We’ve all been there. We call up a business, and the voice message is so annoying that we hang up and go elsewhere. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
So what’s needed to create messages on hold that keep your customers engaged and waiting for you? We need to speak their language, reassure them that they’re doing the right thing by waiting, minimise their frustrations, and address their wants. In this article, we’ll cover how to do each of these.

Your messages on hold are the face of your brand

When a potential or returning customer calls you on the phone, your messages on hold are the first thing they hear.
This means that it’s essential that those messages reflect the image you’d like to portray.
In short: Messages on hold are a part of your overall marketing and branding strategy, and should be designed with that in mind.

Who is your customer?

For any kind of marketing to be effective, it’s critical to identify who your customer actually is. There’s a huge difference between messages targeted to stay-at-home mums, tradesmen, professionals; or small business owners.
Naturally, there’s some cross-over.
The biggest mistake that businesses make with branding and marketing, is not having a clear picture of the target audience.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your product or service is for everyone.
So to build effective messages on hold, your very first step is to grab a sheet of paper and a pen and take a few moments to think about who will be listening to your messages on hold.
Give them a name.
Write down their biggest fears and frustrations that your product or service solves.
And what their life will be like when you’ve solved it for them.
You can model this on the customers that you most prefer working with.
In marketing-speak, this is your ideal customer. You might also hear it referred to as target customer, target audience, and various other terms.

How does your customer speak?

There’s a principle that applies to messages on hold: People like people who are like themselves.
A consequence of this is that if you want to appeal to your customers, you have to speak their language.
The more you use the exact words and phrases that your customers use, the more likely they are to stay on the line and listen to your on-hold messaging.
So after you’ve identified your customer, think about how they speak.
What words and phrases do they use to describe their problems?
Don’t paraphrase.
Write down the exact words and phrases your customers use so that you can use them to craft your messages on hold.

Reassure your customers that waiting for you is the right thing to do

When someone calls, the very first thing to do is ensure that they know they’ve reached the right place. So the first thing your messages on hold should say is who you are and what you do.
After that, it’s important to set their expectations.
As a rule, people don’t mind if things take time. They do mind if things take longer than expected.
If you tell someone that you’ll have something for them in a week, and it takes 5 days, they’re generally happy.
But if you tell them that it will take 2 days, and it takes 5, they will become frustrated and may call you for updates often.
The same thing applies to your messages on hold.

Set your customers’ expectations early in the call

There was a man who once called the freephone of a local service provider with an urgent task. The business’ answerphone picked up and told him that they’d be right with him.
So he waited.
Because he needed an urgent solution and was working at his computer, he put his phone on speaker and continued his day while waiting on hold.
This was in the days when the cheapest cellphone to freephone rate was $0.49 a minute.
He waited for more than 8 hours.
After some time he gave up and tried again the next day.
The smallest cost to that business was over $200.
All because they didn’t have a message that reflected reality.
Now most customers won’t go to that extreme. They’ll generally hang up and go elsewhere.
So what can you do to avoid it?
Early on in your messages on hold, tell your customers how long it might take to answer their call.
If your business isn’t open, have a separate message to reflect that.
Tell your customers the days and times that you’ll pick up their call.

Then reassure them that you can help

After setting your customers’ expectations, you then want your messages on hold to tell them that they’ve made the right choice by calling you.
You do this by stating their problem, and then telling them about your solution.
Using their own words.

Putting it all together

When you put it together, the first part of your on-hold messaging looks something like this:
Hi you’ve reached X, your friendly local Y. We answer calls on this line between 8am and 8pm, Monday to Saturday. It may take up to 5 minutes for us to pick up during those hours. We help people with problem A by providing solution B.
This tells the customer that they’ve called the right place, the wait time, and that you’ll provide a solution.

Minimise your customers’ frustrations and address their wants

We all know how frustrating it can be waiting on hold. So it’s important to break up the wait.
Rather than playing music all the time, use your messages on hold to educate and inform your caller. If you can entertain them at the same time, that’s even better.
Design your message to be somewhere between 3 and 4 minutes long.
Think about why your customers call. Then give them some information about their problem and how you are going to help them solve it.
Deliver the information in easy to consume chunks, mixed with music.
If they often call with the same questions, answer those in your messages on hold. If a lot of customers ask the same question, consider placing it early in the message.
As a rule, the more customers call about a specific thing, the earlier it should be in your messages on hold.


When we take a few moments to think about our customers, we can design messages on hold that help them be happy to wait.
First, identify who they are. Then put yourself in their shoes. Think through what they want, and give it to them in the order they would want it.
When you do this customer frustration levels go down, which leads to happier customers and smoother calls when you do pick up the phone.