On Hold Messages: The Basics


About On Hold Messages —  Here are the Basics Every Business Owner Needs to Know


I received a call this morning from the wife of a power partner saying they’ll be moving from a home-based business into a similar storefront business in Kent very soon. They need me to write a series of at least six on-hold messages and a live message … pronto! They’re moving in this week and the phone will already be ringing with the previous company’s customers expecting to be served!


They called the right person, for sure. I cut my teeth as an on hold copywriter back in 2007. For a full year I wrote seven, ten, twelve, fifteen, 22 and 30-second on hold messages for companies across the United States. Here’s a brief list of what I learned about writing and producing riveting, easy-on-the-ear on hold messages:


  • Clever, helpful on hold messages reduce the “perceived wait time” for customers who are waiting on the line
  • Well-written, well-produced on hold messages help callers feel respected, cared about, and appreciated
  • Great on hold messages encourage callers to feel more patient and less demanding
  • The best on hold messages use music and varying time spans between messages
  • Music matters–be sure you use copyright-free music or pay for the rights to the music you use
  • On hold messages that change with the seasons, holidays, and other special occasions feel more “real time” and “with it” than others
  • Swap out messages at least quarterly (sometimes more often) to keep frequent callers happy
  • Depending on the average wait time for your business, on hold messages should be numerous enough and varied enough to cycle through without repeating each message more than once per minute or two
  • Remember to tout the products and/or services that are most helpful to your bottom line
  • Hire a Professional Voice Over Artist


Let’s delve a little deeper into these bullet points.



Perceived Wait Time



Busy people, deadline-driven people, and anxious people hate being put on hold.  (Heck, who likes being put on hold? Nobody I know!) Call abandonment can become a real liability when a caller feels ignored, neglected, disrespected, or delayed.  Great on hold messages lessen the perceived wait time by offering a virtual “hot cup of coffee” and a few casual, helpful, conversational insights about the company that is being called.



And here’s the kicker: If your on hold messages are written right, some of your callers will even surprise you by asking to be put back on hold so they can hear all of your messages. They’ll tell you, “I want to hear all of them. I’ll just hang up after I’ve heard them all.” How’s that for effective communication, the know-like-trust factor, and effective marketing?



Appreciation/Fond Bond



A great on hold message series goes the extra mile to make an on-hold caller feel acknowledged, respected, cared about, and appreciated.  To decide what to put in your on hold messages, put yourself in your customers’ shoes.  If you were them, what else would you want to know about your business that they might not already know?  For example, if you’re a hair salon that offers high-profile hair styling products, or pedicures and manicures, you might want to have a message that details briefly the additional services you provide.



If you’re low on up sell items, a fun series of local area trivia facts might serve. Here’s a hint: You don’t always have to be selling! Think about the other things you chat about when serving and visiting with clients.  A simple, enthusiastic “Go Hawks!” in a Washington state establishment on hold message can create a fond bond.






Because nobody likes to be put on hold, patience can become problematic. By making sure your on hold messages are compelling, helpful and/or just plain fun, you can help callers remain calm and more patient. The result: whoever picks up and answers the caller won’t have to endure the huffing and puffing of impatient callers…and your call abandonment rates should plummet.



Music or Silence and Message Spacing



Between each of your on hold messages, there needs to be a transition space filled with silence or with music. But here’s the thing: amateurs usually use the same time span between messages. Professionals know better.  Callers quickly discern cookie cutter approaches to communication.



If the spacing between your messages is always five seconds, for example, the repeated 5-second pattern will quickly remind callers that they’re still waiting. By altering the spacing between your messages, callers feel they’re being communicated with in a more natural way. Look at it this way: When you talk to people one-to-one, you don’t time your statements; some words come after a brief pause; others come after several seconds of thought.  So design your on hold message series to feel conversational and natural, not stilted or rehearsed/timed.



The Music You Choose



Your taste in music may differ enormously from your ideal customer/target audience. Keep this in mind when deciding what style of music you want behind your on hold messages and/or between them. The most popular music styles for on hold message systems include smooth jazz, easy listening, classical, country, instrumental, and a few others.  Example: Unless you’re a heavy metal or hip hop music provider or entrepreneur, it’s best to play it safe and avoid music that may send your on hold caller fleeing for the exits.



And one more thing… a caution!  Most of the music you love is copyrighted. You can’t use it unless you pay the artist’s music company handsomely for the privilege. There are “sound-alike” sites that offer music for free or for lower fees; check them out unless you’re a musician yourself (or know one) and can create your own on hold background music.



T’is the Season?



On hold messages that change with the seasons satisfy callers a lot more than staid, standard fare.  So think ahead and prepare on hold messages that mention the season and back them up with seasonal music: 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, what have you.



I’ve written on hold messages for service stations that rotate seasonally so they can swap them out appropriately. Examples: “Winter’s on the way. Have you had your car battery checked? Cold mornings make for harder starts.”  “Over the river and through the woods for Thanksgiving? Be sure to have your chariot checked before you head out the door because, baby, it’s cold outside!”



Swap Out Your Messages



Occasional callers won’t care, but frequent callers will notice if you use the same messages month after month and year after year. If you simply must use the same messages (very few businesses absolutely must), re-order them and put new music or time spacing between them. This will show frequent callers that you’re thinking of them and want them to have a new experience while they wait on line for your help.



Get Enough On Hold Messages to Cover Your Average Wait Time


An endlessly-looping “Thank you for calling… we’ll be with you as soon as possible” is a patience-and-spirit-killer.


If you’ve ever been the victim of an endlessly-looping on hold message, you know how quickly your blood boils and how long your wait time seems to stretch. So be sure to have a series of on hold messages that will cycle through for the entire average wait time that you anticipate your callers will be placed on hold.  And be sure your on hold system always starts the next message where the last message a caller heard ended, so that if you have to put the same caller on hold, they won’t be subjected to the same messages they just heard.



Tout the Products/Services that are Most Helpful to Your Bottom Line



Some people make the mistake of writing on hold messages that won’t measurably boost their business’s bottom line. It doesn’t make much sense to tout a product or service that is bottom-line anemic. So throw a spotlight on the products and services that will help boost your income.  You’ll be glad you did.  You can even use the rare 30-second on hold message to tout it. (Caution: Use 30-second messages very sparingly or your on hold messages will begin to sound too much like commercials. Although most people like to buy, they hate being sold to!)



Your Voice Over Artist



You can have the most stinkin’ awesome on hold messages ever written created for you, only to find them falling flat. When this happens, usually it’s due to the choice of voice over artist.



Some business owners record the messages themselves in their own voices–NOT a good idea in most cases.



Some choose an amateur who’s voice they find “perfect” for the job only to watch as they freeze up when it comes to recording the spots.



Your  best bet, usually, is to hire a local, professional VO artist.   To do this, google “voice over artists” + “your town or region” and then visit their websites, portfolios, and testimonials pages to narrow down the candidates.


You’ll be glad you did.  A professional voice over artist will make your on hold messages shine.


I hope these guidelines give you what you need to know to write your own on hold messages or hire someone to do them for you.  Either way,  have a great day!


To learn more, contact the author at KrisATWordWhisperer.net

This article can be reprinted as long as the above byline and this line remain at the bottom of the article.