Being on hold

One of the numerous joys of modern life is being put on hold when you call almost anyone. My mother, may she rest in peace, never put me on hold, and my wife rarely does, but with everyone else, I’ve come to expect it — especially when I’m calling any sort of office or company.

Usually, of course, it’s automatic. After pressing whatever keys you have to in order to get to the appropriate person, you are placed on hold. This is the same wherever you call, but it’s what you hear when you’re on hold that runs the gamut. Sometimes what you are forced to listen to seems like it is fully intended to get you to hang up.

Case in point: a New York State Civil Service number, which I have occasionally had to call regarding health insurance. What you hear as you wait is some kind of repetitive rhythmic sound — reminiscent of an old vinyl record getting stuck.


This wouldn’t be so bad if your hold time was, say, three minutes. But, no, in my experience it is rarely less than 15 minutes. I have thought many times that the military could use this sound as a way to force information out of suspected terrorists. In fact, by the time someone finally does answer at Civil Service you are so beside yourself that you’re likely to scream out, “I’ll confess! I did it!”

Then there are companies which periodically interrupt whatever the usual hold sound is with an ad for one of their products. Listen, I don’t want one of your #!&*%#! products, I just want a human being to answer my call!

On the other hand, there are offices or companies that actually make it a pleasure to be put on hold. For example, if you really want to enjoy the waiting, call the New York Times. I did the other day and was treated to some beautiful classical music; I’m pretty sure it was Mozart. But then again, what would you expect from the Times? The customer service rep, who came on the phone after I’d been listening to a minute or two of my favorite composer, soon asked me to hold on while she got some information, and again I heard that wonderful music. I don’t think I was able to fully hide my disappointment when she ended the concert by getting back on; and prior to that we had been getting along really well. I told her how much I liked the music, but it was too late. I think she was a little upset with me.

What I also like are the messages which tell you right up front that your hold time will be between, say, one and three minutes, although I once got one that said, “We are experiencing unusually heavy call volume; your hold time will be more than 10 minutes.” Well, isn’t that a big help. Do you mean 11 or 12 minutes, or do you mean possibly two hours?

Actually, though I know hardly anyone is calling anyone any more, but rather going online or texting or tweeting or bleating, so when the message says “All of our customer service representatives are busy helping other customers,” it’s probably one poor soul answering all the calls, still, the wait time that callers have to go through could be made a source of relaxation or genuine pleasure. For example, you could be offered a choice of what kind of entertainment, if any, you’d like as you waited; the message could say, “Please press 1 if you’d like silence for meditation, 2 if you’d like Shakespeare, 3 if you’d like classical music, and 4 if you’d like phone sex.” (Of course, if you pressed 4, you’d have some other choices to make.) I can hear it now: “I know you hate waiting, honey, so let me wait with you…mmmmm…ahhhhh….”

If New York Civil Service did that, I could truly say I LOVE New York!