What I Learned from On-Hold Music

I was fascinated to see how different demographic groups use customer service recently when I saw the results of a survey by ConsumerAffairs.com. Without realizing it, I think they showed more about customers than we realize.

ConsumerAffairs.com is the brainchild of James R. Hood, a former Washington journalist and public affairs guy. Very briefly, his company recorded the on-hold music that various large companies use in their call centers. You might think the only thing you can learn from this is what dreadful taste many companies have in music, but there is more.

In every case I examined, the vendor hold music seemed like it was written for people who came of age in the 1960s and 70s. But as I considered this, it came as no surprise because this demographic (mine) is one of the last to use the phone as, well, a phone. Younger people will more likely use their devices to surf the Web to find a solution via a knowledge base, chat group, or social media.

Interesting, I thought, and my next idea was that these companies must be very savvy if they came to such a conclusion and implemented a solution. So I naturally assumed that if these businesses were going to this much trouble to identify and work with demographic groups, that this would follow through with other channels too.

But the issue with a channel approach is that a lot of companies have figured out that they don't need to be in every possible channel. If this is true—and I admit that I lack data either way—I would have another reason for being impressed: Simply put, the smart vendors are identifying the channels that their customers prefer and they can do this by demographics when needed.

That's a great lesson for me, and maybe for you. Just because the industry is all a-twitter (sorry) about omnichannel strategies doesn't mean you have to be. Vendors have to be all over omnichannel like a junkyard dog because they sell to a broad array of customers. But that's not every customer and it might not be you.

This all comes back to the single best piece of advice I think I give my clients: identify your needs before you go into the market to buy a solution. It sounds simple, and it is, but that doesn't mean it's always followed. But imagine what you can learn and what you can save if you start with this simple idea in mind. If you go to market without a clear understanding of your needs, everything will look the same, decision-making will be tough, and chances are good that you'll end up with a shiny new thing that's all the rage but that might not do much for your business or your customers.

Denis Pombriant is founder and principal analyst at Beagle Research.