"You’ve got to make every contact count,” says salon owner Margo Blue. That’s why her salon, The Spa at Margo Blue in Charlotte, N.C., entices callers with a bevy of offers while they wait on hold. The official term for these low-key promotional pitches is “on-hold marketing,” The typical business puts the typical customer on hold for 30-45 seconds per call, says Trip Critz of Impressions On Hold International. Why waste it when you have a customer captive?

On her main phone line, Blue runs professionally recorded messages that promote seasonal specials, new services, wedding packages, etc. “You may not have a receptionist who is trained in sales, so this is an extremely effective way to communicate a lot of information in a limited time,” she says. Similarly, Sue Schultes, owner of Notorious Nails in Green Brook, N.J., started using on-hold messaging about five years ago. “I believe it’s a great marketing tool, plus it has an upscale feel. Clients appreciate that you take the time and effort to personalize your message,” she says.

Blue uses what she calls an “on-hold coupon” to push a particular service. Callers might hear a message like, “We have three open nail appointments tomorrow. Just by mentioning this offer, you can get $5 off.” Her most effective promotional tool by far, she says, is her spa package hotline, a separate phone number that describes her current special offers in detail. Blue updates this message using her own voice rather than a professional’s to maintain a personal report with her clientele.

Prices for professional on-hold messaging vary widely, but it general you can expect to pay a start-up fee from $150 to $350 per month for playback equipment, plus a fee per tape or per month. The company you select will writer the script based on your instructions, add licensed music, and provide the voice talent. Creative Media Marketing (888-485-0078), the service used by Schultes, charges $100 for a single tape, or less depending on how often you plan to change your message. Impressions On Hold International provides unlimited updating, plus equipment, for a cost of $139 to $229 per month.     

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