/ Technology

What’s your best tip for navigating the call centre maze?

A frustrated customer on the phone

Automated systems used by call centres are the bugbear of many. Hundreds of you have shared your tips and tricks, so what’s the solution to the call centre maze?

When the reason for your call to a product or service provider is to make a complaint or report a problem, being held on the line listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 for half an hour probably does little to pacify you.

Our research into broadband providers found that it can take up to eight minutes to get through to an operator at Sky. Even when you do get through to a real person, your time spent hanging around on the phone is not necessarily over; it took 17 minutes for one BT advisor to answer some simple questions about contracts and packages.

The time spent on the phone can not only feel like a waste of time, but it can be costly too – often helplines are premium rate numbers. Many of you helpfully suggested heading to saynoto0870.com to search for an alternative number and avoid racking up a large bill.

Avoiding the call centre

Some of you suggested avoiding the call centre altogether. Our iPad Mini winner Louise suggested that ‘publicly naming and shaming is the way to go’ by complaining via the company’s Facebook page or on Twitter. Tim Bain also recommends using social media:

‘I posted photos of the abysmal Virgin Media installation in my garden on their Facebook page after they took very little interest and I woke up the next day to find they’d been round and fixed it already. All publicity isn’t good publicity.’

Foxyloxy tries the phone line once, but then goes straight to the top:

‘I go online to find the mail of the Managing Director and lo and behold! I get a quick and helpful response’

Online chat is also a popular tool used to avoid calling a helpline. Apparently it’s often effective and as Jamie Lewis points out ‘the whole conversation can be saved and stored for future correspondence’.

How to get through, fast

For those queries that require talking to someone over the phone, there are plenty of suggestions for getting through to a human being quickly. Laura Caraher had some useful insights for Bank of Scotland, Halifax and Sky customers: ‘If you press 0 or # key in quick succession that also gets you put through instantly.’ Jo suggested getting the software into a tizz by ‘having a good old number bash to let out your frustrations’.

Tips for getting past voice recognition software were particularly ingenious. Claire Toplis shouts ‘I am Spartacus’ at voice recognition systems and usually gets through to an operator. Marcus sees himself as less of a gladiator and more of a rapper as he follows Missy Elliott’s advice to ‘put your name down, flip it and reverse it’ – by saying his name backwards the automated system struggles to understand him, putting him straight through to an advisor.

Skip to the shortcuts

Nigel Clarke, who has created the website pleasepress1.com, also commented on my Conversation. Nigel has spent seven years building a database of shortcuts to help people skip the options and immediately enter 1-2-4-2 or whatever the relevant shortcut may be. He would like firms to publish such shortcuts, so that automated option systems can be more easily navigated by customers.

Do you think companies should publish their shortcuts as Nigel suggests? To me, it does seem a better way to beat the call centre than say, calling up the sales line, as you’ll be taken straight to the correct department for your specific query. But do you think that it’s still too arduous a process?


This is all helpful and I have used sayto0870, but none of the other suggestions is any good if you have to use the Text Relay support service for the deaf. this is a great service, but time consuming on the most basic of calls due to an operator acting as ‘ears’ for the deaf person and typing what the other person says – sometimes both ways. So all these options still apply and can take so long. Thankfully being a BT customer we can dial 0870 and 0845 numbers for free. Text Relay users get a rebate automatically if they are with BT but not other companies.
I have told companies with national rate numbers that I will not (sometimes cannot) call those numbers as they are not covered by the rebate,. I have been known to be on a call to various companies, trying to sort matters out for hours (literally), as going on hold, being given the wrong number to call – often in correspondence and websites, as well as on the phone. I find myself not wanting to make the call. I use email as much as possible, but I fear some companies such as T-Mobile are no longer offering email correspondence.
I have also found after finding an alternative number on saynoto0870 there is an automated message telling me I will be charged etc etc (effectively the cost of the original number).
I have to say thank you to Text Relay, but sometimes it is hard work making a business call.

Glen Greaves says:
23 May 2013

There is always the website pleasepress1.com

David says:
25 May 2013

If there’s an option for ‘you’re thinking of leaving us’ select it. That gets an instant reponse from a nice real person, at least at Vodafone…

And at Talk Talk, and you get offered a new contract at unbeatable rates.

Hot5ocks says:
25 May 2013

I once fell asleep whilst waiting for a call to ORANGE to be answered only to be woken by their operator shouting ‘HELLO!’ I had a tricky negotiation to undertake with EE, as they’re now called, to get my ‘phone number onto an iPhone given to me by my Daughter-in-Law after she upgraded. When they say there could be delays of up to 45 minutes – believe me they mean it.
Fed up, I went on line and rather than go to their website I just queried ‘Orange Customer Service phone number’. (Orange numbers still work for EE.) A selection of numbers came up – none of them free, but the second one I tried put me straight through to an adviser, who put me through to the right person on their ‘iPhone team’. I wish I’d thought of it before.

A good tip and one I will try when next I need to talk to EE.

The Operator must have heard the snoring, that;s why she was shouting at you. If you were silent she would have just have hung up.

edward robinson says:
30 May 2013

My really , really bad experience(s) are with BT
There was a problem with the BT broadband last week and I spent two solid afternoons being lectured by our cousins from a colonial call centre in Mumbai. On both occasions they insisted on calling me back on my mobile phone ( and I have a very poor signal at Home) , the combination of the poor signal and the poor accented English made me lose the will to live. I wish that I could have found a shortcut to speak to someone in England
On top of all that the keystrokes that they made me make made me lose internet, emails, and mobile phone capability – I had to find and pay for an IT expert locally which is what I should have done in the first place, I know that now
So if someone can come up with a way to deal with BT in this country with a person that knows what they are talking about they should be awarded the Nobel Peace prize
BT have to be the worst company in the world to deal with
As an aside, when I got a quarterly bill recently for my office telephone service there was a charge on it for £9 ‘ for processing the bill ‘ !!!! I wrote complaining, but of course have had no reply
Anyone else had similar experiences
Ed Robinson

roy the boy says:
31 May 2013

I have become familiar with IVR and can remain relatively calm. When you eventually speak to a real person and they resolve your problem ( hopefully ), they then start selling their additional services on my telephone time and that drives me mad.

Sorry to burst bubbles – but “beating” the IVR will not generally have your call answered any quicker – that is simply not how the queuing system works.
When you press 0 or # or whatever it may transfer you to a general queue – but the very point of the IVR is to triage your call and direct you to the right queue.
You will be transferred to a queue where you will wait for someone assigned to that corresponding skill to answer your call. These will be generalists who will more than likely have to transfer you to the right queue once you have identified yourself and your issue. In all likelihood you will then need to identify yourself and explain the situation again.
I know some IVRs can be confusing and frustrating – but try working with them, rather than going out of your way to prevent your call being correctly routed and then whining about the agent not being able to help you later.

It’s true that there are some IVR systems that work well, but in my experience they’re in something of a minority. Like any package they come in varying types, colours and costs and companies all too often seem to plump for the cheapest. BT – a company whose income would suggest it can afford substantial investment – has one of the worst. It’s not simply that the IVR software is ropey but it utterly fails to triage anything effectively, since it doesn’t ask questions you can answer. OTOH, BT’s live chat system is fairly good and they do ring back when you request it. The Mumbai accent intensity varies, too, and some are quite easily understood.

But all this obscures the simple fact that when a company is supplying a complex product which requires attention they should be obliged to provide accessible and comprehensible contact means.

Seasider says:
24 October 2016

Another tip is when they ask you a memorable question or you get fed up with endless ‘menus’ just stay silent. After a couple of ‘I didn’t hear thats’ a real person answers