Music on hold (MOH) refers to the business practice of playing pre-recorded music to fill the silence that would be heard by telephone callers that have been placed on hold. It is especially common in situations involving customer service.
Equipment and formats
Most MOH systems are integrated into a businesses telephone system via an audio jack
on the telephone equipment labeled "MOH".
The source of the music is usually from CDs or digital files such as MP3, but some older systems may still use cassette tapes (sometimes employing endless-loops), or reel-to-reel tape players.
Source of music
The musical source may be as simple as playing a local radio station through the MOH jack. This is unlawful without the express permission of the music title and mechanical copyright holders.
- Although radio stations may provide the desired musical format, there is no control over the specific songs that are played, some of which may be offensive to the callers, or depending on the music played, sound harsh in monaural sound. This kind of system is also vulnerable to interference.
- Radio stations typically do not license their music for MOH systems. In the United States, the radio broadcaster has no legal right to provide such a license as they, themselves, obtain a usage license from the music title owner for the right to broadcast said music for limited and personal use. As mentioned below, re-broadcasting of a radio program over a phone system may likely cause licensing and copyright problems for the owner of the MOH system.
- Radio stations will play commercials, which may be offensive or at least annoying to the caller. Furthermore, it is possible that a competitor's commercial may be played, which would be counter-productive.
- See Music on hold (copyright).
Off-the-shelf commercial CDs
Commercial CDs eliminate the problems encountered with radio commercials, and they offer control over the selection of music; they do not, however, grant proper license for MOH use unless users first obtain permission from the song title copyright owner (when the song is not in the "public domain") and the mechanical copyright owner. (See RADIO, above, for more details.)
Stock MOH CDs (with or without voice-overs)
CDs are available that have been specifically recorded and licensed for MOH systems. These may contain only music, or may include periodic voice-overs
with messages such as "Your call is important" or "Please stay on the line". Such off-the-shelf recordings may be generic or may be specific to individual industries, but will not be customized for individual companies.
In general, custom music on hold is advised to:
- Control content
- Control music genre
- Use the on hold time to sell to a captive audience
- Through a reputable on hold company be fully licensed and legal for on hold playback
- Reduce hang-ups and make the business look more professional
CDs (or other MOH formats, such as MP3 files) can be custom-created to suit the particular needs of a business. The announcements can be scripted to emphasize particular attributes of the business such as location, store hours, or special promotions or services. These are typically used for up-selling and cross-selling callers.
Styles of music
The style of music played by MOH systems depends largely on the type of business offering the service. It is generally best to present music that will not be offensive to the audience, but that would also be of particular interest to the typical caller. For example, Express For Men usually plays Alternative rock. A western apparel store may choose to play country music. A Christian book store may choose to play popular Christian music. A university may choose to play classical music. Light classics, smooth jazz, and beautiful music are common choices, as is fully synthesized melodic music.
Benefits of music on hold may include the following, if properly configured:
- Assures the caller that their call is still connected
- Assures the caller that their call is important and will be answered as soon as possible
- Entertains the caller, which may give the impression that the time spent on hold is shorter than what it really is
- Informs the caller of his place in queue and the approximate length of time until his call will be taken
- Informs the caller of information about the company, such as store hours, locations, or services
- Informs the caller about promotions or new products
- Informs the caller about products and services offered by the company
- Informs the caller about options to leave the on-hold system, such as pressing a key to leave a voicemail or to be transferred to a different department