The Wait Is Not Over

Every one of us has had the following experience:

All of our lines are busy. Please hold for the next available agent. All calls will be answered in the order received.

It is certainly possible that the operators are speaking with other customers, and perhaps there really are thousands of people sitting around waiting to speak with someone. There is nothing that we can do about that.

Of course, each company has a different method of dealing with this period of time. Some tell you how long it will be before a live person will speak with you. Others just let the line go silent. Various advertisements for other products by the corporation can also be heard.

But there is one item that we, the public, can insist on: quality control over the music that is played while holding.

Over at my telephone/internet/cable company, they play one lite jazz segment over and over. I know this because there was a problem with iTunes downloading, so I called my service provider. For more than an hour I listened to this ditty, all 30 seconds of it, before it repeated and repeated. It was minimalist hell. If I put the phone on mute, I would not know if an operator really was standing by.

Does each of these firms have a music department? Is there someone in charge who asks, "What can we do to annoy our customers even further?" The others at the corporate table chime in with suggestions, each designed to make the caller frustrated at every turn.

Then the music supervisor says, "I know. Let's find the most innocuous and least offensive recording possible. It needs to be just a bit catchy at first, with a little backbeat, but after that, it will cause our clients to be obsessed with the waiting period. In other words, we dare them to stick it out."

"But what if we lose subscribers?"

"Then they will learn how much worse our competitors are."

The decision on what style of music to play must rest with someone. Perhaps that person should be forced to sit in a chair and listen to this piece for an hour or so, just as I had done. In that time, even if they are not trained musicians, they will have enough time to take the notes down and transcribe the whole thing for symphonic band.

What can we do?

Our first hurdle is getting to a live person to explain our frustration. So I suggest that when you actually speak with someone, get a better phone number that will connect you directly, rather than having to wade through the menu. Distribute this to your friends and contacts. After that, it is only a matter of time before one of us figures out who is in charge of the holding pattern.

Here are the pieces of music that I think should be playing for this time period. If the wait will be five minutes, we should be able to listen to Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." Ten minutes can be assigned to Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row." Anything longer must be Terry Riley's "In C" -- simply because either could go on indefinitely.

Maybe there could be a personalized menu that would allow callers to decide what kind of music they would prefer.

All operators are busy. What would you like to hear? Press 1 for Classical, 2 for Jazz, 3 for Rock, 4 for Country, 5 for Heavy Metal, 6 for Gospel, 7 for Sinatra, or 8 for New Age. Press 0 if you prefer "The Sounds of Silence."

One final thought: Are there royalty distributions for usage of copyrighted material via telephone? If there are, I suggest that you propose to your provider that my recording of Copland's "Hoedown" is the perfect way to spend all that time. If enough of you do that, it is very possible that I may never have to use a phone again, since there will be no service on my remote island in the South Pacific.