Hold music, it’s a part of life and something every person encounters. But while we wait on the phone listening to the music piping down the phone as ‘the next person in the queue’, we never wonder exactly how, when and why hold music came into existence.
In early days, the new and exhilarating experience of simply using the telephone was novel enough to muffle any feelings of irritance at holding, but as time went on and phones became widely used our natural human distaste for waiting and time wasting began to show. Even worse, being placed on silent hold was indistinguishable from being dropped from the line, leading more than a few people hanging on listening to a dead call. The general rule was that operators were supposed to check in with the caller at intervals, but as operators frequently got busy or simply forgot, the system was ripe for a fresh idea.
Like all great inventions, the solution to this problem was discovered by accident. Alfred Levy, a factory owner filed a patent for a ‘Telephone Hold Program System’ with the US Patent Office in 1962 after discovering a via a loose wire contacting a metal girder that he was able to pick up local radio stations on his companies telephone system. In the patent he writes of a desire to ‘pacify’ the caller and avoid the tedious nature of holding leading to abandoned calls.
Broadcasting radio stations became the norm until the 1980’s when companies realised it would be better to promote themselves during holds, crafting a blend of music and short ads to play for their customers.
As of 2015 it is now considered customer service suicide to have a silent hold, you’d be hard pressed to find a company that doesn’t utilise a hold system with music. The statistics are quite incredible, up to 70% of callers on silent hold will hang up the phone within 60 seconds, that’s a huge number, so there’s no wonder an entire industry has cropped up around messaging and hold systems, keeping your customer on the line is imperative.
So you can thank Americas Alfred Levy the next time you listen to the soothing sounds of Mozart, coming at you as you patiently wait to debate the charges on your electricity bill!