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The Debate Over On Hold Messages

Writing opinion editorials over the years has gained me a few fans as well as a few detractors. I fashion myself a man of decorum, so when a critic dares me to reinforce my beliefs, I am more than happy to rise to the occasion. Such is the case for my article recently published discussing on hold messages and why they might hurt your business.

The scorn came, logically, from those who make a living proffering on hold advertisements to hotels. A lengthy rebuttal to my op-ed piece makes a few sound claims along with a direct challenge for me to debate the issue. I’m not one to back down, so here it goes.

My original article put forward the argument that voice messages while a person is on hold are damaging because they undermine a basic psychological expectation. Firstly, no one likes waiting. But it’s inevitable. At least with background music or beeping at regular intervals a person can multitask instead of idling. You can switch the phone into speaker mode and finish alternate tasks on a nearby computer up until the point where you hear the benign muzak cut out, interrupted by an operator coming on the line.

With on hold messages, however, your wait time is constantly being spliced with human voices, forcing you to pay more attention to the phone in order to properly distinguish the on hold message from the eventual arrival of the operator. This can be excruciating. Every time you hear a human voice, the expectation is that it will be a live operator, and when it isn’t, a part of you feels duped.

Think of it like a rollercoaster of emotions. You start at the top, amped to be booking an exciting vacation or business trip. You’re on hold for a minute, breezily responding to an email while the speakerphone chimes off some cool jazz – fluid multitasking. The music cuts. You get your hopes up thinking the wait is over. Nope, it’s just a recording trying to sell you something. Elation shattered, you refocus on the email. A minute later, the music drops again. Stilted hope, but no, it’s the same voice message. You deflate even more. Another minute goes by, the music cuts for a third time. It’s that damn recording again. Now you’re getting impatient and angry. Instead of being a minor interruption, the wait time is now a fixation.

Hopefully you can infer from the tone of the above paragraph that this yo-yo effect of on hold advertisements can impact feeling towards your property, and not necessarily for the better. Voices interrupting your wait time raise expectations that you’re about to talk to an operator, and then, as you well know, not meeting those expectations is a surefire way to tick off just about anyone. Personally, I’d opt for tunes without any on hold messages. That way I know the only thing that’ll interrupt the music is the operator, allowing me to better concentrate on other jobs.

That’s the gist of my previous argument, summed up with slightly different words in a way that hopefully makes sense. It’s also a good example of psychology applied in the hospitality field.

Another cerebral aspect worth touching on when it comes to on hold advertisements is the nature of how we humans sell products to one another. Detractors to my argument were quick to point out some statistics demonstrating on hold messages’ efficacy to generate new business. Without punching the obvious holes in these vague metrics, I still find it hard to believe that people actually respond to these boilerplate scripts. They’re canned and nonspecific to our momentary needs. If any person were to deliver these same lines to us in the street, we’d ignore them.

Worse, it feels like the property is taking advantage of us as we wait. We have no choice but to listen to the used car salesman speech lest we disconnect the call and lose our place in line. Not a good way to start building rapport and certainly not service-oriented! Yes, the intention is to upsell and a person who bothers to wait on the phone clearly has been piqued. However, I see an inundation of on hold advertisements as an abuse of this circumstance. The only reason a person is on hold is because an operator is not immediately available. If anything, the upsell should be prompted by the operator once tensions have subsided and a rapport have been established.

So, without going into too much exogenous detail, I leave these two arguments with you to decide whether on hold messages are right your business or not. I feel strongly about the issue, perhaps you lean differently. As hoteliers, I am interested in your thoughts.

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in eHotelier on July 24, 2013)

Larry MogelonskyThe Debate Over On Hold Messages