On-Hold Music and Time Perception

With the correct choice of music and by giving the perception of progress customers on-hold in a telephone queue underestimate the time they have been kept waiting and will stay on the line longer before hanging up.

Newsweek summarises a number of research studies that have looked at the psychology behind telephone queues and on-hold music, noting the different reactions customers have when confronted with hold music, recorded apologies or estimated wait times.

Though it hardly seems possible that the Muzak (the term is often used generically, but Muzak Holdings LLC is a real company) pumped into malls could actually influence shoppers, the truth is, alas, that it does. James Kellaris, a marketing professor at the University of Cincinnati, says that music can have an impact on a wide array of customers’ behaviors, changing their perception of time, conditioning them to associate a song with a brand, or limiting their ability to critically analyze a potential purchase due to musical distraction. “When shoppers are exposed to music in a store, sales resistance decreases,” he says via e-mail. Our brains have a finite bandwidth for taking in and processing information, and clogging that bandwidth with music is sometimes enough to prevent us from making rational purchasing decisions, or worrying about the time.

The article also notes how we have the rather excellent Erik Satie to thank for the muzak phenomenon:

[Satie] developed a very cynical attitude toward the listener. Satie was so obsessed with the idea that music could no longer communicate to the audience, he concluded that music in the 20th century was destined to be a vacuous, comfortable apparatus best used as a background for other activities, much like a favorite chair.

via Mind Hacks