Time to face the muzak

Newsweek has an interesting article about the science behind the infuriating muzak that plays while you’re on hold in a telephone queue.

The article made me realise what probably should have been obvious, that telephone queuing systems are a multi-million dollar industry and psychologists have been employed to research the best way to stop you hanging up.

When of the most interesting bit is where the article touches on the use of music to alter customers’ perception of passing time.

Kellaris says that while musical distraction often causes time to feel like it’s passing more quickly, particularly dull, or overly familiar, music can actually make the wait feel longer. Familiar music may act as a sort of “Zip file,” says Kellaris, referring to the common format computers use to compress large volumes of data into a smaller package.

“If you hear an excerpt of a familiar piece of music, it might cue recall of the entire piece.” Kellaris also cautions that numerous factors, including mindset and setting‚Äîand in one of his studies, even gender‚Äîdetermine the effect that background music has on us. “Time on hold seemed shortest for women exposed to alternative rock and for men exposed to classical music,” he says.

And there are apparently a number of studies which have tested exactly this, including two intriguing ones I found after my interest was sparked.

The article also notes that a major factor in keeping people in a queue is the perception that they are progressing by giving customers’ feedback on their position on time to destination.

Link to Newsweek article ‘On Hold And In Hell’.

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