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The Science of On Hold Music For Cloud Call Routing

The Science of On Hold Music For Cloud Call Routing

The sound of soothing music playing for callers as they wait to speak to someone on the other end seems like it’s been around since the dawn of the first telephone call between Alexander Graham Bell and Watson, his trusted confidante.  And now, on hold music is heard globally via cloud call routing techniques used by astute call center managers.  This leads to my question, what’s the science behind the use of on hold music?

In a research experiment conducted by USA Business Telephone Today, 30,000 callers were placed on hold for one minute and were randomly segmented into three groups.  Group one heard nothing but silence, group two heard music playing, and group three heard a combination of music and information. Following are the results of the experiment:

Group Name Group One – Silence Group Two – Music Group Three – Music & Info
Call Abandoned 52% 13% 2%
Estimated Time Exceeded 1-Minute 100% 44% 19%
Estimated Time Exceeded 5-Minutes 27% 0% 0%
Callers Lost 5,200 1,300 200


The key metric from the experiment is the extent to which the caller’s perception of time was determined by whether they heard something while on hold; music or a combination of music plus information. Another key metric was the call abandon rate.  52% of callers that heard silence abandoned the call, with only 13% abandoning when listening to music, and a minuscule 2% abandoning when listening to music and information.

Newsweek delved even deeper in a 2009 article titled, Hold Music’s Complex Science, by citing a study conducted by the Israel Institute of Technology that was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.   The researchers tested the differences in caller responses to on hold music, messages with estimated wait times, and messages with recorded apologies for the wait time.  The results illustrated that callers responded most favorably to messages with estimated wait times followed closely by on hold music.  Messages with apologies were ineffective and caused the highest number of call abandonment.

A 2014 article in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Can music with prosocial lyrics heal the working world? A field intervention in a call center, studied whether playing on hold music with “prosocial” lyrics would reduce callers aggression.  This is important for call center personnel since caller aggression can emotionally drain customer service personnel thereby decreasing their efficiency and often increasing their absenteeism.  Twenty-five employees of a UK customer service call center participated in the study.  Callers on hold were played a) instrumental music, b) music with neutral lyrics, and c) music with pro-social lyrics.  The  music designated as pro-social included,  Michael Jackson’s “Heal The World,” The Beatles “Help!”, and Bob Sinclar’s “Love Generation.”  Caller anger was measured on a scale from (1) no anger to (5) great deal of anger.  Employee exhaustion was rated on a scale from (1) not at all to (5) a great deal of exhaustion.  The results illustrated that the music with pro-social lyrics did not demonstrate a significant reduction in caller anger or employee exhaustion during the test period.  Who knew there was this much research dedicated to on hold music?  And this is just a smattering of studies related to the topic.

You might think that the on hold music technology is at least 100+ years old?  Not according to Slate magazine. The first patent for the “Telephone Hold Program System” appeared in the U.S. Patent Office in the spring of 1962.   The patent was filed by Alfred Levy with the following description of his new invention,  “It is an object of the present invention to provide a system of the character described which upon actuation of a hold instrumentality, e.g. a key or button, will connect the incoming call to a source of program material, e.g. music, thereby to pacify the originator of the call if the delay becomes unduly long, and also to while away the idle time of the caller who is awaiting connection to a certain party or extension.”

On-hold music is an important element of the call center environment.  New clients and current customers routinely use the telephone to buy new products/ services or to report and hopefully resolve an issue.  As the scientific research indicates, on hold music provides a significant advantage for businesses that deploy the technology.   Contact a 1stel Communication Consultant about 1stConnect’s On Hold music capabilities.


Randall Smith – 1stel Marketing Analyst

About the author

werkLab Studios

werkLab Studios