Pop music helping council callers

ABBAYesteryear chart-toppers such as the Lighthouse Family, Abba and Billy Ocean have been credited with improving customer satisfaction levels at a local authority - after bosses decided to swap hold music for taxpayer-funded pop tunes.

Lincolnshire County Council said the number of people who hang up while on hold has more than halved since piping commercial tracks down the telephone to those in the queue.

While most councils opt for rights-free jingles, classical music or just silence, taxpayers in Lincolnshire have had tracks by the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Katie Melua and Simply Red unleashed upon them.

Lincolnshire is one of a handful of authorities to have ditched traditional hold music in favour of easy-listening chart songs, which require royalty payments to the Performing Rights Society (PRS).

Councillor Richard Davies, executive member for highways at Lincolnshire County Council, said: "People can be kept waiting for a few minutes at peak times so we use commercial songs for our on-hold music. Quite frankly, our callers love it.

"It costs just £175 per year and since we introduced it, we have reduced our abandoned call rate by half - from 4,000 calls per month to just 1,600.

"I would, however, like to take this opportunity to apologise for our use of the Lighthouse Family's Ocean Drive. I accept this was a deplorable lapse in judgement and we deserve all the criticism we get.

"In our defence, it was either that or M People's Moving On Up."

A Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request by the Press Association to 150 authorities found the 120 who replied paid nearly £6.5 million between them to the PRS during a three-and-a-half-year period.

This covered playing music in council buildings such as schools and children's homes, as well as concert venues - money usually recouped in ticket sales.

But at least a dozen authorities have also paid royalties for their hold music, costing up to £300,000 between them since January 2010.

Royalty-free pieces by classical composers were also popular with councils - with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart the most frequently heard artist.

Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council pays just over £2,000 annually for playing all sorts of music, with its telephone system using tracks including Tom Jones' She's A Lady, Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol and Tiny Dancer by Elton John.

Doncaster Council spends about £1,000 a year on hold music, where customers were greeted with ditties by American popstar Christina Perri and swinger Michael Buble's I Just Haven't Met You Yet.

Mayor Ros Jones said: "We have only just started using more varied and up-to-date music for customers to listen to when on hold or waiting for a response on the phone.

"This has been done to respond to feedback from customers. We regularly use feedback to improve the experience of our customers while ensuring a value-for-money approach."

Most authorities either use a royalty-free track built into their telephone service or simply leave their customers waiting in silence.

Others, however, rely on classical works - compositions which are so old they are out of copyright and do not require a fee.

Among them Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons, The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss, and various pieces by Mozart were played down the telephone to users.

Councils in Haringey, Hertfordshire and Sunderland also used royalty-free original pieces by playing music from local children and musicians.