Let’s be honest, waiting is the worst. I would also posit that waiting on the phone to talk to someone in customer service—while your phone reminds you of the 18 minutes and counting that you’ve already endured—is its own version of hell on Earth.
According to a survey by text-message service TalkTo, more than half of Americans spend 10 to 20 minutes every week waiting on hold—which adds up to 43 days over a lifetime. Yikes.
The silver lining in this frustrating situation is that many companies have “hold music” filled with bangers that you can enjoy during your seemingly never-ending wait.
IKEA has been known to stay strong to their Swedish roots and rock an ABBA medley as their hold music—a practice that I 100 percent support. Admiral Insurance in the UK likes to entertain its customers on hold with the likes of Star Wars and Game of Thrones soundtracks.
When I worked customer service for the Disney catalog back in the late 20th century, I got to hear the same hold music as the customer when I was working on their request. Which meant I heard the same songs on repeat for hours every day. Their hold music at the time was the soundtrack from the latest Disney movie.
Let me just say that to this day I can’t hear Phil Collins’ You’ll Be In My Heart from Tarzan without having a nervous breakdown. And as it turns out, there’s a person I can blame for that.
Did you know that someone had to invent the concept of hold music? That person was businessman Alfred Levy.
Hold Music Was The Result Of An Accident
According to CallsOnHold, back in 1962, Levy was an entrepreneur and inventor who owned a factory located next door to a radio station. One day, he was having problems with his phone lines. When he went to investigate, he discovered a loose wire was touching a metal girder on the building.
This odd accident had turned his building and office telephone handsets into a giant receiver, and this was causing his phone lines to broadcast the signal from the radio station through the loose wire. When calls to his office were put on hold, callers could hear the radio broadcast.
Turning An Accident Into A Business Opportunity
Being the creative inventor and entrepreneur that he was, Levy didn’t find this accident annoying. Instead, he realized he had stumbled upon a business opportunity. He eventually created a system to control the wire contact and went on to patent his work on the “Music On Hold” machine in 1966, which today sits in the Smithsonian.
More than a half-century later, Levy’s original idea has evolved into a marketing strategy that allows companies to communicate with their customers.
Instead of always hearing a current radio playlist or a medley of copyright-free instrumentals, companies can insert messages to customers who are on hold. This allows them to share details about everything from promotions to new products.
If it wasn’t for Levy, we might all be sitting in endless silence while waiting to talk to a company rep on the phone. And that’s an alternate reality I don’t want to think about.