As business phone systems continue to move to the cloud and away from hardware based solutions, the capabilities of providing On Hold Messaging are impacted. The traditional practice of connecting a 3rd party ‘player’ to a physical port on a wall mounted phone system is waning, though not completely. So what happens when there is no port to connect a player? No worries. Nearly every Hosted Voice over IP service on the market allows for the client to continue to return Music On Hold or Message On Hold to callers that are…..on hold. But the methods and capabilities of each VoIP service vary widely. Some are actually steps backward from the traditional approach mentioned below, while others are very forward in terms of benefits delivered.
Here’s how On Hold Messaging has traditionally worked on customer-owned phone systems: A 3rd party player, MP3 players are the current best choice, constantly plays a loop of music / messaging to the audio input port on the phone system. Callers hear the content wherever it happens to be playing at a given point in time. It’s like turning on the radio in your car. Whatever is being played at that moment is what you are going to hear.
Now here’s the newer way with customer subscribed Hosted VoIP systems: On Hosted VoIP services, there is no audio input port. Nearly all Hosted VoIP providers will accept an audio file, which is then uploaded to the Hosted Telephone System and programmed to play when callers are placed on hold. But, there are many variables to consider.
· Does the audio file start from the beginning?
· How large of a file is supported?
· Can multiple files be stored? If so, can they be told to play in a shuffled or random manner?
· Can the client load the files or is that capability reserved to the VoIP provider?
· What audio file format is required?
· Is the audio compressed, and if so, is audio quality compromised?
The answers to the above are contingent upon the Hosted VoIP service provider. Some are significantly more flexible than others, and for those businesses that use On Hold Messaging as a marketing tool or image enhancer, the answers to the above are very important and often overlooked. The general assumption has been….”with new technology, I certainly get more flexibility and features, don’t I?” This is not necessarily the case at all.
So while we have experienced that many Hosted VoIP services fall short in how they approach Message On Hold when compared with traditional methods, there is one particular feature possibility within a Hosted VoIP environment that is…..well…let’s say “Utopian”. Years ago, we coined an acronym in the on hold messaging industry call MFSP.
MFSP stands for MULTI-FILE SHUFFLE PLAY.
MULTI-FILE means that the VoIP hosting service can accept and store more than 5 separate audio files (the more the merrier) and make them available to callers on hold. SHUFFLE PLAY means that the host can allow for the files to be presented to the caller in a random or shuffled manner, much like we are accustomed when we program our playlists on our personal music devices to shuffle songs. As a quick side-note, there are scenarios (contingent on the profile of the caller) that are best suited for multi-file, top-down play (MFTDP) so that the client can present the most important messaging as guaranteed to play, and in a sequential order. An even bigger bonus is if the Hosted IP provider can provide either MFSP or MFTDP.
With MFSP, the end result is that callers will hear messages (files) from the beginning of each message. When a message concludes (and assuming the caller is still on hold), the next message will start playing from a playlist, and of course, from the beginning of that message. Each message is essentially its own audio file. This offers a much more eloquent and professional On Hold experience for the caller in most scenarios. While most companies will naturally aspire to deliver low hold times, industry studies suggest that a caller can expect a hold or queue time from 25 seconds up to several minutes in some environments such as a call center, parts counter or doctor’s office. On Hold Messages are typically designed to last between 18-25 seconds, so in a long hold time scenario, a caller may hear several messages. A repeat caller will become more annoyed over time if they are presented with the same messaging, in the same order every time they are in queue or on hold.
Another benefit of MFSP focuses on the aspect of MULTI FILE. Many Hosted IP providers that support MFSP also allow the capability for those MULTIPLE FILES to be assigned to different departments. Here is an example. Callers on hold in an automobile dealership’s SERVICE department could hear messages concerning winterizing their vehicle or anything associated with servicing their automobile. These callers are most likely existing clients to the dealership. Callers to the SALES department could hear on hold messaging more appropriately designed for that audience, to include financing specials or other SALES related topics. This is a prime example of target marketing that can really for a company.
There are a few Hosted VoIP groups currently offering their On Hold Messaging as MFSP. They include (but are not limited to) Star2Star Communications, Vonage Business, Free PBX, and several Asterisk based offerings. It is our vision and hope that most other Hosted VoIP providers will eventually adapt their services to provide MFSP, especially as more and more clients jump to cloud based services. It’s kind of a no-brainer. Everybody wins….including the ‘holder’, the business that placed the call on hold, the Hosted VoIP provider and yes, the on hold messaging company!
Rich is the President of On Hold Marketing, a marketing focused audio studio helping businesses and practices take advantage of their telephone system’s On Hold capabilities. Prior to On Hold Marketing, Rich spent 20 years in telecommunications working for such giants as Williams Communications, NextiraOne, Bell Atlantic and Nortel Networks.