Musical call tones and my mental model

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!).

Chinese immigration – how did I do today?

Today is one of those days. A meeting in Zhuhai at 11am. Take the 08:40 ferry from Hong Kong, no problem. I’d researched the ferry times, got to the ferry port with loads of time to spare and went up to the ticket counter. “Ticket to Zhuhai please”. Suddenly there was an earlier 8am ferry leaving in five minutes, if I run I could catch it. “You’re sure this goes to Zhu…” I started to ask, but the man behind the counter cut me off. “Yes it goes to zhunzen, now hurry!” but I didn’t hear him correctly, I was focussed on a boat leaving earlier than expected, and that would definitely get me to my meeting on time. Communication Breakdown. It was only as the ferry left Hong Kong and turned right rather than left I realised my mistake. I was on the boat to Shenzen.

But that is not the purpose of this post. Arriving in China, when going through passport control, under the glass window there is a little box with three buttons on it, inviting you to rate your experience – green for perfect, yellow for satisfactory and red for unsatisfactory. Capturing customer feedback at the time of the experience. Howe much more valuable is that than asking customers to complete a lengthy questionnaire some time later, after the event. I think that websites could learn from this. Rather than a pop-up inviting customers to complete a questionnaire of a number of pages (often this appears just as you start your experience at the site), why not get customers to “rate this page” or “rate your experience” as a simple thumbs up or down (as you might Digg comments). This will provide instant feedback, maybe not qualitative, but quick and simple quantative data.

And if I had the ability to rate today? Right now, as I sit in a dingy cafe waiting the two hours for the next ferry back to Hong Kong, with a rapidly flattening laptop battery, I’d have to press the thumbs down, unsatisfactory red light on my current experience.