On Hold Messages

Languishing over language: how to improve your copywriting

In a fascinating interview with National Public Radio in America, UCLA professor Keith Chen spoke about how language can affect the way one thinks. Specifically he mentioned how different languages impact the way in which certain cultures view and save money.

In Mandarin for example, one does not say “tomorrow it will rain”, but rather “tomorrow it rain.” According to Professor Chen, this equalisation of the future and present impacts their worldview. In this way, Mandarin-speakers view saving money for the future in the same mindset with which they view having money in the present. This leads to an observable increase in their monetary savings.

Writing languate we got

In English we’re stuck with a ‘present progressive’, meaning that in order to speak about an event in the future we have to use an ‘obligatory form’. If that makes as little sense to you as it does to me, put it this way:

Today it is raining.
Yesterday it rained.
Tomorrow it…

There’s no future tense for rain. The only way to say it is: “tomorrow it will rain.”
The theory dictates that this characteristic of the English language means we’re predisposed not to put the future and the present on equal footing, but rather to view the future as a vague, incomprehensible eventuality sometime down the road. Thus, English -speakers tend to save less.

Language can literally shape the way we think.

Bad language past present future

The Internet can be an unforgiving place.

As a copywriter at Messages On Hold, my primary goal is to craft messages that shape callers’ thoughts about a company, product or idea. So how do we use language subtly yet effectively in our on hold messages? Allow me to show you.

Take for instance this sentence:
Did you know that when customers sign up with Tim’s Mowing they experience our great commitment to customer service by getting access to discounts on our full range of services!

The sentence is long-winded, bulky and the focus is on the seller, not the customer. If a caller is on hold hearing this message, not only will the sentence not sink in, but it doesn’t even leave the caller with an understanding of what Tim’s Mowing offers them!

Better writing through comedy buzzword
Let’s remove the excess details, drop the generic opening, turn the focus from the seller’s features to the buyer’s benefits and craft a clear message.

How’s this?
Sign up with Tim’s Mowing for all your professional landscaping and garden services  at discounted prices.

There’s no fancy language only a professional copywriter could come up with. There’s no brilliant eloquence to rival Shakespeare, Dickens or Austen. However, the sentence is succinct, unambiguous and focuses on how the listener/reader benefits.

We’ve ditched the words “can”, “commitment” and “when”. Those are all words that just fluff up and obscure what the client wants to hear. No one cares what you can do; they want to know what you will do.

The second example lays it all out effectively; you have landscaping requirements, they will provide a solution and this is how to engage with that service.

Eat your words, writing and choice of language
The specific language you use (or don’t use) will affect the way in which a caller might receive and absorb the information. In fact, at Messages On Hold we have a list of phrases we avoid at all costs.

Your messages need to orient the caller so they immediately understand what they stand to gain by engaging with your services. When it comes to improving your writing, it’s all about the specific language you use. Keep it simple, keep it focused and keep it targeted.

Tomorrow, we will write better.

Second Impressions Last

In business, consistency in customer service is essential to long-term success. At Messages On Hold, we do a number of things to impress clients time after time, so they stick around. We’ll suggest message ideas to them regularly, refresh productions with new voices or music if they get a bit old, and even offer to record a new voicemail if we reckon we could improve their existing one. It’s all part of a proactive team effort to make a superb impression every time, while ensuring the customer gets as much value out of us as possible. We’re not the only company taking the initiative though.

A few weeks ago I talked about how I was blown away by the first impression I experienced at a retailer for one of Australia’s leading skincare brands. As someone relatively new to the whole “looking after your skin” thing, I was won over by the attentive but personable assistant and the liberal use of free samples. The second impression I got was just as good!Welcome Back! Doormat

When I needed to purchase more of a product I had run out of, I went to a different branch to last time as it was more convenient. I knew what I was after so I just went to the till and made my purchase. After my last purchase I had been saved in the national customer database. The shop attendant saw the last time I had bought the product, and noticed that I had used it up very quickly. He then recommended that I use the product out of the shower to make it last longer, before generously seasoning my shopping bag with some free samples. He paid attention, got on the front foot and offered me a way to save money.

Sure, thanks to his handy tip I’ll probably be using less of the product in question, but this on-the-ball attendant helped win me over as a long-term customer, and that’s invaluable.

If you want to make sure clients stick around for the long haul and are a source of repeat business, it literally pays to make outstanding impressions beyond the first.

– Magnus

An Experiment In Social Media

When I tell people I work at Messages On Hold every now and again I’m met with a blank stare. That’s until I ask them ‘Have you seen those big yellow hands behind the goals at Eagles home games?’ Once I let loose that little gem, people immediately know who I’m talking about. Trevor and his comrades have become synonymous with West Coast home games for waving our big yellow hands, so I thought it would be fun to take our Facebook friends behind the scenes of the Messages On Hold team at Patersons Stadium with an experiment in social media.

The Aim: To live update sights, sounds and insights from the Eagles home game.TrevSmall

Now I’m a big social media freak – if there’s sport/politics/anything on the TV and there’s a hashtag, you better believe I’m going to join the conversation. I love blogging about events and places I experience around Perth and I get a weird thrill out of getting as many ‘stats’ as I can with my own personal uploads to Facebook. So you can imagine my excitement at the idea of sharing the fun of an Eagles home game on social media when the opportunity presented itself.

Doing my pre-game research I wondered a fair bit as to why no sports clubs actually updated their Facebook pages during matches. West Coast Eagles, along with most other AFL clubs, is fairly prolific in its tweeting during matches but it had started to bother me why they never updated their Facebook mid-game. Well my foray into Facebook updates during sports games gave me a stern and no buts about it answer – there’s no reception in big stadiums when there’s heaps of people in them!

The Twitter platform is highly suited to covering sports games because you don’t have to rely on mobile data. Clubs can tweet from a PC or laptop and it’s instantaneous because they don’t have to rely on mobile data – which is slow and often times drops out completely. When you’re updating Facebook with pictures or video, it’s time consuming over a mobile network. Something I learnt quick-smart on Sunday.

Up until about 15 minutes until kick-off I wasn’t having any issues with my network connection (thanks Vodafone). Once the stadium had filled-up though, there was no hope. I did a double-lap of Patersons Stadium to try and find somewhere to upload something… anything… but I had no success. I even tried going up to the highest stand right next to the phone tower. Still nothing! It seems too many people one spot causes data over mobiles to slow down so significantly logging on to Facebook becomes nigh on impossible, let alone uploading a video.

Sunday’s game certainly gave me a lot to think about. Social media at sports events is a great way to share experiences, especially for a company like ours who is an official sponsor of the club. How am I going to solve this problem next time? Well I’ll try and take a different phone and I’ll probably take along a WiFi hotspot just to make sure I can stay connected to the network. Either way I’m pretty determined to keep trying because sport is an undeniably effective way to get people active with social media and our involvement with West Coast is an opportunity too great to miss.

If you’d like to keep up to date with my progress, jump over to our Facebook page and hit that like button. Remember to add our page to your interest list to ensure you’re across our latest posts.

– Sophie

Do You Speak Reptilian?

Fact: you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to manipulate someone’s brain. You just need lizardto know what language speaks to the part of the brain that controls emotion. Once you learn this half the “sales battle” is already won.

The part of the brain in question is called the ‘Reptilian Brain’ and it’s the oldest and most critical part of our grey matter. This section of our brain works quickly and simply. If the decision process making becomes too convoluted the Reptilian Brain takes over.

So how do we get a one way ticket to this part of the brain? With clever copy that directly addresses our target market’s pain points. As a copywriter, I need to distil the message down to its most basic form and then relate that to how it will benefit the caller.

Let’s take the two messages below for example. The first one focuses on the company, the second on the caller.

FV: Thank you for holding. We are open from 7am until 10.30pm every day of the week and stock a huge range of nappies, formulas, baby garments, pacifiers and more. Think of us as your one stop baby shop.

Not that compelling, right? Now let’s try it by speaking directly with the Reptilian Brain.

SFX intro: Crickets chirping. Baby Starts Crying. Crickets stop but baby keeps crying in the background
FV: (Tired) Honey, wake up. We’re out of nappies – could you nip down to the pharmacist? Oh and pick up some formula too.
MV: (Annoyed) What? At this hour?
FV: It’s okay – they’re open until 10.30 at night! (end SFX)
FV2: (Voice Over) Acme Pharmacist – open 7am to 10.30pm for life’s little emergencies.
SFX outro: Baby cooing

Rather than telling the caller about the hours and range, the second message demonstrates it. It focuses on the benefit of being available late at night and provides evidence of their solution to the caller’s problem. Instead of listing items, it creates a scenario that highlights the core concept of baby products available late at night. Most importantly, it recognises that familiar feeling all parents get when a baby won’t go to sleep. Put simply, it tugs on a parent’s emotional strings.

The key point to remember when writing for the Reptilian Brain is to focus on why the subject is important to the listener and how it will benefit them. If you’d like to learn more about appealing to your caller’s “Reptilian Brain”, check out this great article by Action Words on Neuromarketing that offers 6 simple rules for selling.


Messages On Hold: Steroids for VoIP Systems

In April we posted here on what it takes to create a fantastic-looking and highly-effective web video. Today I’d like to share with you the finished product.


As per usual, Messages On Hold MD Kym Illman stars in our latest video production.

There’s no denying VoIP phone systems are becoming more and more popular. In fact, we encourage all our clients to make the switch from traditional PABX system to VoIP because not only are they easier to manage, they also provide our clients with more opportunities to reinforce their brand image and market to their callers.

That’s because unlike a traditional PABX or commander phone system, which requires additional hardware, select VoIP systems are capable of playing:
• A welcome message
• Menu prompts
• Voicemail messages
• After hours message
• and more

Until recently, a client of 5 years had been playing On Hold messages through one of our digital replay units connected to their PABX phone system. When they told us that they were beginning to outgrow their system and considering alternatives, we advised them that a VoIP system would allow them to manage their inbound call traffic much more effectively and directed them to watch our video on YouTube. (It’s since been uploaded onto our homepage and downloads page.)

Although many businesses make the mistake of recording the audio themselves, our client understood from watching our videos that their welcome message and menu prompts were hugely effective at shaping callers perceptions. They also didn’t want to run the risk of sub-par recordings compromising the effectiveness of their professional On Hold messages. So they had us script, voice and mix their phone greeting, voice prompts and after hours recordings instead.

If you have a question about VoIP and how to leverage it to connect with callers and support your sales teams, post your question on our Facebook page or contact us today.

– Lachy

Tune Your Message To Match Your Audience

Each year towards the end of May, I begin the search for a humorous birthday card for my friend. I know him well and we have a similar sense of humour. So instead of giving him a standard birthday card, this year I opted for a “Commiseration” card. After signing it with a line about losing his youth to the hands of time, it’s good to go. Now, I wouldn’t dare do this for my mother – but that’s because I know how to tune my message to match its audience.


When a new client first joins us, the first question we always ask is “who are your callers?” For instance, I recently spoke with the owner of a vacuum cleaner wholesaler. With some probing he was able to inform me that the majority of his callers are small business owners (usually vacuum cleaner retailers), male, over 40 and always excited about the latest new model.

To make sure that I tuned his messages to match his audience, we agreed on the following. The voiceover artist would be male and sound of a similar age to his callers to convey expertise and trustworthiness. Because callers could be on hold for as long as two minutes while staff investigated stock, it was important the wait felt as short as possible. Messages would therefore be scripted of varying length, some shorter and some longer, to make it harder for the caller to discern how long they’d been waiting. The music would come from our Blues & Country collection (see here) as the client felt this genre best suited the musical tastes of his listener. And the tone of the scripting would be authoritative. Facts and statistics on performance would be littered throughout the scripts as this was what his audience responded to.

If you find yourself needing to write a promotion or put together a customer profile, here are some of the questions that I recommend asking yourself prior to writing:
• Is my audience predominantly male or female?
• Old or young?
• Who are my competitors marketing to? What kind of customers are they targeting?
• What do my customers like to do in their spare time?
• Which industries are they drawn from?
• What type of language will they respond best to? Formal or casual?
• Are they driven by rational or emotional motivations?

By understanding who your audience is, you’ll be better positioned to make a connection with them and hold their attention. You might even like to put together a short survey to give to your current customers in order to understand them better!

Pace Yourself

It’s easy to assume that a good read is all about lovely language, flowing sentences and correct grammar. Yes, all those things are important, but let’s not forget about language’s forgotten principle: pacing.

In a nutshell, pacing can be defined as the rhythm of a piece of text, whether that be a song, movie, poem or of course your On Hold messages.

kymTo help explain pacing more clearly we can look to Hollywood superstar (and my own, personal hero) Nicolas Cage. Consider this reviewer’s comment: “Nic Cage’s performance is so predictably loony it’s no longer amusing.”

Cut that performance down to its individual, maniacally charged scenes and they can be very entertaining, unpredictable and humorous. But stretch that same performance out over the duration of a film and it’s a very different story.

Cage has one gear: pedal-to-the-metal bonkers. Insane he might be, but over the course of 90 minutes you will start to predict what’s coming, get bored and tune out. And that dear reader is the worst that can happen On Hold. When the listener is able to predict what will happen next, they too will grow bored and tune out.

To prevent the same thing happening on the phone with your business we recommend using at least two voices (a male and female in most cases) across the entire production. Sometimes we’ll use multiple talents in the same message to break up a longer chunk of information. This keeps the caller engaged. Why? If callers are listening to more than one voice On Hold it’s harder for them to get accustomed to the recording, and this keeps their attention. It counters monotony.

Another approach is to vary the length of messages across the production. If a caller can predict where a message will start and end, it’s easier to tune out. But by varying the word count of each individual message you keep listeners on their toes.

Sometimes it pays to vary the structure of some messages by scripting mini-scenarios that demonstrate a product, rather than just tell a caller about it. Encouraging callers to imagine how the product works in action, as opposed to reciting a list of features, helps them paint a picture in their mind’s eye.

These pacing techniques keep callers guessing, making for a vibrant, varied production.  Most importantly, such a production will keep prospects on the line for longer while communicating aspects of your business to them in an engaging way.

– Magnus

Do You Come Here Often?

What does online dating have to do with On Hold messaging? At first glance, not a lot. But if you give it a little more thought they have a lot to do with one and other.

The most important parallel is that you’re essentially selling yourself.

To avoid judgment (and protect my fragile ego) let’s say a friend of mine has used online dating in the past – and with great success. One thing he noticed on people’s profiles is that so many of them state the obvious, such as “love living life to the fullest” and “enjoys laughing”. Really? I’d like to know someone who finds laughing a chore. The point is these throwaway lines do nothing to engage and persuade a potential suitor.

Just like filling out an online profile, your On Hold production (or any other communication for that matter) should be engaging. Instead of saying “We value your call” or “Thanks for holding” why not tell your callers a tasteful joke, offer some industry insight, or reward them with 5% off for mentioning a certain codeword. They’ll feel happy and rewarded for holding. And you get to endear your company to them.

So, how will you inject your company’s personality into your next communication? Let us know what you come up with!

– Lachy

Am I Crazy?

The other day I was out getting a bite to eat in the area I live and I saw something interesting while I was waiting for my order. A team member of this place was sweeping up with a dust pan and broom. That’s not the interesting part, what happened next is.

A large piece of dust caught itself in the bristle of the broom and refused to relinquish its grip and settle in the pan. So the team member bent down, plucked it off, placed it back onto the ground and made a second attempt to sweep it into the pan. This happened about four-five times before the team member grew frustrated and just placed it straight into the pan. I wish I were exaggerating.

kymThis brought to mind Albert Einstein’s famous quote “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. And this adage can be carried over to how you think about your On Hold messages. If you currently play radio or standard “thank you for holding” messages and still have angry or upset callers, try something different! Or if you have a professionally written On Hold production that’s not getting the results you want, try something different!

The great thing about On Hold messages is that (depending on your package) you can chop and change them as you like, fine tuning them until you achieve the desired result. This might be increased conversions, larger customer share or customer retention. The choice is yours.

– Lachy

Writing for the Voice

Posted By Copywriting Dept on 03-Feb-12 09:39

It’s not something I would usually admit to, but when you walk into our copywriting department on a regular afternoon, you’ll often find us talking to ourselves. Yes, you read that correctly, not talking to each other, but talking to ourselves. It’s not that we’re all maladjusted, or that we prefer our own company to that of our fellow copywriters, it’s simply this: when writing for the voice, the best way to read it, is out loud. In fact there a few ways that writing for the voice is different to writing for the page – as I’m sure any playwright, speech writer or script writer will tell you, and that’s what I thought I’d talk about today.

In a drama class I took at University our tutor gave us some interesting advice on how to write dialogue. He actually told us to carry around a voice recorder and record all our friends’ conversations. It was meant to show us how real conversation works so we could apply it to script writing. I decided not to record all my conversations in a bid to not weird out my friends too much, which seemed to be for the best, because since then I’ve learn some much simpler and less intrusive ways to tweak your words for the tongue.

The main thing is the tone. A more casual tone will make your messages sound conversational – so callers feel like they’re listening to a person they can engage with, not just a recorded robot. Now how do you achieve that tone? Obviously some of it comes down to the Voice Talent and how they read it out, but we’re talking about the words, so here are some things we do when writing scripts to make it sound more conversational before the Voice Talent even sees it.

Choice of Words: Choose words that are more casual, avoid industry jargon (unless you would actually use it in a conversation with your customers), and by all means, use colloquial language – the kind of words and phrases you’d never be allowed to put in an essay or research paper but would always use in everyday life.

Ask Questions: We use actual and rhetorical questions all the time in conversations, and it helps the other person feel engaged, why not use it?

Use the First Person: Referring to your company as a thing that the message is talking about puts distance between you and the caller. But if you use ‘we’ and ‘our’ and ‘you’ the caller feels like they are being engaged in conversation with a person, not just listening to someone talking about the company.

Use Contractions: We ‘don’t’ usually say ‘do not’ unless we’re really emphasising a point, also ‘you’ll’ probably notice you say ‘we’re’ rather than ‘we are’ when you’re (you are) speaking to someone.

Most of us are trained to avoid all these things when writing for the page (in essays, reports, newsletters, etc), however when writing for the voice we embrace them, and so should you!

– Rachel Inglis