call centre hold music best practice tips

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The Psychology of Call Centre Hold Music

Call centres have become the backbone of customer support for countless businesses worldwide.

While the primary goal of any call centre is to provide efficient and effective customer service, there’s another element that plays a crucial role in shaping the customer experience – hold music.

And given the results of our monthly Australian Call Centre Ranking Reports, consumers are certainly getting plenty of time to sample the different types of call centre hold music that is being used!

In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of call centre hold music and provide insights on how to implement it effectively, following best practices.

The Power of Hold Music

Hold music serves as a bridge between the moment a customer is placed on hold and when they’re connected with a live agent.

When used thoughtfully, it can have a significant impact on the customer’s perception of your business.

Here are some key benefits of using call centre hold music:

1. Reduced Frustration

One of the most immediate advantages of call centre hold music is its ability to reduce customer frustration and irritation.

Nobody likes waiting, but a well-chosen tune can make the wait feel less tedious.

This can lead to more patient and satisfied customers when they finally connect with an agent.

2. Professionalism

Hold music conveys professionalism.

It signals to callers that you value your customer’s time and have put thought into their experience.

This professionalism can help instil trust and confidence in your brand.

3. Conveying Information

Hold music is an excellent opportunity to share important information, such as business hours, upcoming promotions, or self-service options.

It keeps callers informed and engaged while they wait, potentially leading to additional sales or streamlined issue resolution.

4. Branding

Customising hold music with your brand’s jingle or theme can reinforce brand identity and recognition.

It’s a subtle but effective way to reinforce your company’s image in the minds of callers.

What type of call centre hold music is the most popular?

Hold music, while often considered a minor detail, plays a significant role in shaping the customer experience.

It helps to reduce frustration, enhance professionalism, disseminate information, and reinforce brand identity.

However, the choice of music is crucial, as it can either soothe or irritate callers.

The most popular types of call centre hold music:

1. Instrumental Music

Instrumental tracks are among the most popular choices for hold music.

Their lack of lyrics makes them less distracting, allowing callers to concentrate on the message or relax during their wait.

Genres like classical, jazz, and ambient instrumental music are commonly used for their calming effect.

2. Classical Music

The timeless melodies of classical compositions, such as those by Beethoven or Mozart, are frequently chosen for their soothing and elegant qualities.

Studies have shown that classical music can have a positive impact on caller satisfaction and patience during wait times1.

3. Jazz and Blues

The smooth and mellow tones of jazz and blues music can create a relaxed atmosphere for callers.

Its rhythmic and improvisational nature can be engaging, preventing callers from feeling the wait is too long

4. Ambient Music

Ambient music, characterized by its atmospheric and often ethereal soundscapes, is known for its calming and stress-reducing properties.

It’s an ideal choice for creating a serene hold experience.

5. Customised Brand Jingles

Some businesses opt for customised hold music that features their brand jingle or theme.

This reinforces brand identity and recognition, making it a popular choice for branding-conscious companies.

6. Pop Music 

According to a study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, playing contemporary pop music might be the solution to reducing customer frustration.

Elevator music, with an easy-listening melody that can repeat endlessly, invokes a feeling of dread in many of us.

“You learn to associate that kind of background music with waiting or complaining—those things that normally happen when you call a call centre,” says study author Karen Niven, a lecturer at Manchester Business School in England.

But you need to be careful in your choice of pop music…

Some songs that had so-called prosocial lyrics, which talked about helping, like The Beatles’ “Help!” and Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” can actually further annoy the customer, especially if they were calling about a complaint or service issue.

Customers were the least angry when they heard standard pop songs!

The Psychology Behind Effective Hold Music

To truly harness the power of hold music, it’s essential to understand the psychology behind it:

1. Mood Elevation

Music has the power to influence emotions.

Upbeat and calming tunes can help elevate the caller’s mood, making them more receptive to assistance once they connect with an agent.

2. Perception of Time

Time perception is altered by engaging stimuli.

A well-structured hold program with varied music and informative messages can make time seem to pass more quickly, reducing the perceived wait time.

3. Cognitive Engagement

Engaging hold music can occupy the caller’s mind, preventing frustration from creeping in.

It’s a way to keep callers’ cognitive resources occupied, making the wait feel less tedious.

Several studies have investigated the impact of hold music on caller behavior and satisfaction.

One notable study conducted by Dr. Richard Yalch and Dr. Eric Spangenberg at Washington State University found that callers exposed to slower-tempo music while on hold estimated their wait time to be shorter than it actually was.

This suggests that the tempo and style of the call centre hold music can influence perceived wait times.

Another study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that music with a positive and familiar association can lead to improved caller moods and attitudes5.

This highlights the importance of selecting music that resonates with your target audience.

How to create the perfect call centre hold experience

Implementing an effective call centre hold experience is an art that involves several best practices:

1. Music Selection

Choose music that aligns with your brand and target audience.

Instrumental tracks are often preferable, as lyrics can be distracting, however as I’ve noted earlier, there is a strong case for contemporary pop music.

For a safe bet , focus on soothing or neutral genres like classical, jazz, or ambient music.

2. Sound Quality and Volume

Ensure high-quality audio and an appropriate volume level.

The music should be audible but not overpowering.

A comfortable listening experience is paramount.

Plenty of times I’ve had to move the phone away from my ear as the audio switches from music to a message with a huge variation in sound levels.

3. Variety and Customisation

Avoid repetitiveness by using a playlist or a selection of tracks.

Customised messages and announcements should be relevant, concise, and not overly repetitive.

If you’re anything like me, when the music is playing I tend to amuse myself doing other things while I wait – whether its catching up on some emails, reading an article etc.

When the music stops, I get a little excited that my call is going to finally be answered.

So when its just to play another recorded message, it can be incredibly frustrating and just raises the anxiety levels for the customer.

There are some very poor examples (Federal Courrt of Australia comes to mind) that interupt their hold music every 30 seconds with another recorded message that is on repeat.

Stop it!

4. Regular Monitoring

Constantly evaluate the effectiveness of your hold program.

Solicit feedback from customers and agents.

Regularly update music selections and messages to keep the experience fresh.

Here’s a crazy concept: Dial in as a customer and see how you like it…

5. Make sure you have suitable permission

If you are using commercial songs (i.e. pop music by a professional artist) or even use the radio as your hold music, you must have the appropriate permission to do so.

Penalties for copyright infringement are covered under the 1968 Copyright Act range from injunctions, damages and costs through to fines of up to $60,500 for individuals and up to $302,500 for corporations for each infringement and/or up to 5 years imprisonment per offence.

OneMusic (established 2019) is an APRA AMCOS and PPCA joint music licensing initiative that allows businesses and organisations to meet their copyright obligations for the use of musical works, sound recordings and music videos in a public (not domestic) setting including on-hold call centre music.  

You can learn more about the licencing costs for on-hold music here > (ACXPA has no affiliation with OneMusic and does not receive any referrals – this if FYI only).

6. Engage with the professionals!

Often the voice behind the on-hold messages is left to anyone who puts their hand up in the office and sometimes, well, they don’t even put their hand up!

As for the choice of music, it’s typically the default choice that ships with whatever call centre software/platform you are running.

But there is help available!

There are a number of professional businesses that can help you record your on-hold messages, find the right music to align with your brand and help you with best practices on all things related to call centre hold music, including ensuring you have the appropriate copyright licensing.


Whilst it is always preferable to avoid queues in the first instance, at times, your customers will inevitably be subjected to a period of call centre hold music.

Like any stage of the Customer Journey, thought should be put into making it as painless as possible for customers.

When it comes to hold music, there really are some best-practices that can be implemented to make it better for your customers!

If you’ve come across some great examples of companies doing it well, or perhaps some doing it not so well, share your experience in the comments below!

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