on-hold-messaging-mistakes-voice-overWhen someone calls your business they get an instant impression as soon as the phone is answered.

The caller’s initial impression may be based on how friendly and accommodating the live operator sounds, or if answered by an automatic phone greeting system then the impression comes from the system’s professionalism and ease of use.

All businesses who either use IVR (interactive voice response) phone prompts (ie. “Press 1 to speak to customer service, press 2…”) or a live operator who puts callers on hold to transfer, should know this truth:

If your business greetings and on hold messages aren’t written, voiced, produced and implemented correctly, you’re missing a HUGE opportunity – and worse, probably annoying customers.


I’m sure you’ve called a company and used the phone keypad to select an option or you’ve been placed on hold.

Even if you’re the most patient person in the world, some phone menu prompts and on hold messages are so annoying you’ll hang up in frustration!

That’s because these companies have made some BIG mistakes with their on hold messaging.

The last thing you want is for your on hold messages and greetings to annoy and frustrate customers.

What seem like small mistakes can actually kill your big opportunity for customer satisfaction.

So here’s a list of the Top 10 mistakes businesses make when using on hold messages and phone greetings, along with some tips to use to your business’s advantage.

Mistake #1 No On Hold Messaging

It’s hard to believe but many businesses don’t use on hold messaging on their phone system.  It’s without a doubt the number one mistake.  Without knowing it, they’re choosing silence and boredom over promotion and capturing interest.

When implemented correctly, on hold messaging makes for a better customer experience, prevents callers from getting bored while on hold and provides the PERFECT opportunity to casually mention a product or service the caller may be interested in.

Mistake #2 Not Using a Professional Voice Over Artist

Small businesses and sole proprietors make this mistake a LOT.

I know, you’ve been recording your answering machine message for years.  (Does anyone use an actual machine anymore?)  Truthfully, there IS a place for you to use your own voice.  That is on your personal voice mail greeting.

But the general business phone greetings and on hold messaging should NOT be your voice, an employee’s or a friend’s.

Think of how unprofessional it would sound if it’s your voice saying “please hold while I transfer your call” and then you answer the phone.  Even if you are a one person show, if you want to be professional, use a professional voice over talent.

A professional voice over actor won’t record live using a phone handset.  Voice talents record in a high quality recording studio and are then able to easily upload files (or transfer the audio to the phone system using a phone patch for complete quality control.

Find the voice that fits your brand’s image by listening to on hold message samples.

Mistake #3 Too Many Words

On-hold messaging is the perfect time to briefly mention products and services you feel your caller may be interested in.

Just keep in mind, your customer is on hold waiting to talk to someone, not calling your commercial hotline.  Keep your product or service mentions brief so if they are taken off hold they aren’t left confused.

They don’t want to know the whole story at this time.  Your on hold message script should just give enough info to pique their interest.   Don’t go overboard though.

Mistake #4 Inappropriate Background Music

The background music of your on hold message should match your business brand and personality.  With that said though, just because you’re a funeral home doesn’t mean you need have organ background music.

Find a style of royalty free background music that compliments the voice over and the message being given.

Mistake #5 Poor Volume Levels

The copper wire that phone audio travels through lowers the quality to around 8,000 Hz.  That means a lot of audio quality is lost.

It can be difficult for a caller to hear the difference between an F and an S (sibilance).  That’s why people often say “S as in Sam…”.

So what sounds good to you may not sound good to your caller.  If the audio is too quiet your caller will be straining to hear and if it is too loud the caller’s ear will be ringing from distortion.

The music should be loud enough to be heard but not so loud as to overpower the voice.

Mistake #6 Too Short of a Message Loop

Most phone systems work in a way that loops the message after a certain amount of time.

If the loop is too short for a caller on hold, they’ll hear the same messages over and over again.  This creates too much repetition and quickly wears on a customer’s patience.

To prevent this mistake, figure out what your average on hold time is when someone calls.  A good rule is to make a message of at least 3 (maybe 4) times that average on hold time.

For example, if your average on hold time is 30 seconds, you should have enough message to have them on hold for 90 seconds to 2 minutes before they hear that message repeat.

The goal is to use the time your customer is on hold wisely.  Repeating a message 5 times while a caller is on the line is not only annoying but you’ve lost a chance to mention something they may have been interested in.

Mistake #7 Multiple Voices

Have you ever called your bank and heard a friendly professional voice greeting?  But then you hear your account balance and it’s a different voice (sometimes automated)?  You may expect it when dealing with a bank but for a business call, this interrupts the flow.

Consistency is key!

If that customer came to your business, you wouldn’t keep passing them off person to person to get them where they wanted to go.  One voice should follow the caller through to the end.

The only time it is acceptable to use multiple voices on phone greetings is for other language options.

Mistake #8 No Option to Speak to a Person

As crazy as this sounds, it does happen.  Some companies don’t provide an option to speak to a human being. Callers are lost in a sea of menu prompts that don’t match the reason they called.

Talk about frustrating!

Phone prompts and options are able to quickly give the caller information or a solution for why they called, but the caller should ALWAYS have an option to speak to a live company representative if they choose.

Mistake #9 Voice Recognition Frustration

I’m a voice over talent so I like to think I speak clearly and enunciate properly.  Even so, some voice recognition systems still can’t understand my yes from a no.

Considering the variety of accents, drawls or regional pronunciations your customers may have, voice recognition systems are not efficient.

Stick with the number pad input when/if you need the caller to make a selection.

Mistake #10 Tired Out of Date Messages

What you wish to promote from month to month or season to season may change.  So keep your on hold messages up to date and fresh with what’s happening at your business.

What are your customers most interested in?

Have messages that talk about those topics.  Then update the messages from time to time.

Even if the product or service doesn’t change, find a new, better way to explain it in simple terms.

What Do You Think?

These are just a few of the many mistakes made with on hold messages and phone prompts.  What other mistakes have you heard?

Let me know by leaving a comment below.