Musical call tones when you are waiting to be connected to the person you are calling are great from a marketing and technical point of view, but they are inconsistent with (many) user expectations. Does this mean they are wrong? Is there a cultural or demographic dimension to this?
I have a mental model for the way that phones work. I dial a number and get a mechanical ‘brrrr-brrrr’ tone. In some countries it is a simple sine wave tone, but it is a recognisable feedback mechanism that lets me know that the call is waiting for the person (or machine) at the other end of the line to answer it. If I get a single tone it means the line is engaged or can’t be connected.
I’ve another mental model about music being played to me on the phone. It means that I’ve been connected to the other person and have been put on hold. If I have initiated the call, and it is not a free number, it is costing me to listen to the music.
In China, Hong Kong and Singapore musical call tones are becoming increasingly popular. Instead of the mechanical brrr-brrr you get a song that the person you are calling has selected. The first time I got this I was calling a colleague in China and I immediately put the phone down. Was I being charged for this? I associated the music with being on hold, and I didn’t want that on an international call. The musical call tone broke my long established mental model of how a phone works. That caused cognitive dissonance and I didn’t like that.
To my knowledge, none of the UK telco providers offer this service. Could this be because consumers would find it hard to accept it? If so, why is it so popular in China? Ubiquitous phone ownership is relatively new in China, could it be true that they don’t have such an ingrained mental model of what a waiting call tone should sound like? Or is it (more likely) an age thing. I’m just too too conditioned with my ‘brrr-brrr’ and youth the world over will cast it away in favour of whatever is top of the download chart. (Eeugch, I’m sounding old!).