/ 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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Emma Pite says:
20 April 2013

Don’t ever call the number they give you. Go through customer services. It’s they’re job to be helpful so as long as you’re polite and explain your problem, you’ll usually get someone willing to do you favour and cut out all of the automated nonsense!

Allison van der Vliet says:
20 April 2013

I find that if you don’t press any buttons when prompted you will often be put through to a human. If that fails sometimes pressing 0 at any time (if it isn’t an option) can work.

Alexander Beaven says:
20 April 2013

I only use a call centre as a last resort & if I cannot use or get online . Trying to be calm & very patient after listening to some brain numbing music before you finale get through to some foreign call centre isn’t by no means easy either.
It helps if you talk slowly & politely to the operator as they are only doing their job (unless they are a loud & very rude that is) .Try to get your complaint across in plain English. If they do have a strong foreign accent which you don’t understand,then ask them to repeat the sentence slowly.
I’m sure they would much rather have a better career but just like us they are working to support their family,pay their bills & put food on the table.
Remember being rude or abusive won’t get you anywhere & you will have wasted that expensive call.
If they contacted you (Cold Call) just politely say ‘Sorry Not interested’ & put the phone straight down.

A Benson says:
20 April 2013

When dealing with call centre cold calls, if I can be bothered I try to turn the call round and ask them their name, company and telephone number. However, I was left speechless once – had a person call me trying to sell but pretending they were acting on behalf of the government, funnily enough they couldn’t tell me who the government was, they eventually hung up on me with the comment “Who do you think you are, the Queen of England!”

Keith W says:
20 April 2013

I try to use email where possible – 90% of the time I get through to a call centre I end up speaking with an idiot who doesn’t know what they’re talking about!

Jodie P says:
20 April 2013

They usually do get to an option to speak to a human eventually and then when I do I ask them if they can call me back so I won’t get a huge phone bill which quite often they will do thankfully. I think it is always worth a go. Also if you really hate the automated bit just press anything randomly and see what happens to see if it will get you to a human response quicker.

emma furniss says:
20 April 2013

Call the ‘Sales’ Department – you’ll find the phone is picked up pretty quickly by an eager salesperson…..now use your acting skills (and let’s face it – only the voice matters), be elderly,a little confused and call them ‘dear’. Could they please possibly transfer you to the correct person as your meals on wheels is about to be delivered? 😉

Zoe Whyman says:
20 April 2013

If it’s a free number, I just wait with it on speakerphone and go and bake something. I like the frantic dive to reach the phone with floury hands, when you do eventually get to the front of the queue !

Ann Robinson says:
20 April 2013

If there isn’t an option to speak to a human then i press a button for making a payment or upgrading as these seem to get answered quicker

Karen Morley says:
20 April 2013

Like many people have said, I dial the number, put the phone on loud speaker setting, sit it on my desk and ignore all the options or requests to tap in account numbers etc & wait until a human being answers. I also use saynoto0870 to find a standard rate number if the number given on the website is a premium rate number.

Tammy G says:
20 April 2013

I have discovered that button bashing usually works pretty well . I like to think the automated system thinks I’m too stupid to know which buttons to press but in reality I am outwitting it (smug face). Another trick I learned is to look for the number to use if you’re overseas as its a regular number not a premium rate one…so not only do I beat the system, I get to do it cheaply (super smug face)!

Su Tyler says:
20 April 2013

If you are thinking of leaving your provider or calling to get a renewal quote down ask to be put through to Retentions. These agents are there to make sure they keep your business. They will generally do anything to keep you. New prices, cut prices, freebies you name it!
I also bypass the numbers that you pay premium rates for. Look for the international number that will start with +44, replace the +44 with 0 and you have their ‘normal’ phone number. Great to use if you have inclusive calls with your phone provider. If you can’t find the international number there are several websites that will convert/provide the ‘normal’ number.

cecelia Allen says:
20 April 2013

I usually wait for the option to speak to a human, if there is no option and it is a complaint or problem I email, tweet or facebook a polite message publicly which often gets sorted much quicker than the phone route.

Sam Shortt says:
20 April 2013

Firstly, I use an app to find a “landline number” for whichever company I am calling. The app has never let me down yet. It’s usually a number for overseas customers, and almost always goes straight through to “general” customer services rep. If it does put you through to the automated system, then at least your not paying a fortune for premium rate numbers. As they are landlines they are even included in your mobile minutes.

Dean says:
20 April 2013

No one seems to have mentioned this yet but pressing ‘0’ will sometimes skip through all the menus and put you through to a person directly.

Failing the 0 trick, trying pressing # for the same thing. If not, * also sometimes works. Always try pressing a few times if once doesn’t work!

All three of those have worked for me on different occasions and it’s always worth a try to save going through the options. Happy (quick) calling!

I found this 2009 article on bypassing the call centre options and there may be others as I seem to remember that at least one consumer TV show devoted a segment to this very subject. What the article shows is there is no one code to bypass all automated systems. I think I tried it out at the time but getting the code correct for a particular company was more time consuming than actually selecting the appropriate options.


Perhaps Which? will compile a list of codes for our many call centres, from information supplied by members. Talk Talk is near the bottom of most customer service surveys but their inclusive calls package means I never have to pay to call a company. Only twice in the past year have I had to check ‘say no to 0870’ for an alternative free number.

Bex allum says:
20 April 2013

I use the website say no to 0870 and the numbers on there usually get you through to someone pretty quickly. When I do speak to someone I always ask if there is a direct number for the future and more often than not they will give out their team number so answer straight away.

Alison says:
20 April 2013

When on the phone to a call centre, press the option for the department for sales or cancellations, they answer almost straight away.

Jane Graham says:
20 April 2013

when having one of THOSE calls to make, always have a newspaper or book or a crossword puzzle and just take the time to do that, while you wait and press buttons and quote numbers. I need to keep calm and find this way is best.

Russell says:
21 April 2013

All the expected ideas are captured by all the people who have posted comments. If # or 0 holding dosn’t work and the direct number using sayno to 0870.com. But now armed with direct numbers you can use apps or more to the point voip apps , I use 007voip if the system your calling can’t determine identity, network, or location hey presto human arrives doubly quick.