/ 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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Nicola Biven says:
19 April 2013

when ringing call centres I usually wait for a ‘human’ to answer the phone call by ignoring the press 1 for this 2 for that option and hold until they run out of options, this won’t always get you to the correct department but 9 times out of 10 they can put you through without you having to hold !!

hannah says:
19 April 2013

Well, I don’t have any tips but I’ve been frantically scribbling down everyone else’s! I might now stand a chance when ringing BT tomorrow about my phone line/internet connection.

Frances hopkins says:
19 April 2013

When getting through to a call centre, I never press any of the options, I will always just wait until I am put through to someone, or another thing I do is press lots and lots of buttons and it seems to get confused and then puts me through to someone

Joanne Lyles says:
19 April 2013

If I have a problem, I will following the commands dictated to upgrade/buy something from them. These calls always seem to get answered quicker… once a real perdson is on the end, I then off load my problem, and they transfer me to the relevant human!

Diarmaid O'Meara says:
19 April 2013

Sadly, some lines fail to provide any actual human interaction – this is doubly frustrating as the information that is being offered can generally be found more easily and cheaply online. The ones that do have a human being on the other end are usually best negotiated by choosing the “other” option, and letting someone with more knowledge divert you in the right direction.

Sally Carter says:
19 April 2013

When prompted to key in your account/phone number, enter a random number and after a few times you will be connected to a real person. Politeness also helps in my experience, whereas if you show frustration in your voice the operator is unlikely to be as helpful.

Rikka B says:
19 April 2013

I hardly ever use call centres, I generally go online,

Katrina Adams says:
19 April 2013

I always press 0 and then get a human to put me through to the right department. I also ask the company to call me back if it’s a premium rate number so I’m not getting charged for it and always ask for a direct line if possible because when we were having trouble with our gas and electric meter readings I was always having to wait on hold repeatedly and then got put through to someone different. If you can get a direct line not only do you skip the “on hold” business but you normally speak to the same person so they already know what you’re talking about and you don’t have to start from the beginning again.

JO JONES says:
19 April 2013

I generally look up the telephone number on line and get the free telephone number by saying no to 0870 etc. Even if the number is incorrect for what I need they will usually transfer the call direct to where it needs to be. This seems to bypass all the queues.

Emma K says:
19 April 2013

I waited and waited for ages yesterday evening listening to awful music so by the time I got through I was really REALLY annoyed. I said to them ‘Please excuse me one moment’ and then played them the whole track of Old Macdonald on my sons toy! it didn’t fast track my time but DID make ME feel better and gave me and my husband a little laugh (they waited too and said nothing of it when I came back to the phone!!!!) luckily it was a free phone number!

Dianna says:
19 April 2013

Simple, I just press the wrong buttons to deliberately be put though to a human or I select the option to “cancel” or something like that where they would have a human to “convince” me otherwise.

I have done this with my banking. Works like a treat!

I have also done this with my mobile phone company (0800) to avoid the more expensive number!

Anthony says:
19 April 2013

I have often found that hitting zero gets you through to a human. Alternatively hit the no. for a department such as “lost and stolen” which they tend to answer quickly and say sorry and ask to be transferred.

Hazel Rea says:
19 April 2013

If it’s a premium rate number first check online to see if you can find an alternative number. When you get through to a person be polite, write down their name in case you need to get back to them in the future – and if they say they will sort out your problem ask if there is anywhere you can leave positive feedback – apart from being polite this will increase the chances that they actually do what they said they will do! Then either e-mail, tweet or facebook your positive experience – gets the online team on your side if you need to contact them later because another problem arises. Try the charm route – it works surprisingly well – and often gets you service over and above what you expected.

hoppingpinkrabbit says:
20 April 2013

oops! Just read the question properly!!

I have just left talktalk because of their lack of customer service. I really don’t know what was worse: the automated systems or the operators who could not speak or understand English. (One asked for my post code 9 times before saying he didn’t understand what I was saying. I had spoken the letters so spaced out that I thought he’d cut me off! I also tried each letter as a word and he still didn’t get it!)

I think the only tips I have are to ask to speak to a supervisor each time. Thing is they soon catch on and just pretend to be a supervisor. Taking names and times and letting them know you have their details if you need to speak to them again can help because they are then more likely to act more responsibility as they could be pulled up on the lack of service if they do not resolve the issues you have.

I think though the best way around things is to leave. In some cases there are some companies which are so bad they cannot be repaired by learning how the automated system works. One call to 02 (who are by the way easily cutting the costs talktalk used to charge me) and I was so blown away by the fact I spoke to someone who understood what I said that I was sold even before they and quoted me- offer to leave by all means but you may find actually leaving deals with the problem much more effectively.

Tina Watts says:
20 April 2013

Always ask the persons name that you are speaking to and make a note of it. If you are unhappy with what they are telling you ask to speak to their manager. Do not press any numbers to get through to an extension and normally you will be put through to a human at some point.

Elizabeth Kidger says:
20 April 2013

I always press the would you like to speak to someone option and I ask the person who answers name. If they are conscientious about their job there is no need to ask for a supervisor. I have always found call centre operatives to be very polite, I ask for all the information I need and before they transfer me I ask if there is a number that I can contact them on if I have a problem. I then thank them.

Mike says:
20 April 2013

I try to avoid call centres, and use the help forums or chat facility instead.

Angela Glynn says:
20 April 2013

I avoid them where possible and prefer to use the on line chat help where possible. If I do have to call I make sure I have all account numbers and letters to hand, as they always ask me something I don’t know and it wastes even more time.
Like others I try to be polite and engage the person and it does tend to make the whole experience less painful and they tend to be more helpful. Sometimes I even come off the phone smiling! Having said that, I’m not sure there is anything to be done when you get stuck in one of those endless loops when the person doesn’t understand you, or their script can’t cope with your request, then it’s just on the the manager….

PHil says:
20 April 2013

I also try pressing 0 or sometimes 9 will work as well.

Another option is to try looking up another number using ‘say no to 0870’. Sometimes these give you an operator direct and you then get put through to who you need straight away.

tmarie says:
20 April 2013

When ringing any company that has automated messages, unless they give the option to speak to an advisor in the 1st list I usually don’t pick any ‘option’ and they are forced to put you through to ‘someone that can help’- Always get their name & make a note of the time of your call incase of any disputes later, then ‘as calls are often recorded’ you can get them to check the facts of the conversation.