/ Technology

How do you beat the call centre?


Calling my broadband provider to cancel should’ve been simple. Yet, after weaving my way through a maze of automated options, I started to think there must be an easier way. How do you beat automated systems?

Working your way through a customer service line can be a painfully lengthy process. Every turn you take seems to lead you deeper into the automated system, with no sight of how many more layers of options lie ahead, and no suggestion of when you’ll get to speak to a real person.

Not only is this process time consuming, but as you may be calling a premium rate number, all the drawn-out options could rack up a hefty phone bill!

How to get through to a human when calling companies

Until quite recently my parents had a phone with a rotary dial. This meant they couldn’t follow the icy commands of the automated robots by ‘pressing 1 for billing options’. Subsequently, by remaining silent, they’d eventually be put through to an adviser. I thought it was worth giving this method a try. Unfortunately my broadband company decided it couldn’t help me if I wouldn’t select an option and the automated voice ended the call rather unapologetically.

And it’s not just a pain when calling telecoms companies. Last year we talked about getting through to a real person when calling your bank and some of you offered up some tips, including Sophie Gilbert:

‘As soon as the robot has started its sentence, I press # repeatedly in order to flummox the system and I get told after a very short time that I have exceeded the number of attempts at entering my card number and that I will be put through to one of the humans.’

I’m sure there are many other ways to get fast-tracked through a call centre line to speak to an adviser. After my attempt at giving them the silent treatment failed, I’m curious as to how effective other methods might be.

So, what are your tried and tested methods to beat automated systems? How do you cut the time of the call and get to an adviser quickly?

If you share your call centre tips, tricks and experiences by Friday 26 April you’ll be entered into our competition to win a 16GB iPad mini! The more creative the comment, the better. We’ll mull over all of the entries and pick our favourite. Good luck!

[UPDATE] – The competition is now closed. Our winner is Louise, who shared her handy tips to beat automated phone systems. An iPad mini is winging its way over to her now!

Which? Conversation iPad mini Competition Terms and Conditions

1. To enter, you must add a comment with your call centre tips, tricks and experiences at http://whi.ch/Yxwy1j Please ensure you use an email address we can contact you on. All comments must be received by midnight Friday 26 April 2013 (the ‘Closing Date’).
2. Employees of Which? Ltd, their families and anyone living in the employee’s household are not eligible to enter.
3. Entry limited to one per person.
4. Our judges will select the best entry from all comments by the Closing Date during the week commencing 29 April 2013 based on what we judge to be the best tips and tricks comment . The winner will then be announced here on www.whichconversation.co.uk. The winner will be contacted by email within 10 days of the name being drawn and the winner must claim their prize within 14 days. Failure to claim by this deadline may result in the prize being forfeited.
5. The prize is a UK 16GB iPad mini with wi-fi at a value of £269. No cash alternative is available. Which? reserves the right to substitute a prize of equivalent value at its absolute discretion.
6. Which? reserves the right to terminate the offer, extend the promotion period or to amend these terms and conditions at any time and for any reason.
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Although I’ve heard that sudden prayers might make Your God jump, a lot of people claim to get through first time every time.

Most call centres I contact today have multiple layered choices, before you get to speak to person. About 3 -4 years ago a lot of time and effort was expended in trying to get through to a person by using a code after the telephone number. The code varied depending on who you were calling and you had to enter it each time the phone rang. I remember trying it at the time and frankly it was easier to follow the options. I find that I can get through to a person without too much hassle – digital cordless phones make it easier as I don’t have to hold the phone to my ear – but my problem with call centres is that the person is not really equipped to help,

If I have a problem with Talk Talk that the normal customer service route fails to rectify promptly. I ring and select the option “I’m planning on leaving Talk Talk” and I at least get speaking to a representative in the UK (Retentions Dept.) and they always sort out my problem. I usually end up with a reduction in my monthly charge as well. This still means I have to press 1 for… press 2 for … before I get to speak to a person.

FMD says:
18 April 2013

I can honestly say that in the past year I have had more trouble attempting to pay my EDF Energy bills than I have had hot dinners. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a regular consumer of hot dinners – it’s just that EDF have given me a ridiculous amount of hassle. With gas and electricity bills addressed to ‘the occupier’ and (according to a customer service advisor that I managed get through to after hours of classical hold music and several attempts) no way of putting the bills under my own name without a previous EDF bill under my name, I was left frustrated to say the least.

It was with reluctance that I resorted to paying monthly bills via their phone payment service and my trusty debit card. Each month I was faced with at least an hour of robots demanding that I: press 5 or say ‘pay a bill’ in order to make a payment/please enter your account number/please confirm your account number/please enter the bill number/please confirm the bill number/please enter the amount you owe/please enter the amount you want to pay/please confirm the amount you want to pay by pressing 1 or saying ‘yes’/I’m sorry I didn’t understand that/please enter the amount you want to pay/please confirm the amount you want to pay/please enter the card number you wish to pay with/please enter the expiry date/I’m sorry I didn’t understand that/please enter the expiry date/please enter the security code/please confirm that you want to make this transaction by pressing 1 or saying yes/…transaction complete.

Well, thank goodness for that! Only, that wasn’t it… For some bizarre reason, my gas and electricity bills were listed under separate accounts. One down, one to go! God forbid you actually opt to say a command rather than press a number – something which sends the whole process spiralling out of control and seems to happen far too often. It brings a tear to my eye to think of the hours I have wasted talking to robots and pressing buttons, EDF bill in hand, too many commands flying round my head.

Clive Pulley says:
19 April 2013

If you get one of those annoying calls from abroad…
Play along and just keep saying “Why?”
Why do I need this?
Why do you want me to have this?
Why did you phone me of all people?
Why is it such a good idea?
Why do you want to know this information?
It is a great stress reliever and a laugh.
Also at the moment, I am saying that the person they want to speak to (me0 has just commited suicide or I have just come back from his funeral.

Go on… Have a laugh and run their bills up.

I always call sales as you get to speak to a real person and say I couldn’t get through on another line. Or call the press office if you have problems They don’t want bad publicity re call centres

If I have real trouble with a contact centre getting through I call sales as you get to speak to a person. If I have real trouble I call their mediA dept as they don’t want adverse publicity!

ceepee says:
19 April 2013

“Press x if you are thinking of leaving us” is usually a sure fire way of getting through to a human quicker, but in my experience they often then put you into the same queue you would end up in anyway.

A more creative way I have heard about, but yet to try, is repeatedly cursing/swearing, apparently automated systems pick up your frustration and escalate your call. If nothing else, you might release some of the inevitable built up stress!

Another alternative is this diamond of a website – http://gethuman.com – I have yet to try it, but it looks promising and next time I hear one of these robotic voices I’ll try this.

Ian B says:
19 April 2013

Always try to use a 0845 alternative… to save on charges when kept on hold see sites like http://www.0870alternative.com/

Emma Gallagher says:
19 April 2013

I worked in a callcenter about 15 years ago, taking about 100 calls a day so I do sympathise with callers and staff. When I worked on the callcenter we had a board showing the number of calls waiting certainly where I worked there was no sure fire way to jump the queue, we lost alot of calls thru people hanging up after getting fed up with the waiting time (typically about 5-10 minutes). I know at that time my employer found that certain types of holding music aggrivated caller and it was removed, not sure if that is still the case.
As a call center agent I know irrate callers were always passed to those in higher authority or a complaints handling team. We were told if someone mentioned “Making A Formal Complaint” in conversation then they were speedily passed to the complaint handling team. Since leaving the company some years ago I always use the words “Formal Complaint” now over the phone if Im not happy with any customer service and I find I get a swift response and typically better service – mainly because complaints tend to be logged and reported and a formal complaint is one that has to be responded too within a certain amount of time.
Another trick I picked up on the call center was to stand up when taking a difficult call, somehow by doing this it makes you feel and sounds more authoritive so again this something I do now aswell.

Darryl Godden says:
19 April 2013

Either stay silent when the option mention plays, although this does not always work as some systems will hang up on you – or press a key that isn’t an option.

The other idea is to check website like SayNoTo0870 for alternative landline numbers.

iain maciver says:
19 April 2013

just try and be polite as possible then just say no

Carolynn Woodland says:
19 April 2013

I always start with saynoto0870 and find a free or low cost phone number.

PedroStephano says:
19 April 2013

Firstly, I completely avoid phoning premium numbers by using saynoto0870.com, so I can make a long call guilt free. But secondly, I only make just the one long call. This first call I learn and jot down the keysteps involved in getting through to a human, then record those as a note on the contact on my iPhone. Next time? Dial in, press “5” “3” 0″ * and bingo – heaps of time saved on all subsequent calls.
*obviously this varies 🙂

Hi PedroStephano – agree it’s the best way – so might like http://www.pleasepress1.com/

Stevie says:
19 April 2013

Using Say No To 0870 has been helpful at times as you can avoid queues and be transferred direct by the person you speak with. Not always though. Most of the time I send an email to the company/organistation and handle it that way or have them call me back. Who has time to sit in premium rate call queues?

Amanda Pavon-lopez says:
19 April 2013

I have found the quickest way to talk to a person when faced with loads of options is to select either the “thinking of leaving” option or the “paying your bill/upgrading” option. These always seem to answer the most quickly, and will then trasnfer you directly to the right person.

Billymac10 says:
19 April 2013

1. Say no to 0870 to reduce call cost.
2. Use 0 instead of an actual option – an old one that some CC have got rid of but it worked the other day for me so always try it to get straight through to someone.
3. Use any option to speak to someone (e.g. 1 – normally sales and they tend to have highest staffing levels). Then explain your problem and get them to transfer you over.
4. If you have to repeat the information you gave to teh automated system complain – I always do and only get an apology – e.g. I just told you my name or entered my card number – I’m not doing that again. The more of us that do it they’ll either stop asking the first time for the automated system or get the info transferred to the cal handler.

Kimberly says:
19 April 2013

This is my dad’s tip and it works for him every time. Find out the name of the CEO, ask for him/her by name in a brusque authoritative voice, do not be put off, refuse to discuss your query with anyone else, you will eventually get to their PA at the very least. Then they tend to get stuff done much more quickly. I tried this with much scepticism when O2 were really messing me around, after speaking to the CEO’s PA my issue was resolved in 2 hours.

Alex Jeffries says:
19 April 2013

Not exactly creative but the best way to get through to an actual human being is to select any Always select an option that allows the company to take money from you! be that to sign up as a new client, to pay bills, direct debit etc. Not Surprisingly they always have people on hand to take credit card details yet when it comes to solving any other problems I am always met by an automated voice with endless list of options none of which are normally applicable. Once you get through then get them to transfer you or give you an actual number.

this worked with my ex’s ISP , he had been trying to get through to a person for hours. I took over, got through to a person and said that if they didnt get someone to sort the problem I would call back every minute and bother them until they did. it worked!

Gordon says:
19 April 2013

I used to work behind the scenes building the call routing options that everyone is so fed up of. If the designer is good there is no “quick way” to get through to a human. All back door routes should be closed off. You just need to listen to the options and pick the one relevant for you.

Again, if it has been designed well then there should be a minimum number of options to choose. It may not seem like it at times but companies do want you to get through and do know that people do not like the option route. Unfortunately for large companies it is unavoidable but to have them.

Newer systems have the call back option. I always find this is a good one to pick if you are not in a rush to speak to someone. Your number will be added to a dialler system and you will be called back automatically once an agent is free to take a call.

Most call centre routing is set up so that Agents are “multi skilled” and due to this can take many different types of queries. This is not always possible as it is best to have Agents who are skilled in one area so that they can fully assist and fix your issues in one call. Multi skilled agents are good in dealing with calls quickly but may not always be able to fully help you in your issue.

If you do pick a different option to beat the queues and you get to a department that knows nothing about your query they will just put you back into the queue. So you may as well just pick the correct option…. But if they do have multi skilled agents then they will be able to help you… Tricky.

These are just my personal opinions and each company that has a call routing system will have their own.

Hope the above knowledge is useful.

You are correct, almost all large call centre phone systems just ignore the codes mentioned to bypass the selection of options. I find that using the codes or silences just prolongs the process and if you do not eventually select a relevant option, you are advised that they are unable to help you and the call ends. Talk Talk use multi ‘skilled’ staff to respond to problems and selecting the relevant option speeds up the process.of at least speaking about a telephone, broadband or TV problem. I try and give the call centre agent time to resolve a problem but if they fail, I then select the option ‘I’m leaving TT; that option gives me the chance of speaking to a UK operative and they normally get the problem solved. Once, I had to resort to contacting their CEO and I had rapid results from her staff.

Graham Wallace says:
19 April 2013

Try ringing later in the day when other people have given up and choose ‘0’ rather than the other number options given you.