/ 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.
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Angie Reynolds says:
26 April 2013

If its not an urgent query I google the company and find there contact page. Emailing a message asking to phone me ASAP, usually it tells you how long it will take to expect a call from them. I’m too busy to be on hold!

Brian says:
26 April 2013

When asked to choose a service press the hash key and you often get straight through to an operator.

Hayley Bolt says:
26 April 2013

I always look on Google for an overseas number for the company. The overseas numbers tend to get answered by an actual person and always very quickly.

Jeff says:
26 April 2013

If you are not happy with the service you get from the call centre contact always ask to speak to their supervisor and explain to them why you have asked to speak to them. Hopefully they will incorporate that into a training lesson for the original contact.

Heather says:
26 April 2013

What I do to evade being passed from pillar to post is to choose the option where I say I don’t have a keypad phone, and then they put you through to a human being a lot faster!

Adam says:
26 April 2013

When asked to give your name, give the name of the company in question’s CEO.

If you are connected to an adviser, begin the conversation by whispering to them that you are currently being filmed for a new series of Undercover Boss. Then raise your voice and state whatever your query is, ignoring any suspicions. You’ll find your advisor to very amenable.

Jamie Lewis says:
26 April 2013

Many companies provide an online chat facility, if you can, always use this facility. It is easier to plan what you are going to say and stick to what you want when you are writing. It is also less likely that customer service operators will have an opportunity to fob you off. Best of all, the whole conversation can be saved and stored for future correspondence.

If phone is the only option there are other things you can do, many companies don’t allow you to skip through the automated system so your going to have to be patient. Try not to get fed up and put the phone down because it will end up being a waste of time and money. Once you get through to an operator, try and get the issue resolved in that one call. Get them to transfer you rather than you hanging up and inputting yet another number.

If it is a premium number, it is always worth mentioning how long you have been on the phone and whether there is a refund option. If all else fails, defer to the complaints procedure, it may take some time but it gets results!

suzanna gentle says:
26 April 2013

Simply press PRESS in very quick succession and that’s it. Works so far for the following companies: Sky, Tesco, 3mobile, Alliance and Leicester, american express, bank of scotland, barclays, bupa, capital one, comet, dell, dhl, dvla, egg, goldfish, halifax, hsbc lloyds tsb, natwest (my personal favourite), nhs direct, o2, pc world, royal mail, sainsbury’s Bank and many others. Within seconds or very very quickly you will be put through to a walking talking annoying operator 🙂

Angela says:
26 April 2013

Call centres put the most resources into making money – acquiring new customers or business, or retaining existing customers/business.
Depending on which type of company I’m calling, there tend to be three departments that will have live people ready to take your call more quickly:
Sales – for banking or retailers, they want you to make a purchase and don’t want to keep you waiting on hold, when they could be taking your money instead!
Bill payments – unless they have an automated system for this, many companies have human call handlers ready and waiting to take your money from you.
Complaints – for media services such as cable tv, if you threaten to leave them for one of their competitors, you’ll be amazed at how quickly they can manage to find someone to speak with you in the hope that they can hang on to your business.
Failing that, I pretend that none of the options is the right one, and instead keep pressing “0” or “9” to bypass all the options and get through to a human who will hopefully direct your call to the right place, first time.
One or more of these tricks should ensure that you don’t end up in a seemingly endless queue, or going round and round the system.

vicki hennie says:
26 April 2013

I try and use another option all together if i can visit a store i do that, alot of companys now have an online chat, i much prefere these routes of inquirey than calling, but if i have to i usally ask to speak to a manager straight away and always make sure i let them know if my query isn’t dealt with i will take it to regulaters seems to work for me

Bohdan Kuczynski says:
26 April 2013

Having worked in Contact Centres for over 20 years as well as calling them often I used to have a myriad of tips and tricks to get through to a “live agent”, by that I mean a real person rather than the un-living, speaking to a corpse is not usually an option in the menus provided 🙂

I agree with many of the tips provided earlier, pressing # or 0 used to result in being automatically routed to an agent – albeit being placed in a queue if the agents were already on calls. However the more modern the telephony system the less chance of this working now. 🙁

So here are my common sense tips for a straight forward relatively stress free contact.

Firstly check the contact centre opening hours. This is important to gauge the best time to call them. Staff are human and suffer from traffic hold ups, need breaks and need to go home at some point too. Therefore if your call is not urgent don’t try first thing when the centre opens, staffing is set at a lower level. Contact centres often resource around a mid point, when peaks occur such as first thing in the morning, the day of your bill dropping, you are bound to be in a queue. Likewise 3 to 4 hours into a shift is when a proportion of staff go to lunch, which will also result in you holding for longer than necessary. I have often found with contact centres staying open til later, if you call in the evening after 8pm you get through quicker, Many centres also “chase the sun” and offshore their answering after 5pm or 6pm to provide customers with a 24hr service. The level of service you receive at these times might (and I stress might) not be the same as if you called earlier. I have had many great conversations and brilliant customer service at 10pm from contact centres in the far east 🙂

So to summarise gauge when to call, avoid early morning and lunchtime and you’ll get through quicker.
Pressing random buttons doesn’t always work any more, though there is something to be gained by internal transfers (but only if you follow the next piece of advice), by the way an internal transfer from the main company switchboard (if it can be done) is good, even better if it comes from the office of the director of customer experience or customer service.

The big piece of advice is to always keep calm and polite, the agent is a person with feelings too and they have not maliciously picked on you to have an issue. keep them on side and explain clearly what the issue is and realistically how you want it resolved. This usually works. If the relationship breaks down or the agent is not empowered to be able to help, ask to be transferred to their line manager and start to move up the chain. Each step up the chain carries more authority and ability to resolve the issue to your satisfaction.

Many contact centres are just that, they have moved from the traditional call centre environment with only phones and voices and embrace all forms of contact. Email I have found is still a relatively slow (!) way of getting a response. If the company offers “webchat” this is often by far the quickest (though remember the first few interactions with “webchat” are often scripted automated responses looking for key words). Others have moved to social media in a large scale and can be brilliantly quick. I’ve received twitter responses to a query whilst I’ve been hanging on hold 🙂 So the tip here is to edge your bets, phone at the right time, tweet to the company and engage in webchat ALL AT THE SAME TIME, and pick up with the one that answers first.

Alan Witt says:
26 April 2013

I always say “This number is ex-directory,your call is illegal so f*** off and go and play with yourself”.At least the caller might end up enjoying themselves.

Ross says:
26 April 2013

Googling the company and finding out the best way to get through quicker is always a good start, worked with me for orange.

Georgia McAllister says:
26 April 2013

Before I ring I find a normal landline number for the company (not an 0845) as I get daytime calls to a landline for free. I press the first option they give me and sound surprised when they tell me I’ve come through to the wrong number. They then transfer you as quickly as possible, no queues, to right department.

Karen Scott says:
26 April 2013

I have an app on my phone which not only connects me to a cheaper number, sometimes free but always within my price plan mins instead of 0845 but it also queues for you when stuck and will call you back when your call reaches the front if you wish it to (like the old BT number 5 thing someone mentioned)…love this app so much!!!

When trying to dodge the automated options I too press * again and again until it over-rides the system and passes me to a call centre…although sometimes I do wonder whether the automated service may have been more helpful 😉

Karra says:
26 April 2013

I had this dilemma today, trying to call HMRC about my tax code… after 10 minutes selecting my way through an automated voice recording I was told there was no one available to take my call, they advised me to call later and they hung up. 10 minutes later I tried the same thing, and the same happened again. Very frustrating.

The solution was simple. I went onto the website, http://www.saynoto0870.com and searched an alternative to the number. It came up with a landline. After a couple of rings and a very short wait I was put straight through to an operator. Hooray! No automated service and no waiting!

Best of all, my tax code is now sorted, and fingers crossed for a little tax rebate, woohoo!

If you don’t get satisfaction from a call centre within a reasonable length of time, tell the operator that you will present yourself at their head office reception to sort out your problem (assuming of course that the HO is within reasonable travelling distance – it and it works.

esther james says:
26 April 2013

Using social media is a good tool. If you tweet/message the company, you will usually et a response and someone offering to phone you back!

John Gunn says:
26 April 2013

I find that asking people to send you their complaints procedure usually works. Either they are a bit scared or they can’t be bothered getting it all together to send you!

Becky Downey says:
26 April 2013

visit saynoto0870.com helps – a far cheaper call, and sometimes free!