Great Moments In Customer Service History brings you for the first time ever, the epic story of the world’s first hold music.
It was the early 1900’s, and both the telephone and mail ordered consumerism were in full swing in ‘Murica. With them came the need for people to be able to call companies and complain about anything and everything. The companies responded by setting up call centers filled with poorly paid operators to take any call, no matter how ridiculous. Those operators needed to be able to put a call on hold to complain to co-workers about how horribly they were being treated or laugh hysterically at callers’ predicaments. Businesses soon realized if they didn’t want their staff to go insane they had to give employees occasional breaks during calls. Thus, the hold button was invented. Knowing they couldn’t just have dead air, it was decided music should be playing while customers were holding. The rest, as they say, is history.
They called themselves The Next Available Operators. Today some still say they were the most dedicated musicians to ever pick up instruments. No one before or since had displayed their level of endurance and commitment to the music. About 25 in number, they played relentlessly, 24 hours a day, subbing in and out as each musician reached total exhaustion. One guy would fall off his chair and another guy with the same instrument would just jump in his spot and continue right where he left off. The music was wistful, pleasant and wonderfully soothing. At the appropriate times of year they played holiday tunes or patriotic numbers. They arranged themselves in a circle around a large microphone placed in the center of the room. At first, callers could hear the sound of bodies falling to the floor occasionally while on hold. This problem was solved by placing carpet and pillows on the floor to mute the musicians’ collapses.
Upon calling, customers would hear “Please hold for The Next Available Operators” then be patched into a line dedicated to the group’s nonstop performance. It was the first hold music in history. Eventually they pressed a phonograph record called “Operators Are Standing By.” It was the best selling and longest hold music record of all time. They quickly became so successful they could be heard everywhere. Shops, elevators and even train stations. Virtually every business began piping the glorious hold music into customers’ ears. Thus began many years of subliminally keeping customers calm and optimistic despite constant disappointment at the poor service they routinely receive.
This has been another Great Moment in Customer Service History. Join us next time as we explore the origins of the Customer Service Desk and how it revolutionized retail shopping in ‘Murica.