Using Hold Music To Influence Customer Behavior

Ever been on hold?

Like… FOREVER on hold?

At the time I started writing this article, my time on hold with my bank is 38 minutes, 13 seconds. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions based both on the situation and maybe the music. 

How Much Thought Goes Into Hold Music?

A lifetime ago I was the manager of a large customer support group for a regional ISP (Internet Service Provider). On a normal day hold times were in the low single digits and often were nearly zero.

However, there was a time in the infancy of broadband DSL service where the Code Red virus and other worms caused a huge spike in issues and hold times. Way back then there was no consideration of the types of hold music being played, and the hold times jumped to nearly a half hour. Customers were furious, as were the technicians, who spend the first five minutes on a call calming down a client instead of fixing the issue. (hold time – now 43:06).

But as I sit here on hold and typing this post I started to think, have modern call centers put thought and effort in the hold music to manipulate client behavior?

How Casinos Use Sound, Scent and Sight

It’s a well known fact that casinos have mastered customer manipulation. There are no clocks and minimal windows to make sure you lose track of time. Scents are pumped into the casinos to cause certain reactions. Lighting is carefully controlled to make the machines and other games “pop.”

But sound is a huge part of the “game” as well. An article on how the sound of slot machines can manipulate players was published in 2013 by the Washington Post.  The main theme of the article was how slot machines use sound to think you’ve won when in reality you’ve won only a portion of your wager. You may have bet $1, but maybe you hit a sequence that only paid out $.25, but the sounds are very similar to winning $1 or more. A computer scientist even called the term the “Awww Shucks Effect.”  (Awww shucks, still on hold. Now 51:52).

Do Call Centers Choose Music To Affect Behavior?

Being a DJ for over a quarter century I can attest to using music to manipulate behavior in night clubs and wedding venues. Beats per minute and sound energy can do some amazing things when used correctly.

So doing some very quick internet searches while on hold I was able to find some articles on why you would like “some” music on hold. An article on using music to improve customer retention states 52% of callers hang up with silence within one minute, 13% with just music, and only 2% if there’s music with some information.

In another article on what customers think of hold music a callers stated “I was on hold to Primus yesterday and they were playing LCD Soundstystem… when did corporate music get so cool?” (And… disconnected at 58:15!)

But the same article re-enforces the point that music and other sounds can cause different reactions. One client wanted a way to opt out of “bad” hold music. Another was happy the hold music was the Cheers! theme.

If You Never Answer The Call, Music Means Nothing

But my question still stands… are call centers using hold music to manipulate behavior? No one really comes out and says it, but I did notice a change in the music style and other pieces of the puzzle. The beats seemed to be slower the longer I was on hold, which in a night club is used to calm things a bit with slow songs or just reset the BPM. There were no voiceovers after the first 10 minutes so I didn’t have to listen to “we’ll be right with you” or a sales pitch. The music wasn’t popular music so I could ignore it while still “hearing” it. 

All of this created, I guess, a satisfactory experience. But it still came down to this… THEY NEVER ANSWERED MY DAMN CALL/QUESTION! You  can have all the best music and other behavior modifying features in your technology, website, or call center, but if you don’t handle the customer, it’s meaningless.

I guess I’ll go into the bank building and ask my question when I run to the post office later today. Since I’m doing things from the 70’s today, maybe I’ll grab a newspaper and stop at the arcade for a game of pinball.

 Do you have information on using music to manage call centers? Send them to me @BeBizzy on Twitter!