/ Technology

Do automated customer service lines wind you up?

Robot on the phone

No-one wants to phone up customer services – obviously we’d rather there wasn’t a need to in the first place – but it’s an unfortunate necessity. Still, why do we have to put up with patronising automated voices?

I’ve spent lots of time in the past phoning up customer service lines to investigate how companies handle different problems and I do feel for the customer reps. It’s not an easy job, especially when their employers often don’t give them the support they need.

Talking to our mystery shopper it was great to hear that the reps from some networks – Vodafone, Talk Mobile and O2 – did really well. Although, after our recent customer service survey, it may come as little surprise to see 3 and Orange reps not do so great.

Automated customer service systems

Everyone has their own pet hates when it comes to these calls – especially our rather cantankerous Mystery Shopper – but the part that really winds me up are the automated systems companies greet you with.

Now I know they’re useful, since they help cut down the time you’re on hold and direct you to the right person for the job – well in theory they do. But the bit that really gets under my skin is when companies try to make them ‘personable’ and friendly.

If you want to divide people into the right pigeonhole and help them through their particular problem, is there really a need to have a patronising voice pretending to be all ‘matey’?

At no point have I forgotten that I wasn’t speaking to a real person, so why do they need to take up even more of my time with extra comments like ‘Ok that’s fine’ when I’m dealing with a robot?

Wouldn’t it be nice to just have a professional sounding voice read out the options, so we can choose the appropriate one without any patronising comments? And who comes up with these options? Whoever it is, they could do with some intensive games of ‘20 questions‘ so they can learn how to quickly divide people into appropriate groups.

Far too often I find the options vague and when you do select the most relevant one, they just end up repeating most of the same options all over again. Grrr.

What really winds you up about customer service lines? Do you have any horror stories?


They only wind me up – if they do not end in a useful result.

First Direct = First Class

Virgin – fast but off shore help line – hard to understand and use “scripts” which rarely cover the more obscure problems.

Royal Mail – totally useless – took three days of phone calls for them to tell me that the item was in the local office – something I knew BEFORE I phoned on the first day.and I was trying to get a repeat delivery

Several other Mail companies have been fast and accurate with re-deliveries with a hour of their estimates.

It is the repeats of options that really rile me,

I can’t stand automated customer service options. A complete wind-up. If I haven’t found the solution to my issue via google then my problem is probably one of the more obscure issues that can only be served by a person with real-knowledge of the company I’m calling.

CMF0530 says:
13 January 2011

Reading the words ‘automated customer service line’ makes my blood boil before I even make the call. I often find myself questioning my level of sanity when I begin chanting, ‘please someone, anyone? pick up! talk to me!’. I don’t know what was a worse experience for me… waiting 25 minutes listening to elevator music before hanging up to the sound of ‘hello, thank you for your patience how may I help?’ OR singing along to a 50 cent tune provided when on hold, while unbeknownst to me, my Scottish customer service helper laughed silently for a few minutes before confessing his amusement, thanks Orange. Overall, I don’t understand automated services. I don’t blame the ‘human voices’ – most of the time they don’t have the answers or the ability to solve my real problems (how can they just following ‘company handbook’), so why do we call them in the first place?

DennyL says:
14 January 2011

Obviously, when we have a problem and phone a service, what we want is a human voice that answers the phone promptly and says ‘Can I help you?’. Automated services don’t seem so often to anticipate my problem, and I have to listen to a list of non-applicable options, with no option to speak to a human. I believe a trained human can put me through to the right extension more pleasantly and as quickly as an automated system.

What makes me very angry is to have to dial a high-toll number (often 0870 or 0871) and then wait in a queue while I pay the service 10p per minute for the pleasure. I think this is unacceptable. Quite a few business have lost my custom when I’ve noticed that they are using these numbers. Many of us have cheap deals with a mobiles or landlines and we want honest-to-goodness geographical numbers.

Doug says:
14 January 2011

I agree strongly with all the above. AND my intense dislike of ‘if you want …. press 1; if you want …. press 2’ When you get to the end of the message and have decided which number to press you then (usually) get through to the wrong departement and have to be redirected.

My Bank (NatWest) is one of the worse for this.

gremlin21 says:
16 January 2011

HP Computers Dire!!!

7 February 2011

The terms and conditions say that using capital letters sound like I am shouting.
Here we go
BT are the worst.
And what they love doing is to cut you off in the middle of a conversation for which you have waited ages holding the line.
I really was in tears I was so frustrated.

The other thing which is find problematic is to have(finally) people on the line who have strong local / foreign accents – I am a foreigner with an accent too! – It’s really tricky listening to technical advice about a computer trying to get used to an accent you haven’t encountered before.
That might be easier for a native English speaker though.

To eliminate the frustration, the first question should be whether the caller wants to speak to someone or to use the automated service.

There is nothing more frustrating than pressing buttons for five minutes, knowing that your question can only be dealt with by a human being. On the other hand, automated service lines can be quicker for some purposes (e.g. telephone banking).

Be aware of 0844 number for Utility Warehouse. As a very recent customer for this energy company, which got a thumbs up from Which, I would like to report notching up nearly £10 worth of calls just to get started (Electricity readings/Cash Back Card etc.) On contacting them again with a problem at there end, the computer voice announces a queue of 4mins. which turned out to be 8+mins before being answered and over 17 mins to get resolved!!
On checking a back copy of Which I spotted the website ‘saynoto0870’ which provided an 020
number for Utility Warehouse which I will now use and monitor if this has any hidden charges.

The ones I dislike the most are the ones that ask you to repeat silly phrases back to them
“if this is the option you want, say – this is what I want or no thank you” – anyone overhearing me talking like a parot will think I’ve gone completely crazy. Next it’s “sorry I didn’t catch that, please repeat your answer”

I can’t believe I’m having a ‘conversation’ with a robot, its worse than 1984 – good grief!

I’ve been involved in repeated problems with 3 and T-Mobile over the last couple of months trying to sort out a bill. Both companies use overseas call centres so when you finally get through to someone, very often they don’t understand what you’re trying to say. I’ve spent an average of 45 minutes a week to each of them over the last 8 weeks – each time having to explain from the beginning what my problem is. To put it mildly, I hate automated customer services but the real frustration I have is that after I finally get a real person English is a 2nd language and they have no idea what I’m talking about if I go into any kind of detail!

It’s my banking system that drives me to distraction. I normally bank on-line so only ring when I have a problem that I can’t resolve via my browser. I am almost always in a hurry and certainly don’t need to be told my account balance, how to order stationery, or be persuaded to open an savings account. Being forced to listen to all this stuff before I get an option to talk to a human has me spitting blood. And then they tell me ‘my call is important to them…


Just joined orange, Have to be up there for the one of the worse auto systems. Perhaps Which should give awards for the worst ones to name and shame (only way that a company will listen/do something about it).

mary Flannigan says:
2 July 2012

what makes me angry is when they ask to decribe you problem -you do-and they come back saying they do not understand and ask you again to describe you problem and keep saying they do no understand over and over again. it is very frustrating. I was on the phone over an hour getting the saame thing-so I pressed O and they saqid they would connect me to a person- then the music for nest avaialbe person – last time the first part of jume I was listening to music for over 45 minutes before I got a person- If they are that busy ans so many people are out of work why don’y they hire more people- guess ttheir companies are too cheap to hire more and make the wait a little less long!