Cloud support: why is the hold music so bad?

Cloud support: why is the hold music so bad?

Summary: If we're to adopt cloud as a strategy for everyone, everyone will either wind up with a headache from bad, repetitive hold music, or an earworm, or both.

TOPICS: Cloud, Microsoft

My friend and colleague Jason Perlow insists we will all be assimilated by cloud services. He's probably right. I've spent much of the week moving my email from one Exchange provider to Microsoft 365.

My move is relatively complex for a 2-person company. We have email archives going back before the turn of the century, at least half a million messages, and we have quite complex mail configurations, due to some specific business needs.

In other words, spending time on the phone with support was an inevitability.

An early problem in the transfer was one of the domain MX records was just not getting recognized. After talking with Microsoft and GoDaddy, the issue was resolved overnight. I've worked with Microsoft support and GoDaddy support, and both teams are really quite helpful.

In fact, after a bunch of calls to Microsoft on a bunch of complex Exchange-related issues this week, I'm quite impressed with Microsoft's support. I'll write more about that in the future.

But that's not my point for today. My point is the hold music.

See, if you believe Jason's contention that we'll all eventually be using all-cloud-all-the-time, then we will have to deal with tech support more than we do today. Today, if I ran my own DNS, like I used to when I ran a BIND server, I could just force a reboot. But I don't. My DNS server is run by GoDaddy.

I don't run an Exchange server either. My Exchange server is run by Microsoft.

That means, if I want to get anything done outside the management console, I have to call support. Again, don't get me wrong. I've very grateful that both groups provide competent phone support.

But the hold music, oh my, the hold music. Take my experience last weekend, which inspired me to write this piece.

On Sunday, I spent about an hour on hold for Microsoft at various stages of the process and their hold music (especially at the tech support level) is essentially static (very loud static) backed by an unrecognizable tune.

In my more paranoid on-hold moments, I sometimes suspect they're doing it on purpose — just to get us to hang up and go away. But I'm tough. I can suffer through the terrible sound. I just get cranky and crank out cranky articles while I'm waiting. Then, of course, they have to deal with a crankier customer when they finally get around to my call.

Sigh. I'll be nice. Grrr.

GoDaddy is better. You can hear the tune with GoDaddy. The only problem is they seem to cycle between the same three songs over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

I remember when there were hold DJs at Microsoft. An actual professional announcer would announce how long the hold queue was, and spin music that seemed appropriate for the number of calls and the mood of the listeners. It was still a long hold, but the audio quality was at least pleasant.

Now, however, if we're to adopt cloud as a strategy for everyone, everyone will either wind up with a headache from bad, repetitive hold music, or an earworm, or both.

Speaking personally, I am starting to doubt there's enough Acetaminophen on the planet. And I'm still on hold — again.

Jason is usually right in his predictions of the future. Given that, we're doomed to a life of very, very bad hold music.


Topics: Cloud, Microsoft


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Music on Hold market?

    Hello! I'm glad I found your article. I am a musician and a bit of an audiophile, currently working with telephone hardware and systems. My boss often jokes with me about recording and marketing custom hold music for my clients. Do you think there's such a market out there?
    Unfortunately music has become an afterthought in most places, but it's good to know there are still some people paying attention.
    • do you think there should be one?

      Companies exist to profit, not to make jobs. Never mind corporate welfare our taxes give them, more of them will use stock muzak or have a custom sales piece as "hold music".

      They see no value in anything special, unless it's about their brand. But the trite "caring piano" music is something anyone can do. Like songify, there will be an app for tinned music too... look at how monotonous modern pop music has become... simple=cheap=good=less cost.
  • I am very curious to know

    why did you deside to give up control, and move to the hosted model?
    • cost

      Are there other reasons, in the new normal (or even the old one)?
    • Hosted for a long time

      Actually, we moved to hosted servers back in 2005, when we moved from NJ to Florida. There were a lot of issues involved, not the least being concern over servers being down for hurricanes, but mostly we needed to find a home for our servers before we could move our home and office down here. So we found hosting providers.

      I've had hosted Exchange since then, and until recently our Exchange service provider was excellent. But they're changing their business strategy (probably because of Office 365) and their reliability has tanked.

      I'll explain why I chose MS over Google in a future article, but the two big themes there were a ton of experience (and relative happiness with) Exchange and Outlook, and the truly nasty challenge involved moving Google accounts from regular accounts to Apps accounts.

      One other note: while I miss having hands-on to my Web servers, Exchange is a very special case where you need a LOT of specific knowledge. When I ran my own Exchange server on my own hardware, I made a bunch of newbie mistakes. I'm much happier having it run by people who know the environment inside and out, and I can focus my time on answering my email rather than managing it.

      David Gewirtz
      • thank you for your detailed explanations

        I looking forward for the next article.
  • Counter-incentives?

    As you mentioned, they don't want encourage calls to tech support by making it a positive experience.

    I'm happy with any hold music (noise) that can be ignored while I continue working. I absolutely hate companies that interrupt every minute or so to tell me I'm a lovely person for continuing to hold.
  • I am hoping ...

    ... enough Federation members wake up before the BORG take over the galaxy.
  • Presumably It's A Copyright Issue

    It would cost too much for a licence fee for decent music. You can't even play free-to-air radio to your customers without some collection society or other sending you a bill.
  • I agree!

    On my last call to Microsoft, the hideous cacophony that they consider music left me with a headache. It's stressful enough dealing with tech issues, customers don't need to have the equivalent of hot pokers rammed into their ears too.

    I'd prefer silence. With that, I could put the telephone down and pick it up again only after hearing a voice.
  • Yeah, M$ did great on hold...

    I used it a lot in the early 90's and just loved being on hold. Wonder why they changed it.
  • Royalties

    I agree. I hate the hold music I get everywhere - xFinity's (who promotes their digital crisp broadcasts) hold music sounds like a 1930's phonograph being played with a rusty needle.

    One theory I was told (this is hearsay) is that due to royalties they can not plug music directly in to the system without paying for it. However, if music happens to be playing in the background while you're talking to someone, they have no control over that. Thus, when you're on hold, what you're hearing is actually the sound from a phone sitting off-hook on a desk with a radio playing in the background. Not sure if that's true, but it goes along with what I am hearing.