Each of us within our lifetime will spend roughly 1.2 years on hold. Yes, you read that correctly. Almost a year and a half of your life will be spent waiting on the phone listening to tinny-sounding elevator music.
As you might have feared, there’s nothing random about this common, near-death experience. Modern corporations, with the help of psychologists, have actually made a science out of keeping you on the line, using harmonic soporifics in an effort to subdue your rage. They want you to enjoy the experience—or at least hate it less—in the hope that you will buy what they are selling when you finally get the chance. But where did the idea that music on hold could be a tonic to calm angry consumers come from? What makes us happier: silence, music, or estimated wait times?
Though it hardly seems possible that the elevator sounding music could actually influence shoppers, the truth is, alas, that it does. James Kellaris, a marketing professor at the University of Cincinnati, says that music can have an impact on a wide array of customers’ behaviors, changing their perception of time, conditioning them to associate a song with a brand, or limiting their ability to critically analyze a potential purchase due to musical distraction. “When shoppers are exposed to music in a store, sales resistance decreases.” Our brains have a finite bandwidth for taking in and processing information, and clogging that bandwidth with music is sometimes enough to prevent us from making rational purchasing decisions, or worrying about the time.
A professor at the Israel Institute of Technology, and her former graduate students looked specifically into what keeps us on the line—and happy—when we’re on hold. In a paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the two compared hold music, estimated wait times, and recorded on hold messages for their effectiveness. The experiment, found that callers who were given information on hold reported a more positive experiences—and hung up less frequently—than those who were played background music, or who waited in dead silence.
Research firm Jefferson Deandrus, found when callers were presented with On Hold Messagingversus silence or a radio commercial they would stay on hold up to three times longer giving you a chance to serve them, they were more likely to exhibit interest in the product advertised, they were more likely to retain information, and they were less agitated.
So, what is apparently very clear is of course, that each day we’ll spend a certain amount of our life waiting on hold. For savvy marketers, this means endless marketing possibilities if you can keep callers on the line! …A professional on hold system makes callers feel better, and promotes commerce by exposing you to a sales pitch, say, for example a promotion for appetizers when you call the local pizza-delivery joint. On hold marketing has proven to increase sales in some cases by as much as 20%!
What has science discovered about how to keep callers on hold? Music on hold and messages!