do this politely, as the music isn’t their choice, it’s the organisation/management that’s responsible. Also if you are abusive you may be cut off and you’ll have to go through the whole rigmarole again!) Ask them to pass on your comments to the management. Say you will take your custom away if it doesn’t improve – that’s the only threat the management will take any notice of.

– If there is no change, take your business elsewhere as soon as you can. Try to find a company that uses 0800 numbers- in my experience they tend to be better on customer service, and of course while you are on hold they are the ones paying, so it’s in their interest to answer you quickly.

Join Pipedown, the campaign against piped music.

Elizabeth Ward says:
26 July 2014

I hate on hold music, it can be far too loud and at the end of the day music is personal taste and the one played is not necessarily to everyones taste. I also get enraged when shopping/hairdressers etc when they play music, sometimes I feel like abandoning ship and not get the shopping I require because the music is so infuriating. Peace and quiet hurt no-one.

Since we all hate it so much, why do they do it? Making customers more angry than they were when the call started, seems counterproductive.

Pity the poor call center person, they have to put you on hold, because they have not been trained fully, or the expert they need is not duplicated so they have to wait. Then when they finally come back to the customer, he/she is hostile, because the music has made them so.

I ask for no hold music, I ask to be put through to the person they are consulting. Usually never works.

Is anyone out there a professional call center person? Please tell us why you do it.

What is seriously annoying about hold on music is that it is interrupted every 20 seconds or so with a voice telling you a lie. “Your call is important to us … etc”.

This has two problems.

The click makes you pay attention because you think someone is going to answer your call, and second that if the company starts off by a barefaced lie, how are you going to believe any of the script the telephonist eventually reads to you? (If you call really was important, the company would have provided a proper line into an office with a secretary who really knows her subject.)

When – oh when – will somebody in the Inland Revenue take notice that their hold music is dreadful (like a strangulated duck!). If I’ve complained about it once, I’ve complained about it a hundred times – all to no avail.

The person who wrote the stuff should be locked in a room and made to listen to it for thirty minutes a time (as do most taxpayers). They would soon change it then. Alternatively employ enough staff to answer the phone quickly (but thats another story!!!!).

When – oh when – will somebody in the Inland Revenue take notice that their hold music is dreadful (like a strangulated duck!). If I’ve complained about it once, I’ve complained about it a hundred times – all to no avail.

The person who wrote the stuff should be locked in a room and made to listen to it for thirty minutes a time (as do most taxpayers). They would soon change it then. Alternatively employ enough staff to answer the phone quickly (but thats another story!!!!).

It’s even worse when you are paying a premier rate to listen to it

David G says:
26 July 2014

Why can’t the phone lines be updated to tell you your position in the queue and expected wait.
I have experienced such information on a few calls, but not enough.

I have a vague memory of speaking to someone about 2 decades back who designed the software for these systems and he said that it was perfectly possible to provide queuing information and an estimate of time.

I would imagine the mentality of the people in most companies that operate these ghastly queues is that they rather delight in keeping callers on their toes by making them think they are about to be answered at 20 second intervals.

I recall a notorious landlord who had made millions out of tenants’ misery saying “How could anyone with any self respect be a tenant”. I wonder whether companies that run call centres think that no one with any self respect would use one.

Considering the growth on the Internet, email or a web form should be the first point of contact between customers and companies, and should a telephone conversation be needed it could be carried out with someone in an office with a direct line and who is already appraised of the issue to be discussed. No one can expect telephonists on meagre salaries to know what they are talking about, and few if any do.

I can’t stand ‘hold’ music. By the time I’ve PAID to listen to badly recorded distorted rubbish my original polite enquiry has morphed into that of an angry women demanding an answer AND better customer service from the unfortunate individual who eventually deals with my call.
If I’m already calling to complain it just adds insult to injury to have to listen to somebody else’s choice of ‘music’ while I simmer….
I regularly comment on this when call centre staff ask if they can help with anything else but I have no real expectation of anything changing.
More staff, fewer menus and NO muzak would make so many people happy…
Get on the case please Which!
(Wow, that GP with ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ is mindbogglingly insensitive!!)

I wonder how many companies and other organisations are licensed to play music. It used to be common to see PRS stickers but I have only seen one of them since this Conversation started.

Unfortunately it is probably music composed and played on a contract that allows perpetual playing.

Do you use a pony and trap to go to the shops? Of course not. There are more convenient alternatives. Why then do people persist in using the telephone, which has the distinct disadvantage of requiring people to be at either end at exactly the same instant, and not email or web forms?

Call centres are just voice operated web sites. Telephonists have little knowledge of their subject, and reply from script sheets. This is exactly how a web site works, except visually. You can take in information visually far faster than aurally quite apart from queuing time.

Do not confuse an email with a postal letter. There is no delay in getting it delivered. It can be passed around an organisation and an informed reply produced as soon as possible, and probably far quicker than by voice around a call centre.

The only proviso I would make is that important emails should have the read receipt box checked (when available) so you can be sure it has got to the other end.

John, I agree with some of what you say. However, the fact remains that, according to the Office for National Statistics, 7 million adults in the UK have never even used the internet. Many people still prefer to communicate by telephone. I think my experience has been better than yours. In most cases, when I finally get through to a human being, I am pleasantly surprised as to how helpful they are. It is just the interminable list of buttons to be pressed, and music to be endured, that makes telephoning any company these days such an ordeal.

That is 11% have never used email.

Or to put it another way, 89% of the population do use it. I call that pretty impressive by any standards.

If only those 11% used the old fashioned telephone, then they would be able to get through easily, although it doesn’t get over the problem, of telephonists reading from scripts. Maybe with only those 11% using it companies could have more knowledgeable people answering calls.

Going back to pony and trap to the shops, I suspect in rural areas there are a few people, regarded as eccentrics, who still do that. What percentage of the population this is would probably be difficult to measure.

Another comparison is literacy. Going back 100 years, what proportion so the population could read and write? Five minutes on Google didn’t reveal the answer, and it’s time to go to lunch 🙂

John de Rivaz, I agree with your thinking and I only ever use the telephone as a last resort. However there are occasions when I have no choice such as when my emails have been ignored, or when something is time critical and I know the company will take days to respond to an email. Additionally for certain matters some companies insist that you telephone.

Like everyone else here I am usually seething by the time I speak to the first human being, especially when the companies own incompetence is the reason for my call.

My point, and I think that of this and other Which? campaigns, is that companies should not **insist** on the telephone as the **only** means of customer contact.

As to emails being unanswered, send the same one again and again with an innocent looking polite message “either this or your reply may have got lost”. (But not more than once a working day.) If you have several email accounts (Google, Hotmail, Yahoo etc) use different ones in case you have been put in their spam list. Most companies have Twitter accounts. Tweet them as well — this often elicits a reply, as Twitter is a public medium.

As to something that is time critical, usually customers are told on the telephone that they can’t have the service they expect so they are no better off for using it. In addition, as customers are not supposed to record calls company employees can say what they like in order to get the customer off the line, knowing that they can deny it later.

Even if someone thinks they have been told what they want to hear, either through wishful thinking or deliberate lie from the telephonist, another telephonist can say at a later date “you shouldn’t have been told that” and that is an end to the matter.

Dave says:
27 July 2014

Don’t like muzak. Why can’t they just answer the ‘phone? Or is that looking for logic in an illogical situation?

James B says:
27 July 2014

It just goes to show what little respect many companies have nowadays for their customers’ time and money when they expect to get away with keeping people on hold let alone paying to be there and listening to tasteless rubbish that passes for music is the final insult. I simply refuse to be a party to the nonsense and use the contact number given for overseas customers or the internet.