An Introduction to Telephone On-Hold Messaging

By Andrew Frame

On-hold messaging has an advantage over broadcast advertising, in that the potential customer is already “in the market” for a product or service – to the point they are calling prospective vendors. The decision has been made. Now, it's only a matter of who to purchase from.

Can you translate your background from broadcast copywriter and producer to telephone message on hold, or MOH?

Easily. 

Once you've made the sale, it's time to gather notes. Have the customer brief you on the focus of their existing advertising – radio, television, print, web. Visit their website. Read their Twitter and Facebook feeds. Have them give you some key topics that their business provides, and one or two supporting facts about each product or service. Research their industry a little. A few hours of poking around and reviewing will get you started writing draft copy.

This is where you'll find the most notable difference with broadcast. Unlike a broadcast message, an on-hold message is a single topic.

A broadcast message will have a primary focus, and secondary and tertiary points to get across. For example, residential septic tank pump-outs is the primary message for one of my recent customers. But in that :30 or :60, you're also going to have to get the phone number in a couple of times. Maybe a mention of 24-hour emergency service. Pipe jetting. Relining. Drain field replacement. Sewer hookups. And on and on.  You want to hit their major profit centers and most familiar services to elicit a consumer response.

With MOH, you already have the consumer response, so now each one of those topics can get a unique stand-alone message. You can spend twenty seconds touching on emergency service, and only emergency service. Another message tells consumers the advantage of relining an outflow pipe instead of digging up the yard to replace it. Still another brings forth the information that the septic company has a nifty closed-circuit video camera to look inside the pipes for the problem instead of jackhammering up the bathroom floor.

You can get as technical and detailed as you want. Or, keep it simple and light. A drawn out litany will just as quickly drive a prospect off the phone as it would make them change the station. Be informative, be friendly, and be brief. If the message is pushing thirty seconds, step back and have another look at it. If you're bringing up multiple products or services that could be split off into discrete messages, do so. As with any piece of copy, kill the clichés and redundancies.

Creativity is terrific. Multi-voice, modest use of effects, you can really have some fun with writing.  But don't make every message a major production number. Most messages in the overall program will be just fine with a single friendly voice educating the caller about a facet of the business. I try to make one message out of four have the sizzle. The balance are voiced by colleagues in their “not an announcer” mode so the overall program flows between information and entertainment. Creative messages will also run longer. Keep them tightly worded and moving.

Speaking of speaking, this is not the place to be an announcer. You've got a prospect on the phone. There's no need to announce to them. Speak to them. Place yourself in the shoes of the business owner. What would you say? How would you say it? Casual, friendly, with enough information massaged in to keep their interest piqued so they stay on the line long enough for a staffer to greet them. It is not unknown for customers to request to be placed back on hold so they could hear the balance of a message. It's a very interesting form of one-on-one advertising.

Producing MOH is very much “less is more”. You do not want highly compressed, over produced compositions. Telephone circuits have a very narrow end-user bandwidth. A lot of detail is lost compared to even AM radio. When calling from a mobile telephone, the noise-cancelling and audio processing in the handset will cause MOH to sound terrible. Keep your production more to the simple side. Go easy on compression and EQ. You'll have to duck the music under the voiceover to a greater degree that you would with a broadcast mix.

When you have your final mono mix, it's time to get it in the system. Stand-alone KSU's (key switch units, the “black box” in the closet) will usually have a port to plug in a MOH playback unit, a small box that reads MP3 audio off a thumb drive. Voice over IP systems (VoIP) will upload audio to a central server for playback. While the MP3 player is using relatively decent quality audio, the VoIP systems are hideous with their 8-bit, 8kHz bandwidth file requirements. They may also impose maximum file size or program lengths, too. If you thought your audio sounded bad in mono and rolled off to telephone bandwidth, wait until you hear it savaged by VoIP playback.

Selling MOH is straightforward. Call a prospect, introduce yourself and ask for the office manager. Ask if they have an on-hold message provider. If they do, ask if they are happy with their provider. If not, ask for an appointment to present yourself.

Most business owners have a general idea of what MOH is. It's not rocket science, but it will require persistence and patience, like any kind of sales. Post-sale, stay in touch with your new customer while you're in process. Send them drafts of copy to review, listen to their comments, apply what you can.

MOH is a fantastic way to work barter deals for all kinds of products and services, too. Optical, dental, auto maintenance, appliances, you name it!  

If you can work a voice-trade with some colleagues, your hard expense is the cost of the MOH playback unit, ranging from about US $125 for a made in China generic white box, to $200 for a US made model with a five year warranty. If you're not tech savvy, finding someone that can do the install for you is an additional expense. If the customer has VoIP, you won't need the install or the box since the audio is uploaded to a server. You can also charge less for the job.

Telephone message on hold will not likely be a primary income stream for your business, but it can be worth enough each month to become a solid secondary stream to bolster your businesses cash flow, and resistance to swings in the economy.

Share with us your MOH experience. Sales, production, troubleshooting, anything that you think may help someone make a break into the field, or help solve a problem. Drop me a line to andrew@bafsoundworks.com and we'll take it into consideration for a future article.

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