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From Milton to Marketing: the History of On-Hold

Posted by Jason Daye - Trustee of the PHMG Foundation on

The telephone is a necessity in most businesses, whether it’s part of a complex departmental set-up or a company’s sole point of contact. But what would happen if these phones could only take one call at a time? The on-hold button is a valuable invention in the development of telecommunications, but it’s one that often goes unnoticed in the history books. In From Milton to Marketing: the History of On-Hold, we’ll learn exactly how the on-hold button came to prominence – and discover how businesses can make the most of this feature with On-Hold Marketing.

The on-hold button is believed to have been invented by Milton H Herzman, who was an employee of New York Telephone. Within the company, there were many telephones with multiple lines, but each of these had to be disconnected before a second call could be answered. This was highly inconvenient, so Milton drew on his experience in radio, communications and electronics to create a solution to the problem. During his time working for New York Telephone, he created a working demonstration model of the on-hold button – and this was first successfully incorporated into the Western Electric Series E phone, which was patented in 1930. In recognition of his ingenuity, Milton was a member of the Telephone Pioneers of America, and eventually retired from the industry in 1972.

It’s thanks to Milton that the telephone remains such a valuable business communication tool. In the modern market, a business now receives more calls than ever before – and despite the introduction of email and online chat features, the phone remains the most popular way of contacting an organisation. These high volumes of calls can only be handled effectively by placing callers on-hold – so it’s important that this time represents them in the best possible way.

An On-Hold Marketing production makes the most of the time callers spend waiting by filling it with informative messages telling them valuable company information. When used to tell callers about promotions and additional products, this service is proven to boost revenue by increasing sales enquiries. And whatever the information being provided, a quality production enhances caller communication and improves company image. Traditionally, on-hold time has been filled with beeps, silence or poor quality jingles. On-Hold Marketing is the most valuable alternative as it benefits both business and caller in a way these sounds (or absence of sound) never could.

Additionally, quality On-Hold Marketing productions embrace developments in sound recording to create the best listening experience for callers. The move to producing sound in digital formats allowed it to be manipulated in new ways, which was highly valuable in the production of audio for on-hold. The tiny speakers in a phone compress any sound file to distort audio quality. But with the advent of MP3s, a unique formula could be applied that adapted the sound to ensure it represented audio perfection in this format. Additionally, MP3 files are also easily sent, shared and uploaded in comparison to physical methods of storage – meaning messages can be easily changed in a matter of seconds. This allows for effective updates of an On-Hold Marketing production, ensuring callers remain engaged by always hearing something new.

On-Hold Marketing represents the most cutting-edge use of on-hold time in the way it adapts with innovations in sound recording – and offers endless benefits in comparison to the silence, beeps and music it replaces. In terms of communications history, the introduction of on-hold is a relatively modern phenomenon. So what does the future hold for the development of on-hold audio? Every advance in sound recording technology creates the potential for further improvement to audio quality. And as more and more organisations come to understand the benefits of On-Hold Marketing, the service will become the standard – making beeps and silence a thing of the past.

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