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TOLEDO, Ohio – Jerry Brown, who just completed a term as chairman of the On Hold Messaging Association, sees on-hold messages as part of marketing – but he believes 90% of the companies using on-hold messages aren’t really tapping the full potential. His company, BusinessVoice, serves 6,000 clients. Approximately 1,000 of them are financial institutions. The growth of on-hold messaging in that sector is underscored by the fact CUNA Strategic Services recently teamed up with Muzak Marketing to offer on-hold messaging. “You guys are changing quite a bit,” Brown says of credit unions. “Fields of membership used to be much more limited. Now you have access to all kinds of people and you have a lot of services.” Technology is also playing a role. For one thing, with more employees equipped with direct in-bound lines to their extension, there’s less air time for on-hold messages. However, even after a member speaks to an employee, the employee may need to put the caller on hold while checking out specific information. In addition, productions are entered into the phone system and updated differently. Feeding messages into the system used to require installing equipment to play messages on a cassette or perhaps a CD. The tape or CD had to be sent to the credit union, and someone had to walk it over to the equipment and put it in. Today, productions can be remotely downloaded. The on-hold message provider, through phone lines or the Internet, can update messages automatically. Sounds as though the whole process is more efficient. So costs should be less, right? “Not exactly, and I’ll tell you why,” Brown answers. “The majority of the cost of a successful online message is the cost of creating the production. That’s brain stuff – creative marketing people putting ideas together, writers putting it down in words, and then the engineers producing it. So the production costs themselves have not gone down. “While the equipment had gotten a little less expensive, now that it’s remotely downloaded it’s gone up a bit in price. It will come down again as the technology is used more.” Basically, he notes, there are three primary points of entry to the credit union – the phone, the Internet, and the front door of a branch. Brown argues that while credit unions pour a lot of effort and money into online and personal contact, they don’t always think about the power of phone contacts. “There are different aspects of on-hold messaging, and those aspects are being affected differently by technology and changes in what’s going on around us,” Brown says. “There are essentially two main components. One is the production, the marketing aspect of on-hold messaging. The second is delivery, the technology that plays it into the telephone system. How much hold time do we actually have? How do I deliver the production? How does it get played?” As for the first aspect, marketing is marketing, he continues. As marketers become more aware of what Brown and others in the industry consider the viable option of on-hold messaging, the caller is hearing much more sophisticated information than a simple list of services available. He believes when a credit union looks at how it markets itself, it looks at several things. First is branding and image. Then there’s top-of-mind awareness of all the products and services available. The third is direct response marketing, a call to immediate action. “In looking at on-hold messaging, credit unions are starting to realize it can help with all three aspects,” Brown states. “It definitely helps with my branding and image, because I want members to feel comfortable while they’re waiting on hold and think highly not only of my credit union but my people.” That means not always talking about the credit union. Perhaps a caller hears investment tips, interesting financial facts, or a trivia question. Those messages may not directly promote products and services, but Brown believes they certainly boost branding and image. Brown says when you look at how people like to communicate, learn and control the world, there are basically three different groups: Forty percent do it visually. They read and see. As they walk into a credit union branch they spot the point-of-purchase sign next to the counter. Thirty-three percent prefer a hands-on approach. They want to do it themselves. A Web site is great for them because they can go where they want to go and do what they want to do. Twenty-seven percent is auditory. They prefer to be told. They don’t want to read something. They want someone to tell them what to do. A Web site as well as your phone system can appeal to them if you add Web audio messages. When they come into a branch, instead of just seeing banners, they can hear music and every five or ten minutes audible messages. How often do your messages need to be changed? If you are using on-hold messages strictly to build brand and image, you may not need to change them that often. But be aware some people may call frequently, and after they’ve heard the same message for a month, they’re bored. But suppose you want to use online messages to build immediate response to an offer, say a special car loan rate good for two weeks. You also want to measure that response. The message might alert the caller to the offer, then urge, “Act now to take advantage of this great offer. Just ask for Sally when your call is answered.” When a call center representative answers and the member asks for Sally, the employee says, “Sally isn’t here right now, but I can help you.” The call center employee also notes the call so the marketing staff knows how many callers actually acted on the message. -

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