Shackled Technology

8-Track Tapes.jpg

Okay, I admit it.  Not only do I remember 8-Track tapes – I was an avowed user.  I even had one in my car.  Of course, that player wouldn’t even fit in the economy cars of today. But that is another story. So is the fact that the car was a blonde ’73 Pinto.  Not yellow.  Blonde.

Gas was under a buck a gallon.  I drove all over the state, burning up I-5 while the Doobie Brothers, America, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and a band called ‘Wings’ (featuring some bloke named McCartney) kept me company.  It was a magical time where music was my constant companion.  I didn’t even mind the loud CLUNK the player made as it moved from track to track. 

Next was the advent of the cassette tape player. Now, that was cool.  Because of the smaller size I could keep more than four tapes in my glove box.  More of my musical friends could come along for the journey.  Old friends like Bad Company, Styx, Elton John, and KC & The Sunshine Band joined my new friends Duran Duran, Madonna, Huey Lewis & The News, and some bloke named McCartney who had embarked on a solo career.

Technology was moving faster now.  Home audio electronics were ushered into the digital age with the Compact Disc.  The quality was amazing. You could literally hear a pin drop in a recording session that you couldn’t hear before.  A great example is the Kingsmen and their recording of ‘Louie, Louie.’  During the final take, the drummer dropped one of his sticks.  You can hear his ‘R-Rated’ reaction at about 55 seconds into the song.  Listen carefully, though. This is a PG-Rated Blog!  (However, I can let you know that a certain type of bomb was dropped that is normally found planted between ‘E’ and ‘G’).

It was a great day when the digital technology of Compact Disc players was adapted so it was small enough to mount in the middle of a car’s dashboard. Digital quality audio while I drive – PERFECT!!!!!!  Sir Mix-a-Lot, Mariah Carey, and Red Hot Chili Peppers never sounded so good. Right up to the point where I turned off the car. The problem was each time the car was turned back on, the CD would start from the beginning.  EVERY TIME.  If I had to run errands around town with multiple stops, I would only hear the beginning of the album over, and over, and over again.  It was as if the other songs on the CD did not even exist. I grew tired of hearing the same thing repeated and I began tuning it out.  I was ready to go back and listen to 8-Track tapes again.  At least they picked up right where they left off, and I could enjoy the entire album as I ran errands.  But since I was not willing to go backwards technologically, I did the next best thing.  I turned it off.

Apparently I was not the only consumer frustrated by advanced technology shackled by such an obvious limitation.  An outcry of disappointment from the multitude rang out amongst the hills.  All of the songs on an album matter! No one likes to hear the same thing over and over and over while they drive! Someone needs to do something about this!  Manufacturers listened to the frustrations of their customers and made one small change. The next version of car CD players would pause when turned off.  The program would pick up right where it left off as you continued on your journey.  This change was universally adopted by all manufacturers.  That’s what I call technological progress. Those in charge of the technology make the necessary changes so life (and business) can continue to progress with it.

The history of on-hold technology for telephone systems follows a similar path as my musical journey.  Large, bulky tape players were replaced with smaller more efficient players.  Technology moved the industry from tape to compact disc to units playing audio files from digital memory. No moving parts; crystal clear audio. 

On-hold technology has now advanced to the point where digital phone systems play audio files directly to callers placed on hold.  The technology is great - but it is shackled to the same problem as the first-generation car CD players: Callers placed on hold hear the program from the beginning EVERY TIME they are placed on hold.  It’s as if the other important advertisements in the program don’t even exist. If placed on hold several times over the course of a single phone call, your customer may never hear the most important information you want them to know.   Here’s an example for you:

This repetitive on hold experience has the potential to frustrate rather than educate a caller placed on hold.  This limitation in digital phone systems takes the intimate and powerful medium of on-hold advertising and renders it inert.  Rather than engage in the important advertising content, callers begin to tune it out. Businesses, wary of frustrating their clients, revert back to having silence on hold.  That’s even worse than going back to 8-track tapes!

We hear from customers every day who are frustrated by this issue presented by digital phone systems – and we deal with thousands of clients. It is time to once again let the outcry of disappointment ring out amongst the digital landscape.  Your voice needs to be heard by the manufacturers: All of the advertisements on-hold matter! No one likes to hear the same thing over and over when placed on hold! Someone needs to do something about this! 

Ideally, an effective on hold advertising program plays in a continual loop. It keeps the program fresh. If that is too difficult for the on-hold programming of digital phone systems, here is a classic solution:  Have the audio pause then pick up where it left off.  That way a caller placed on hold several times within the same call can hear more about you.  Not the same thing about you repeated over and over.  This is a small but necessary change.  Programmers should be able to implement such an update easily.

Talk to your digital phone vendor.  Talk to the manufacturers.  Tell them the time for change is NOW!

There are moments I want to go back in time and kiss the person who adapted the CD technology back in the 90’s who made my car ride more enjoyable.  Or better yet, I’d have them call the person in charge of on-hold technology for digital phone systems and give them a few pointers.

Tom McTee, Super-Genius

Tom McTee