Choose Easy On Hold for your On Hold Music Provider

We recently received an email from a medical office administrator who is very frustrated with his telephone service provider. Seems his spiffy new off-site VOIP service provider can’t figure out how to play his custom music on hold messages the way he wants them played: in a constant rotation. The provider’s hands are tied because he’s only a reseller for Broadsoft, a third-party hosted VOIP telephone platform. That platform starts the on hold audio file from the beginning each time the hold button is pressed.

A local auto parts store franchisee had an off-site VOIP system set up with the 3-year contract signed before discovering that corporate messages on hold was part of his franchise agreement. The messages needed to play in constant rotation rather than from the beginning each time. The corporate marketing team knew that a majority of their on-hold marketing content would not be heard. Needless to say, it was a messy process to back out of the deal, but it had to be done.

The Best Caller Experience

It pays to think about the caller experience. Here are 4 basic needs you can share with your potential phone system provider.

  1. Provide spoken information. We already know that callers prefer information while holding, so there should be spoken content, not just music.
  2. Keep the caller’s interest.  You should be able to have that spoken content change on a regular basis.
  3. Avoid “burnout”. You want to avoid “burnout” of messages, so announcements should rotate so callers hear a good variety of messages each time they call. (A caller hearing the same announcement for six months or a year is an indication that you don’t pay attention to details!)
  4. Automate. If it is a hassle to change the spoken message on hold content, chances are you’ll avoid it and keep playing the same ‘ol messages. Look for a way to automate the update process.

Some Improvements On The Horizon?

Some hosted VOIP services have begun to dig into the music on hold repetition problem. In some cases, multiple files can be used or set to rotate. Most providers, however, falsely believe that music on hold is unimportant and ignore the strong customer demand for a better solution.

Vonage

Vonage has made improvements to its music on hold offering. A business using Vonage may load up to 5 unique audio files, a maximum of 8MB each in size, and choose whether those files are served randomly or in a sequence. The audio file does play from the beginning each time, and will not reset to the start of the file if the caller is placed on hold a second or third time within the same call. There is no way to change files automatically, so you’ll be the one uploading and changing the audio files when the content expires or is no longer relevant. You won’t be able to do “dayparting” either, which would be setting unique messages to play at certain times on certain days. (Note: Vonage has purchased Vocalocity, considered a mid-price hosted VOIP provider. Should we assume that some of these changes will be in place at Vocalocity too?)

Ring Central Has Not Changed Yet

Easy On Hold has been providing music production for Ring Central for many years and recently partnered with Ring Central on a music on hold research and development project. We developed music background edits that Ring Central was able to offer for businesses with frequent cell phone callers. Because cell phones use voice optimizer algorithms, most music sounds distorted. Our new tracks target frequencies that make the music more stable to the ear. Still, however, we are talking about music-only, not marketing messages on hold. Ring Central tells me that they only offer .mp3 or .wav files playing from the beginning each and every time a caller is placed on hold. RC, we love ya, but your “from the beginning” music on hold is annoying.

Most Hosted VOIP Providers Don’t Do Music On Hold Right

As with our medical administrator friend, most businesses are left worse-off by going to a hosted VOIP phone system regarding music on hold. The medical office in question had an on-site system with an external message on hold player that kept the messages rotating and fresh. However, with his new Broadsoft VOIP provider, the off-site hosted system can only play one audio file from the beginning every time the caller is placed on hold. The caller hears the same 30 seconds every time, leaving the other several minutes of good information to waste.

Before you sign the contract with the VOIP provider, ask, “How does the music on hold messaging work? Does the audio play from the beginning every time the caller is placed on hold?” Whether its Broadsoft or TDS Metrocom, or Verizon, or any of a hundred VOIP business phone providers, when the phone service is hosted off-site, you may be giving up music on hold features.

Alternatives

There are better choices (and more than ever before) for small business telephone systems.

OnSIP

For offices with 5 phones or more, we suggest you consider OnSIP. As an OnSIP channel partner, Easy On Hold is able to manage the on hold messaging automation for you and provide an http stream that integrates easily with the OnSIP platform. Read more about OnSIP and call to find out about the many features they offer. Request a free demo here.

Asterisk

If you find a hosted business telephone system provider that uses the Asterisk platform, they can integrate the streaming music on hold solution by Easy On Hold. This allows you to manage all content programming, including time-of-day and day-specific announcements, automatic start and stop dates and more. Tell your Asterisk provider to contact Easy On Hold for information and read about Asterisk Music On Hold.

Programming Needs in The MOH Environment

For some companies, the presence of hold music is a mere placeholder; a way to indicate to the caller that they have not dropped the call. Others opt for information on hold as a way of better holding the attention and interest of the caller. Marketing-savvy businesses take the MOH concept a step further, using on hold messaging as a marketing tool to deliver timely call-to-action messages to a captive audience. Such marketing on hold messages have proven to be effective, often prompting a caller to inquire further about something they heard while waiting.

Challenges Of Off-Site VOIP

Producers of phone on hold messages, such as Easy On Hold, have traditionally provided an audio player (external MOH device) that feeds a continuous sound signal into a PBX. VOIP phone systems that are hosted on-site still often provide a sound card input to allow use of an external MOH player. Hosted VOIP phone systems, on the other hand, are “virtual” or entirely “in the cloud”. Since there is no entrance point for an external MOH player in a virtual environment, a single, self-contained audio file has been the norm for MOH playback. Often, these uploaded MOH files play from the start of the file each time the hold button is depressed. This architecture limits the variety of information businesses can convey during customer on-hold time. Further complicating the process is that a qualified administrator is often required to manage on hold audio files.

Hosted VOIP Market Growing

As of the date of this writing, Vonage had just completed their purchase of Vocalocity, one of the fastest growing providers in the SMB hosted VoIP market. A Vonage news release stated:

During the first half of 2013, Vocalocity had revenue of $28 million and growing, implying an annual run rate of greater than $56 million. First half 2013 revenues were 39% higher than the same period in the prior year.

Michael Storella, COO at snomTechnology Inc., the German manuafacturer of IP phones, recently stated that the demand for hosted and cloud-based VoIP systems is also growing, especially among in the small to medium business (SMB) market sector.

One reason VOIP is growing may be that it requires less hardware, which means less energy use. It also offers workers the opportunity to telecommute easily, as noted in a recent Infonetics VoIP and UC Services and Subscribers report.

MOH Industry Response to Hosted VOIP

As an increasing number of businesses opt for off-site or virtual phone systems, the music on hold industry has been slow to respond. On hold equipment providers continue to offer devices that connect via on-site audio inputs, while production companies have been content to offer audio files for upload. The result: hosted VOIP end-users are missing out on the marketing potential of timely messages on hold. Easy On Hold clients using Asterisk-based systems, however, now have access to a full range of hold messaging features via a never-before offered solution.

Streaming MOH For Asterisk

The Asterisk phone system is an open-source software solution that is very popular among I.T. providers such as internet technology integrators. The Asterisk website says:

Asterisk is an open source framework for building communications applications. Asterisk turns an ordinary computer into a communications server. Asterisk powers IP PBX systems, VoIP gateways, conference servers and other custom solutions.

Many Asterisk phone systems are being set up to play a single audio file on hold, but all have vast programming capabilities, including the ability to use an http stream (streaming URL feed) for music on hold.

A New Solution: Custom MOH Streams

Easy On Hold V.P. Tim Brown says his technical team has developed a music and message on hold solution that automatically changes content based on a planned schedule, rotates content to provide a unique caller experience, and makes changing and updating content easy—without the aid of equipment or technicians.

We devised a unique programming technique that encodes playback instructions into each of a series of custom-scripted topical announcements. Then we set a sequence of rules to manage message repetition and customer preferences. A weighting system controls message frequency, so the most important announcements play more often.

 

Examples of the programming in action might be:

  • A restaurant has lunch specials that callers hear about in the morning, and dinner specials in the afternoon.
  • A credit union with a limited-time interest rate that gets more “ear time” than other announcements in the rotation.
  • An automobile dealer promotes weekend hours to callers on Friday.
  • A doctor’s office that uses “good morning” and “good afternoon” phrases to make patients feel welcome.

Modifications to the message rotation are easily and quickly made, with the results being heard immediately.

“Since it is a live stream, customers never have to wait for changes to kick in. There’s no media to handle, no file to transfer. Streams can be monitored live via the customer portal at easyonhold.com,”Brown said.