Last September Bob Priest, owner of Burr Roofing & Siding, in Darien, Conn., programmed his phone system so that on-hold callers would hear a scripted message. Burr Roofing's message begins with this: “Did you know that over 2,350 complaints and lawsuits were filed against Connecticut home improvement contractors last year?” After this attention-getter, customers are then offered a free educational booklet and a video about the company.

The message — a four-minute, multi-segment script prepared by Worldwide Multimedia Presentations, Dallas — also lets callers know that Burr Roofing installs siding and windows.

Priest says the purchase of on-hold messaging — costing $529 per year — is part of a whole new marketing approach his company is taking.

“It used to be: ‘Need a new roof? Call us.'” he explains. “Now we say: ‘Learn what you need to know before you get an estimate.'”

Captive Audience Jonathan Laurence of Worldwide Multimedia Presentations, says that when it comes to what's on their phones, “most home improvement companies have the radio or nothing. You're paying to have that phone ring, but not for a safety net to make sure that guy doesn't hang up.”

Not a good thing, considering that many of those who call your office are prospects. Industry sources estimate that the average time a person is on hold is 43 seconds per call. A USA Today study shows that 60% of callers placed on hold will hang up within a minute if they encounter silence. A third of them won't call back.

In fact, having that person's undivided attention gives you a unique opportunity to influence the buying decision as well as build brand. A typical on-hold message lasts for four minutes. Laurence says an effective script hits on trust, warranties, and products, sometimes using testimonials. Individual messages are separated by music and all of it is narrated by professionals. That more informative version of the on-hold message is easily installed into most phone systems and gives a small company a “10th-floor image.” He suggests home improvement companies use three scripts during the course of the year: one for cold weather, one for warm weather, and a holiday version.

Burr Roofing office manager Pat Green says she's had limited feedback on the system so far, but recently she picked up the phone on a customer who'd been on hold. “He said: ‘Oh, I was just getting into your message. That's quite interesting. I didn't know you did windows.'”