Focus on: On-hold message programs: Communicating in the new age of business

Focus on: On-hold message programs: Communicating in the new age of business

Weiss, Barry

Q: Why is it important to use on-hold message programs in a business?

A: Much like your receptionist who answers and directs incoming calls, messages on-hold provide callers the first perception of your company. Callers want to work only with professional organizations that can provide information and assistance without placing them on hold and abandoning them.

Your customers’ time is valuable. When they are placed on hold, their perceived length of waiting time is magnified by the sound of dead air. However, that on-hold time can be positive when you use the opportunity to inform, educate, motivate and entertain your callers.

Q: What are some of the advantages of using a message on-hold program?

A: There is no question that informative messages “on-hold” are better than “dead air” or a radio playing another company’s, or competing company’s commercials. Specific advantages include decreased caller hang ups, increased sales, enhanced image, reinforced ad campaigns, ability to introduce new products and services, increased customer service, the ability to cross-market products and the ability to promote events and holiday and seasonal products.

Q: What are some of the specific applications of onhold message programs?

A: On-hold message programs can help you achieve your marketing, customer service, public image and entertainment goals.

Marketing applications include providing information on products and services, or disseminating a company overview, philosophy or company story. On-hold messages may also be used to promote sales and specials.

Customer service applications encompass the provision of orderprocessing information, special phone numbers, issuing requests for feedback on products and services, listing service goals and thanking people for calling.

Public image applications of messages on-hold include talk about community involvement, special awards won, or accomplishments of individuals in your business.

Entertainment applications can allow you to produce the program as an in-house radio station to relay stories, humor and anecdotes.

Oh-hold message programs can also inform callers of industry business, news and new technology.

Q: How do we select a company that will produce the programs?

A: First, find a company with a track record. How long has the company been in business? Who are its major clients? Ask for references and call some of the listed references. Ask each on-hold company for a tape it produced for a company whose business is similar to your company’s, then review and compare the different companies’ demonstration tapes. Next, compare the prices of the equipment and programs offered. Ask what options are available to you in terms of length of programs and scripts. Is the salesperson trying to help you make decisions that are in your best interest or is he or she just trying to sell you a program and equipment? What is the warranty on equipment? What services (e.g. scriptwriting, male and female voices, music, equipment) are provided by the company? Is the script a custom-produced script or is it a generic script with your company name filled in?

Q: Is there any advantage to a longer message program over a shorter program, and how long should my messages be?

A: If you receive a large number of calls from the same people on a frequent basis, you should consider a longer program. With a longer program, your callers won’t be hearing the same information as frequently and it’s more cost-effective for you. Also, you won’t be producing as many programs. However, if you are changing your program on a frequent basis, then a shorter program may work best for you. You may also consider producing one longer program that encompasses your products and services and points of information. Then produce shorter programs for specific marketing or announcement needs when necessary.

The message length and the space between messages should be determined by the amount of time your average caller is on hold. Shorter hold time means shorter messages and less music between messages. Longer hold time allows for longer messages, i.e., 15 to 30 seconds as an average, and more music between messages. Your best indicator is your callers. They’ll tell you if the message program works. Make the messages informative — not commercials! They should be natural and not hard hitting.

Q: How frequently should we change our message program?

A: You should change the program based on several criteria:

1. If you receive frequent calls from the same clients on a regular basis.

2. When your products or services change.

3. If you use your on-hold program as a sales and marketing tool to announce sales and special pricing.

4. If yours is a seasonal business.

5. When your customers say “I’ve heard those messages so much I have them memorized!”

Q: What are some of the writing or production elements that make an interesting message program?

A: Incorporating some of the following elements will enhance a message program: a variety of good music; male and female voices used in the same message; sound and special effects; special music in addition to the main music bed; jingles and music tags. Q: What about humor in the message programs?

A: It is difficult to write humorous scripts effectively. In fact, it should probably be done minimally. A technique that seems to work is “tongue in cheek” humor, or making fun of yourself. Never be offensive or use others for the point of humor. Good taste must always prevail!

Q: Should we use a digital player, cassette player or CD player for a playback system?

A: All three have their advantages. The tape system is the least expensive. However, it won’t last as long and requires daily attention and periodic maintenance. The tapes sometimes pull out of their shells and the quality of sound diminishes with age. If the KSU is located in a remote part of the building, servicing the machine becomes more difficult. For longer life, the tape player should be turned off after business hours. On/off timers work on shorter length programs, but cause the tape to pull out of its shell in longer playing tapes.

CD players are great for longer programs. You can create a lot of messages. Since each message will have its own track, you can select the tracks you want to air and have them repeat. The down side is that if you have a power interruption or, if you want to select or take out messages, the CD player needs to be reprogrammed.

Digital playback systems are the most widely used at this time. The quality of sound is excellent and they require no servicing. Most systems download from a prerecorded cassette tape. Messages can be changed by downloading another tape which erases the previous program in the memory. They’re easy to use and are selfloading in the event of power interruptions. They are available in different memory lengths. The digital player is by far the better choice of playback equipment. Q: Does the music need a special license?

A: Yes. Music heard on the hold lines is subject to copyright laws and appropriate licensing fees must be paid. In most cases these fees are paid by the company producing the message programs. It’s always wise to ask the producing company if the music is licensed and from whom.

Q: Do we need special telephone equipment?

A: Yes. Your phone must be equipped with music on-hold capability. Older phone systems may require the installation of a music onhold line card. Your phone installer can do this for you. Two- and threeline business phones that do not have a KSU or phone box in the back room require a music on-hold interface or adapter. The adapter enables your phones to play an audio source when the hold button is pressed through the hold lines.

It’s a new age of business communications. Message on-hold programs can be a very effective tool in your communications program. Pick a reputable company with a good track record and, most important, one that shows an interest in working with you to develop a great message program that meets your needs.

We strongly encourage you to submit any questions concerning telemarketing and business telecommunications to: Q&A, One Technology Plaza, Norwalk, CT 06854. If you would like your questions answered specifically by Mr. Weiss, please address your envelope to his attention. We will try to print as many questions and answers as space permits. For information and subscriptions: Call TELEMARKETING (R) 203-852-6800 or Fax to: 203-853-2845 or 203-838-4070

Copyright Technology Marketing Corporation Aug 1996

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