Before we get into on-hold devices, let's talk about phone systems. There are basically two types of phone systems- commercial and residential. The commercial phone system has a central "brain", called a PBX or KSU, located somewhere on your premises. It is usually about the size of a small suitcase and it is mounted to a wall in a back closet, or in your warehouse somewhere. Depending upon its age, it may or may not have an on-hold "port". Most newer (post-1994) phone systems were offered with the on-hold port card as a standard option.
The residential- small business phone system, does not have a central "brain" and typically may have several satellite phones. So these phones don't typically allow an attachment of an on-hold message. One exception is the Panasonic KX-TG4500- this new small business phone has a place to make 3 minute on-hold message for playback on its hold. So if you don't have a Panasonic KX-TG4500 and you want to add an on hold message to your phone, you will need to purchase an aftermarket device which allows you to do so.
Now, Let's go back to the on-hold playback devices:
Typically the on-hold playback device interfaces with the KSU (the brain) of your telephone system. There are many types of playback devices, so we will discuss with you the choices you have.
Tape player with endless loop tape
Advantage- cheap ($20)
Disadvantage- the longer in duration the tape plays, the poorer the quality of the sound (due to dirty heads) and of course, if the tape breaks, you no longer have a message playing. This was the common playback device of choice when on-hold messaging was in its infancy. Now, there are just too many better options around to even consider this one....
Audio On-Hold does not recommend this option.
CD "boombox" player-
Advantage- cheap ($70), great sounding playback quality.
Disadvantage- two problems- unless the CD player is hooked up to a UPS (un-interruptable power supply), every time there is a utility power "spike", the CD player may turn off- necessitating someone to monitor the player to make sure it is playing on a daily basis. The other disadvantage is the typical life span of this device is about 12 months- so you will need to keep replacing the unit when it dies. Audio On-Hold recommends this device when cost is a major factor, and if your situation is such that the location of the CD player is in a place where it can be easily be monitored.
Let me throw in another disadvantage- we've had businesses who have the CD/Radio Boombox in a location which was easily accessible to the night cleaning crew. One night the crew came in and unplugged the boombox from the phone system and used it instead to fill the office space with loud and obnoxious rap rythyms while they were working in the wee hours of the morning. When they were finished with their clean up work, they put the boombox back without tuning it off the radio station they were listening to and plugged it back into the hold port. The next morning, the sophisticated customers of the prominent law practice had the opportunity to hear rap rythyms talking about bitches and drugs while on hold. Not exactly the type of on hold message the business owners really wanted their customers to hear. (We don't recommend using a portable walkman for this, since we've found that they rarely have a big enough amplifier to actually make the playback audible on the phone's hold.)
Digital Playback Devices-
These playback machines are specifically designed for message on-hold service. They typically come with multiple-year warranties. These devices have a digital memory which will play back the message over and over without any wear or tear on the equipment. They literally last for over a decade (I have many devices that were installed over 15 years ago that are still working flawlessly).
As with everything in this world, not all devices are created equally and you typically get what you pay for. Some manufacturers diminish the tonal quality in order to achieve a desirable price point. Now, granted, the bandwidth of a phone line isn't exactly what you would call high fidelity, but it's amazing how poorly some digital on hold devices sound on a phone. So it would be prudent to suggest to make sure you are getting a good quality playback device with that killer price you are getting- be sure to ask for references, so you can actually compare tonal quality of the devices anyone sells.
Advantage- sounds great! Assurance that your message will always be playing.
Disadvantage- these will cost you a little more money than your cheaper, less dependable playback devices.
Digital Remote Load Playback Devices-
This is the type of device I am suggesting some (qualified) customers use. These devices usually take a telephone technician to install and they allow the on-hold vendor to remotely download the updated message. My comments on these devices:
These work great if you have a phone system that is located in a difficult to access location- like up in the rafters or in a locked closet where keys are hard to access. One of the hesitations I have with these devices is determining how clean the phone lines are going to and from both the on hold vendor's place of business and also the place of business of the on-hold client. If the phone lines on either side are not clear, or are crackly or noisy, then the message that is being downloaded via the phone lines will also have the same noise on the playback. So if your business is in a relatively new urban environment with new phone lines, then this option should work fine, but if the lines are noisy, then the digital playback device should be a better choice.
Advantage- Reasonably inexpensive digital device, Instantaneous updates
Disadvantage- Computer literate person needed to do update
Digital Devices for Non-Ksu Phone Systems
Non KSU phone systems (residential phone systems) do not have inputs for an audio signal. Yes, you have a hold button, but there is no way to input an on-hold message without having one of these types of devices.In order to integrate an on-hold message to a non-ksu phone system, you need to is you hook up one of your phones to the this device, and automatically all other phones using the same lines as the phone you just hooked up will have the on-hold message played on them.
Advantage- This is the only way to interface to a residential phone system
Disadvantage- if you use portable phones without using headsets, you will need to hit ** in order to put someone on hold.
On-Hold Message Segregators
Oftentimes several stores share the same building or perhaps a single company has different divisions which each want to have their own message on-hold specific to that division. Unfortunately, most phone systems (until just recently) don't allow for multiple on-hold messages on different lines within the same phone system. In order to overcome this problem, an aftermarket phone accessory company came up with a way to allow multiple messages on differing lines.
This device works on groups of six voice lines- if you have 6 lines which need any amount of differing messages, you buy one of these devices, if you have 7 voice lines, you need to buy 2 of these devices. All voice lines within your phone system need to be covered by a multiple number of this device. It works by queuing differing sets of lines with differing low tones, so each line can determine which on-hold message it is supposed to play. If you have 7 voice lines and you only buy one of these devices, the person who is on that 7th line will have an annoying tone in the background- so to iterate, you need to make sure all voice lines are covered by the multiples of this box.
Advantage- allows multiple on-hold messages off the same KSU
Disadvantage- even on the covered lines, there is a very quick beep which the caller hears it lasts less than 50 milliseconds, and it is very quiet- but it is still there. You need to have a telephone repairman install it for you, as it ties into your phone system in front of your KSU.
Audio On-Hold uses Premier Technologies, Nel-tech and Skutch devices. These machines have very high quality playback capabilities and are affordable.