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Making it worth the wait: Owner of on-hold message service looks to maximize callers’ time

Spokane resident Staci Clary has been providing businesses nationwide with on-hold messages and greetings for decades with her business, Hold On Now. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane resident Staci Clary has been providing businesses nationwide with on-hold messages and greetings for decades with her business, Hold On Now. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Navigating a company’s telephone system or waiting on hold for assistance can be difficult for some customers.

Spokane resident Staci Clary makes that experience easier and more engaging for customers with her company, Hold On Now, which creates customized on-hold messages for businesses with tips, facts and useful information.

Clary launched the company in 1998 as Inpho Information on Hold and rebranded it to Hold On Now in 2014. Clary contracts with 27 voice actors who produce content for more than 1,000 companies nationwide.

“I don’t know who else is passionate about hold time, but it matters,” she said. “And over the years, what I’ve realized is that time is fleeting and we can never get it back, and so I want every second, every moment to be as meaningful as it can. And that includes hold time.”

Finding a voice

Clary attended Ferris High School and graduated from Gonzaga University in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism.

Clary’s father owned five Savage House Pizza Parlors, where she spent a considerable amount of time at as a child. That’s where she learned about the restaurant industry and developed a knack for customer service.

“I was at the restaurant every day and so I met people. I never was afraid to talk to people I didn’t know,” she said. “I kind of have that service background by nature.”

Throughout high school and college, Clary worked as a waitress in the restaurant industry.

After college, she got married and had three children. Clary’s mother had a friend that was franchising a business – Inpho Information on Hold – and suggested she look into it.

“My mother knew I had a desire to broadcast information, and she also knew I was a young mom, so she said, ‘Staci, this could be a great business where you could really put your skills to work and stay at home,’ ” Clary said.

Clary subsequently purchased the business, which allows her to combine a love of broadcasting, sound and sharing useful information with people.

“The business found me, and it was a perfect mix for me,” Clary said. “I took that combination of waitressing and my love of telling stories, and I’ve merged the two.”

Building the business

Clary began building the business by knocking on doors and visiting local companies, often meeting with the receptionists and owners.

Her first client was Windermere Real Estate, then known by a different name.

Since then, Clary’s client list has grown to include local companies such as Four Seasons Coffee Co., Red Lion Hotels, Glen Dow Academy, Gus Johnson Ford and Itron, among others.

Clary works with clients to craft a script, then searches the company’s website for additional details to be included in the on-hold message. Clary will also research information relevant to the company that customers could also find useful.

The companies are then able to modify, edit and approve the script. Then, Clary provides clients with samples from a variety of voice talent and a selection of licensed music for the on-hold message.

The end result is a customized, on-hold message that educates and informs customers, Clary said.

“It replaces silence on hold, or radio, into colorful and engaging sound that is unexpected to most people, because most people expect to have boring and never-changing,” Clary said. “They get on hold and they hear timely and engaging, and they are like, ‘Wow, this is actually better than I thought. I still don’t want to be on hold that long, but at least I’m learning something about that company.’ ”

She is gaining new clients as technology evolves. With voice-over internet protocol technology, companies are able to incorporate interactive on-hold options for customers, such as selecting music options or obtaining brochures in real time. Clary partners with Australia-based Captivate Connect to offer interactive on-hold services for clients nationwide.

Clary, who no longer does voice work for the company, has built a network of nationwide voice talent through interviews and auditions. They all have state-of-the-art studios in their homes and can turn around audio same day, if needed.

Clary has received an influx of requests from clients needing on-hold messages announcing temporary closures or options for curbside pickup since the Washingon’s statewide stay-home order went into effect.

“We’ve been turning out full productions same day since this terrible pandemic has hit. Normally, the turn around times are two to four business days,” she said. “We’ve just been whipping those out as fast as we can.”

Advice to businesses

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated hold times for customers.

Caller wait times increased 182% in March, compared to the same time last year, according to data from Captivate Connect.

Clary encourages business owners to assess what it’s like to call their companies by taking note of the number of rings it takes to answer a call and how the customer is greeted over the phone.

“If you are short-staffed, anticipate that and do something in that hold space that is different and unique,” she said, adding it’s also important to ensure staff members have good phone etiquette. “Just acknowledging and being in the same place with your customer, I think, goes a long way.”

It’s also imperative to communicate to the customer who is on hold that they are equally as important as shoppers in the store, she said.

Businesses have an opportunity to build relationships with customers through on-hold services.

“It’s not new space, it’s there already,” Clary said, referring to the period of time a customer is on hold. “But are (businesses) choosing to put it to work for them to retain clients and to provide excellent customer service?”

Multifaceted

As a business owner it’s challenging to wear many hats, such as managing finances, overseeing sales and handling social media, but relationships with clients make it worthwhile, Clary said.

“Thankfully, I have a lot of energy and I like to do a lot of things at one time,” she said. “I love being busy and I love making people feel like they matter – all the way from my clients to my clients’ customers.”

Clary plans to continue volunteering at KSPS-TV as an on-air pledge host, which she’s done for more than 28 years. She also aims to do more commercial voice-over work in the future.

“I like production. I like doing voice work. I like television work,” she said. “I work and live my hobby, which is why it’s so fun.”

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