The Blog

  • April 8, 2016
  • Please hold the music

    customer-on-hold2Remember when your mother used to yell up the stairs to get you to turn your music down? Sometimes, in the age before sensitivity awareness, dad would do the yelling and he’d substitute noise for music. Ah, the good old days. Too bad they aren’t here right now yelling at vendors. is the brainchild of James R. Hood a former Washington, D.C. journalist and public affairs guy. It’s website says the org is located in Lake Tahoe, so I’m just guessing that it’s the retirement project for Mr. Hood. At one point before writing that last sentence I thought perhaps retirement project is a bit harsh but then I remembered what I was actually writing about and decided that retirement project might or might not be correct but that the research just published might suggest a person or organization with, shall we say, time on his hands. Incidentally, much the same can be said of me since I took the bait and wrote this. Whatever. did a little project to compare and contrast hold music at some major corporations. That’s right, they called up, got put on hold, which is not hard, and recorded the music and then wrote about it. I write about it because I see it as my duty as a CRM analyst, which is my job and not some dreamed up project, so there.

    That said the analysis is surprisingly insightful but perhaps not all that surprising when you think about it. Hold music is part of product dress, which is a legal term for the accouterments of a brand that are not exactly the brand and that may not be independently branded, trademarked, or copyrighted. The example I have heard is the Coke bottle. I do not believe it is copyrighted or trademarked but it is part of product dress and nobody even thinks of copying it.

    In the long running legal battle involving smartphones and billions of dollars pitting Apple against Samsung, part of Apple’s complaint had been that its competitor used some of the iPhone’s product dress in designing its smartphones. That’s product dress and in my mind, hold music is part of a brand, so choose it carefully.

    Coke vs. Pepsi

    At any rate, let’s look at a few examples, first up is Coke vs. Pepsi. Coke presents itself as the market leader and above the fray by providing classical music. I don’t know what pieces the company plays, it might have been Vivaldi or Hayden or Handel, but the music was mostly strings and soothing. By the way, this is a good time to say what terrible sound quality all of the vendors that I sampled provided. All of the music sounded like it was being played through a washing machine.

    On to Pepsi. This company has positioned itself as the choice of youth since John Sculley was driving marketing but what youth? Pepsi seems to be targeting people who remember the 1960s and ‘70s with a jingle sounding like something Nancy Wilson would do followed by a bad imitation of The Rolling Stones. Talk about covering your bases.

    Home Depot vs. Lowes

    This was interesting. Home Depot uses your attention while on hold to advertise. The clip I heard talked about their gift card, you know, so you can get exactly what you want. That’s what I want for my next birthday. Lowes defaulted to serenity and classical music uninterrupted by a voice. Perhaps the different positioning of the stores reflects blue-collar construction vs. home decorating even though both carry lots and lots of the same merchandise. Personally, I am bombarded with advertising all day and a chance to avoid it makes the choice obvious, at least for me.

    American Airlines vs. United

    Talk about Coke vs. Pepsi, the two legacy carriers’ music sound the same to me. American plays Adele’s hit “Love song” but the sound quality is so bad that whoever is singing sounds like she’s being drowned in that washing machine. United plays something that sounds like a supermarket circa 1970 and both airlines interrupt their music with announcements.

    CVS Health vs. Sears Holdings

    You might be wondering about the validity of this one but lumps them together as big retailers. CVS fills more prescriptions in the U.S. than anybody and Sears is the icon of retail going back well over a century to a time when it sold through a catalog and rural free delivery, the equivalent of the Internet today if you think about it. CVS sounds like electric piano interspersed by soprano sax in some light jazzy riffs reminiscent of Kenny G. Sears sounds like an imitation of Herbie Hancock doing “Watermelon Man” or “Cantaloupe Island.”

    In all cases the hold music sounds like it’s aimed at a middle-aged person like me. That’s no surprise when you think about it. Who else sits on hold calling into a contact center? Gen X-ers and Millennials might also pull out their phones but it’s to surf over to the vendor and make an automated inquiry.

    So what’s this all mean? I think it’s proof of the importance of a multi- or omni-channel strategy in CRM. These vendors have a pretty good idea of who their customers are and the channels they use and that’s Job #1 when you’re trying to figure out what CRM to buy. So this was quite useful research even if initially it seemed fluffy.

    Published: 8 years ago

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