Travel agents’ call handling standards have been called into question as the result of a major new study into telephone practice.

The large majority risk losing custom by subjecting customers to generic music and audio while on hold, new research shows.

As many as 65% of agents leave customers listening to nothing but generic music. A further 18% force callers to listen to beeps, while 8% leave them in silence and 5% leave them to listen to ringing.

Only two per cent employ brand-consistent voice and music messaging – viewed as the best practice approach to handling calls – equal to the national average.

The findings come from a study conducted by audio branding specialist PHMG, which audited 184 firms in the industry.

The research found 91% of agents do not even use auto attendant messaging to greet customers who call up outside of normal working hours.

Call handling standards have not significantly improved when comparing the results to a similar study conducted in 2013. The number of companies playing repetitive music has increased by 35% during that period.

PHMG sales and marketing director, Mark Williamson, said: “Call handling remains a critically undervalued element of customer service and marketing. A previous study of 1,000 UK consumers found 73% will not do business with a company again if their first call isn’t handled satisfactorily.

“Therefore, it is important companies do their utmost to improve the experience. The research shows there is still work to be done in providing an experience that keeps callers engaged and entertained.

“Generic music, beeps, ringing or silence convey a message that the customer is not valued, which will only serve to compound any annoyance felt as a result of being made to wait on hold.”

He added: “The trends over the past three years suggest travel agents believe generic music is enough to keep callers entertained but this can actually have the opposite effect.

“An existing, generic piece of music should not be repurposed to convey a message it was never intended to, as its characteristics may not match those of the company.

“Hearing is one of our most powerful emotional senses so the sounds customers hear when they call a business will create a long-lasting impression. Every element of a music track, whether tempo, pitch or instrumentation, will stir different emotions so traders should ensure they convey the appropriate brand image.”