It’s no secret that sight is our dominant sense. It dictates or influences nearly all of our daily decisions – from what to wear, to the color of your favorite coffee mug, to whether the cover of a book looks interesting. So it makes sense that businesses focus a great deal on the visual attributes of their brand – logos, product designs, even uniforms. All of this contributes to the customer’s perception of a given company, and whether a person wants to conduct business with them.

One thing many companies overlook is how they are perceived over the phone, and how their customer’s overall experience during that call, including their hold music, either adds to or detracts from their brand.

The bulk of the non-solicitation calls a company receives can be sorted into two categories: 1) inquiries regarding a company’s products or order status, and 2) technical support calls. There’s a real yin and yang to the nature of the calls: the possibility of more sales (positive), or people having issues of some kind (negative).

In a perfect world, none of us would ever be put on hold, or have to wade through a maze of phone tree options to talk to a human being. But we all spend time on hold, waiting (praying) for someone to answer the phone so that we can move on with our day. And the quality (or taste) of the hold music can have surprising effects on the listener – mostly in a negative way.

Incompatible Technology
Most telephones and their support equipment are not designed for the entire spectrum that humans can hear – they’re optimized for the range most typified by human speech. Therefore, bass lines and high registers get washed out, making music sound “tinny”.

Unoptimized Audio
Most music is designed to be reproduced by specialized speakers (woofers and tweeters) that can handle the wide range of frequencies. Audio files aren’t typically optimized for telephone speakers and their limited range. This leads to clipping, resulting in pops and crackles punctuating the music because the speaker is being overdriven.

Hardware and Software Limitations
Many hardware/software vendors in the telephony space realize that most companies won’t pay extra for good hold music, therefore they don’t offer that capability (why spend money on something no one will ever buy?). Some still only support mono tracks (or very unawesome MIDI files). Bandwidth also becomes a concern depending on the number of concurrent calls, when you start to see excessive VoIP packet loss.

A Company’s “Aural” Brand
We all judge a company on the quality of its hold music (what else is there to do when you’re on hold?). Does it hiss, pop, skip, or clip? Do the same songs play in a loop? Does it become so ingrained that it will haunt your dreams even days later? (Yes. Yes it will.)

How well do you know your caller’s typical persona? Do you play a music genre that’s not typically enjoyed by the listener? What is the tempo (beats per minute) of the music? Is it so fast or energetic that it will further agitate someone waiting to speak to tech support? Does the nature of the music convey the quality and persona of your brand?

Below are some examples of bad hold music I’ve either personally experienced or scraped from the Internet. Take a listen and let me know what you think. What’s the best/worst hold music you’ve been subjected to?

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