You know you’re in for a lame and frustrating customer service experience when the recorded voice says to you, “Please listen carefully as many of our options have changed.” How often have you heard that phrase from the same business you happen to call many times over? And exactly how often do these choices warrant changing—weekly, daily, hourly? And even if I were not a frequent caller, do they think that I could memorize the plethora of choices and bypass the message? It’s not like they are the only ones doing this—different options of course, but everyone uses the same boring message. And of course, there’s also the standard message; “this call may be recorded for training purposes.” Are these calls ever recorded and, if so, does anyone ever listen to them for the stated and intended purpose?

Then there’s the ever-popular elevator music playing in the background while you are on hold that helps to put people at ease by making them less aware of their time on hold and to create a more pleasant experience. Some of what passes as music in these instances leaves a lot to be desired. Or how about when the “music” is interrupted by another automated voice informing you that your business is important but that agents are busy helping other customers? What “other” customers are there and why do they seem more important than me now?

Automating call center activity is a reality we must deal with, but those messages can be frustrating for customers and detrimental to the overall experience. What customers want is a question answered or an issue resolved effectively and efficiently. Instead, customers are greeted by robots or automated messages before getting directed to a real person. And if that front-end automated experience isn’t handled effectively and frustrates the caller, they are more than apt to bite the head of the first real person they connect with. And that agent usually takes the brunt of the bashing and or criticism, exacerbated by a system of automation they have no control over. And, when customers are frustrated with the service they receive, they are a lot less likely to come back and do business with you again. KOVA Corp recently published an impressive list of the dos and don’ts of call centers that are worth repeating here.

“A significant amount of time, attention, and money is invested in training a call center workforce to handle calls appropriately and provide outstanding customer service. From recording calls for quality assurance to implementing employee-training programs, contact center supervisors understand the importance of constant improvement as they strive to present their company in the best possible light. With all this focus on agent performance, however, another aspect of a customer’s call center experience falls by the wayside: the music or messages they hear while on hold.

What the customer hears while waiting can have a meaningful impact on their perception of the overall call experience. Call centers should strive to provide the same level of customer service during wait times as they do when a customer is speaking with a representative by taking the following dos and don’ts into consideration.

Do prepare callers while they wait on hold.

Time spent on hold is usually perceived as wasted time. Change that perception by playing a recorded message reminding customers on hold to have their account number handy or their payment information readily available. If customers use this time to gather necessary information, they will not only feel the time has not been wasted but will help make the rest of the call a smoother experience.

Don’t tell them you’re busy.

If your recorded message repeatedly states that your agents are busy helping other customers, those on hold will not feel valued. Customers on hold already know why they’re waiting; there’s no need to remind them. Instead, thank them for waiting and remind them that their time and business are valued!

Do entertain customers on hold.

Depending on your customer base, this can mean playing appropriate music or playing entertaining recorded messages. Tailor your messages to your brand’s image, telling relevant stories or even jokes. Try giving a how-to explanation or sharing some helpful tips. The more you capture a customer’s attention, the less time they will feel they’ve been on hold.

Don’t repeat messages on a loop.

Repeating the same sixty or even 300-second-long message on a loop only emphasizes to a customer how long they’ve been waiting and increases their frustration each time it repeats. Aim to have a recording last only four minutes. If a customer has been through the entire rotation and the message begins to repeat, then it’s a signal they’ve been on hold for a while. This could also help improve customer service by training dispatchers not to let customers wait too long.

Do tailor the music to the situation.

Rather than using the same music for anyone on hold, vary the tunes for each different situation. Slower music with a beat that matches the resting heart rate is perfect for calming upset customers calling to complain while faster music can help spark excitement in a customer waiting on a sales line. Your system will need to be set up so your dispatchers can select the appropriate music selection. If you don’t have a system with these capabilities, then choose music that best fits your brand. Surfboard company? Play some beach-inspired tunes. Winery? Choose music that makes customers feel like they’re strolling through a vineyard or enjoying a nice champagne outside a Paris bistro.

Don’t leave customers on hold in silence.

Worse than annoying music or repeating recordings is simply silence. Customers become uncertain when on hold, wondering if they’ve been forgotten, and silence only reinforces that doubt, making them worry they may have been disconnected. The best you can do for your customers is to play some type of recording, even if it is a melody that alerts them, they are still connected.

Do answer FAQs in recorded messages.

If you provide enough helpful information in your on-hold messaging, you may end up answering your customers’ questions before their call is ever answered, thus freeing up their time as well as your call center workforce’s time. It could also help a customer formulate more questions to ask a dispatcher, ensuring that they understand the most about their situation. Now is also a suitable time to market (“Did you know our _______ was voted #1 in ______” or “At _________ we value…”) and reinforce your brand to your clients.

By putting these seven tips into practice in your call center’s on-hold recordings, you can make your customers’ perceptions of their wait more positive, which will lead to a better customer experience overall.”

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Karl Sharicz – Founder, CEO – HorizonCX, LLC. | April 2023

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