/ 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.
7. If the prize is declined or if the winner forfeits the prize under these terms and conditions, then Which? may at its absolute discretion draw an alternative winner.
8. Proof of sending will not be accepted as proof of receipt. Which? takes no responsibility for entries delayed, incomplete or lost due to technical reasons or otherwise.
9. The decision of Which? is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
10. By entering the competition, you will be deemed to have understood these rules and agree to be bound by them.
11. All copyright in the rules submitted in response to this competition will be owned by Which? and Which? shall be free to use any of the rules submitted whenever and however it likes.
12. Which? reserves the right to feature names, photographs and towns of winners in future promotions.
13. In entering the competition each entrant grants a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual licence to Which? Limited to feature any or all of the submitted comments in any of their publications, their websites, and/or in any promotional material connected to the competition.
14. The promoter of the prize draws is Which? Limited, a company registered in England & Wales (company number 00677665) whose registered office is at 2 Marylebone Road, London NW1 4DF.


I’ve found a sure-fire way to get through to my credit card company, which bypasses all of the automated menus and call queuing systems, putting me straight through to a call centre operator.

I first go online and place an Internet transaction, denominated in what my credit card supplier must regard as a very dodgy currency (Euros) with a company based in some banana republic, like Germany. This immediately puts a block on my credit card and the transaction is declined.

When I then call up Visa and finish entering my credit card number on the telephone keypad I am immediately transferred to a real person. Once we have sorted out the block on my credit card, the operator falls into my trap …

“Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

(The only downside I can see to this strategy is that I might end up with an electrical appliance with a 2-pin plug – q.v. the relevant Convo.)

Greta Ieva Jurgelaityte says:
26 April 2013

Type in 0 and usually itll go through if not try it again, if that doesnt work either do nothing at all ( the sylent treatment) and then usually it goes straight through the nearest available opperator as to them it seems that you’re having trouble, you can also try going online for those who can to avoid the problem completely or maybe trying to keep your self bussy while on hold, get head phones and get stuck in to the house work while your waitin on them to answer.

Jeremy Andrews says:
26 April 2013

say nothing at all, eventually a human will speak to you

Jim North says:
23 May 2013

Tried this to contact credit card company and worked a treat.

sarah louise gray says:
26 April 2013

If you log onto the website and firstly, get the direct number that doesnt cost so much. If you can, find out exactly which dept deals with your query and if they have an email address. Failing that, ring the number and go straight for the speak to operative option.

Matthew Burr says:
26 April 2013

If you are near one .You cant beat turning up in reception and demanding to be seen straight away to get things sorted. You can also enjoy the holiday in India whilst you are doing so .:)

steven Craig says:
29 April 2013

Use live chat and ask for a call back on a mobile number no matter how long your on for the company is paying for the call

Kerry Dibble says:
26 April 2013

Choose the option for Spanish. Sometimes you’ll be able to speak to a bilingual operator faster than you’d be able to get through to an English-speaking one.

Marcella says:
26 April 2013

When the £5 credit I placed on my mobile phone completely disappeared a few hours after toppping-up when I hadn’t used it, I was annoyed. I tried to contact the mobile phone company,
but I couldn’t get through to customer services after numerous attempts. I then decided to write a letter to the customer services department, I waited a few weeks, but they didn’t respond. I then decided to go onto the company’s website to find out the name of the Director of Customer Services, I wrote another letter and addressed it to him detailing my complaint. A few days later I received a phone call from customer services apologising for the mishap, they told me they would give me back the £5 credit I originally purchased, and an additional £5 credit as a gesture of good will. It helps to contact someone at the top of the company, Director’s and other top management are more likely to take complaints more seriously.

Katie Bennett says:
26 April 2013

well with my my going blind i have to help with these things on a regular basis recently i had to help her with her internet after sorting mine out … as i am with a company that have been meaning to upgrade our internet for a year so i rang them asked what the hold up was and they did it over the phone right away … sometime being nice gets you somewhere fast … but with my mum i find the only way to get to someone other then india or where else they are as i find they never really help and dont know know one product from the next i always go thought to the thinking about leaving us section and i always get a human and a english one that is based in teh uk and then i always get my situation cleared up of sorted and even if i am supernice sometimes they make the bill cheaper too

before all this madness i always did my old fashion method of getting though press loads of number and finally it would put me though to a operator and if it was a talking bot then i would speak gobble group and say blah bing bop dop lol … and it would never understand me and i finally would be put though but then i could never understand them lol ….

the best automated service is VUE when trying to book a film if you want a challenge you will have to try it when trying to say the location or the film it gets it wrong every time dont help with the jannar accent i think .. i remember trying to book the last transformer movie in plymouth and i got some place else until i got plymouth then trying to get the movie i got something else so i gave up …. always pre book online now or just queue when i get there so much easier then phone booking i would wait two hours then try and book by phone again lol … unless i want a laugh …

If you call into a line that does voice recognition most of them recognise people swearing, and will immediately transfer you to an experienced real person. Bit disconcerting to force yourself to swear, but it works!

Terry Miles says:
30 April 2013

Once or twice I have called helplines of competing organisations to find out which is the least irritating before deciding which one to go with. The one which puts me through to a human with an accent I can understand wins every time.

Hello everyone, thanks for your comments and entries into our competition. It closed on Fri 26 April and we’re now going through all your comments to pick the winner 🙂 Good luck!

Sorry I missed the deadline for the competition but have had a hatred of badly designed phone menus for years so I decided to do something about it. Just started up this site which I hope is of interest to you http://www.pleasepress1.com/ Got loads of reports and analysis to write but it really shows you how bad some companies are. Finishing an HMRC review this weekend as they are amongst the worst. Take a look http://www.pleasepress1.com/uk/hmrc/income-tax-enquiries-for-individuals-pensioners-and-employees/

Katie Bennett says:
3 May 2013

cool …


I used your website a couple of weeks ago and found it useful to see which companies had direct line numbers and which had a tiered option system, with the numbered options shown. I have bookmarked your site for future use.

Thanks Katie – saw your comments above about voice recognition – don’t think the technology is there yet. We flag these where we come across them but it seems more companies are moving towards them (including HMRC) but our research says people dislike them more than robot menus ! Welcome your views via the survey on our site.

Thanks Figgerty, much appreciated. We are loading many more numbers in the next few days that have no phone menus at all so hope you find that useful. Obviously many of those types tend to be sales numbers but not always – will look to extract some stats and a list/article of those services that have no menus and why.

Hello everyone, we’ve picked a winner for this competition… we’ve let them know by email and are awaiting their confirmation! Please check your emails! We’ll let you know on here soon 🙂 Commiserations if it isn’t you, but congratulations if it is!

Katie Bennett says:
8 May 2013

nope not me …. congrats to the winner i have enjoyed reading all the comments ….

I have this Conversation bookmarked and am trying out some of the suggestions, which adds a little interest.

I’m hoping that Which? will submit a ‘super complaint’ to get nuisance calls banned.

Katie Bennett says:
8 May 2013

i had one ring me on my mobile at 6.45 this morning i dont mind as i was up …. but normally i would be asleep there should be time when they should not be allowed to phone as i have had one at 9pm before as well …. still they are a pain at any time of time but … there should be a rule about when it is a too early or too late

Sadly, those involved in illegal or questionable activities are unlikely to respect your wishes.

The obvious solution is to switch off your mobile at night. If you need to be able to receive urgent calls at all times you could get a cheap PAYG phone and keep this on at night. I have not had any nuisance calls on either of my PAYG mobiles. Both are seldom used, but one is on almost all the time. Never give out the number to anyone, other than those who might need to contact you in emergency.

Warning. Our winner has not claimed their prize. They have 10 days to do so, otherwise we’ll have to pick a new winner…

I hope for the sake of the winner, it is clearly distinguishable from all the other emails from Which? today, including 22 emails on the subject of: [Which? Conversation] New Comment On: I bought a copycat product by mistake.

Enough already! 🙂

Could your system not send out just one notification per Convo update or at least a maximum of one per Coco?

Hi Em, I’m afraid it’s per comment. I can look into it, but if you’re not happy with the emails please manage your subscriptions by clicking the link below the comment box, or clicking the link included in each of the emails sent.

Thanks Patrick,

Sure, I understand that is the current option.

It’s a shame to have to unsubscribe from threads I am interested in reading because a few people don’t know when to stop, but my email system needs to be protected.

Must go and microwave some spinach.


Email out of office warning systems manage to issue only one out-of-office warning however many emails we send to someone in one day. Perhaps the Which? techies could do something similar.

Sorry to be off-topic and sorry to Em for contributing to these emails.

Kerry Dibble says:
16 May 2013

Who was the winner for this competition in the end?

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! Thank you to everyone for entering 🙂 Lots of comments here which are of great help in our research

Tish says:
22 May 2013

Spent an anxious hour trying to speak to my son overseas. BT had failed to connect me to overseas phoning even when I paid them more monthly for cheaper calls. Call centre after call centre person listened to my problem and then said “I deal with broadband” . Each time I asked to be put through to the right person. An hour later I spoke to someone in the uk. She said she understood and that the man who could resolve this was in the room next door so she would go and ask him herself. When she came back she then told me she too was BROADBAND. tip…keep going..you might find someone helpful like her…or do what I shall do….change provider.

david tucker says:
23 May 2013

Pity HMRC wasn’t included in the call centre reviews. They must be the worst ever. The stats on unanswered calls and delays etc are terrible. And its a service we all pay for! There isn’t an e mail option and if you write; letters are unanswered. Its about time Which uncovered this scandal.

Totally agree David, it’s my favourite example of bad design… http://www.pleasepress1.com/uk/hmrc/income-tax-enquiries-for-individuals-pensioners-and-employees/

This is particularly difficult if like me you suffer from Social Phobia and difficulty in speaking on telephones, I always have to look for alternatives to phone numbers and yet many companies still do not realise there are people with this issue. There are facilites for deaf people but you would think more people would now have a ‘contact us’ or online help link nowdays. A tip I have picked up is to use Twitter or Facebook Direct messaging (although not entering any bank details of course). The response is much quicker and I am then usually given a contact email and other methods of communication – Take Note LV!!!

L Hadden says:
28 February 2014

A lot of firms have now started using technology to identify callers from the UK using their landline numbers in ‘SAYNOTO0870’.. Had to use BA,s premium line this am as other calls were rejected.

Adrian Danson says:
8 April 2014

It is now more than a month since I have received an invitation to act for me after the car accident that I did not have. When they last called I decided to have a bit of fun. I asked, “How on earth did you know I’d had an accident?” I forget there unconvincing reply but I continued the game, “Yes, it was awful and I still haven’t had a penny towards the repair”. My story went on for at least a minute, until they interrupted to ask, when did my accident happen? “Twenty Four years ago,” I said and the phone went dead.