Getting to 'Yes'

One of the great ironies of modern telecommunications is that it’s really hard to speak to your phone company. This evening, I called Optus at 8.15pm to ask about a problem with my mobile phone bill. After a 20-minute wait, I reached a person who said that she couldn’t solve my problem, and that she had to put me into another queue. After a further 25 minutes, the phone line cut out. Confused, I called back, and it was then that I realised what had happened. Their operating hours are 8am-9pm, so at 9pm, they just cut off everyone who’s waiting on hold.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to face such high-quality phone service. In the US, some ingenious folks have set up the GetHuman database, listing what you have to type to get a human operator for hundreds of US companies (eg. Sunoco: “Press 00000, then mumble when prompted for an account number”). Their goal is a worthy one: to improve the quality of phone support in the US.

GetHuman even has some generic tips for getting through to a real live human:

  1. Interrupt. Press 0 (or 0# or #0 or 0* or *0) repeatedly, sometimes quickly. Unfortunately the same keystroke does not always work for each company. Many IVRs will connect to a human after a few “invalid entries”, although some IVRs will hangup.  
  2. Talk. Say “get human” (or “agent” or “representative”) or raise your voice, or just mumble. The IVR might connect you to a human after one of these key or unknown phrases. 
  3. Just hold, pretending you have only an old rotary phone. 
  4. Connect to account collections or sales or account cancellation; they always seem to answer quickly. First ask them for their name and rep number (so they know you are writing it down, and thus so they are more likely to help you.) Then ask them to transfer you to the department you need. Sometimes they will put you ahead of the queue, although sometimes they will send you to the end (and thus in those cases this tip is useless). 
  5. Toll call. For credit cards, if the expected wait time is too long, hangup and try to call back on their non-toll-free number, as they often have shorter queues. 
  6. Selecting the option for Spanish will sometimes get you a bilingual human more quickly than if you just waited for an English-only operator. 

When you do finally find a human, ask them how to connect directly the next time (in case your call gets disconnnected etc), and be sure to tell us so we can then list their number.

Is there a similar Australian project? If not, can I inspire you to start one?

Update: For Optus, call 1300 300 937, and press 0 repeatedly. It takes the computer voice about one minute to give up and hand you over to a person.

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5 Responses to Getting to 'Yes'

  1. cam says:

    I think Sear’s phone system is anger sensitive. Swearing at the non-human voice system causes it to hang up.

  2. One of the insurance companies has a good ad about this technology being turned back on the corporate world, and promising you can speak to a real person.

  3. derrida derider says:

    There are banks in the US that ask you first to enter your account number. The queue is then sorted according to the money they’re making from you – James Packer types are immediately put through to their personal banker, someone paying the bank a lot of interest or who has created a huge savings account gets put through to a normal human, average punters get put into automated phone jail, while someone who makes the bank a loss will find themselves on hold endlessly.

    For the last group they could go further, and make sure the phone plays ads for competitors while on hold. Or hire staff trained in creative ridicule to ‘help’ these customers. I reckon the last would be a fun job.

  4. These days I always get ask to get put through to “Sales” if I want any service.

  5. Zoe says:

    I have found that Centrelink’s Child Care Benefit line interprets being told to “get f*cked” (it took a long wait to get to that point, promise) as “I think you said you want to hang up? Is that correct?”

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