Posted by Billyjam, November 27, 2007 04:15pm | Post a Comment

1) Press 0 at each prompt, ignoring messages
2) Say "operator" at each prompt, ignoring messages
3) Don't press or say anything
4) Say "agent" at each prompt
5) Say fuck, shit, or bitch

Foolishly I assumed making a few calls, as I did earlier today, to AT&T, B.O.A., and EBMUD wouldn't take but a few minutes or be too difficult a task -- especially since I am "a valued customer" with each company. But that privelege today or any day never seems to shorten the time wasted on the phone trying to bypass some automated voice options just to get to talk to a human at a company that already has my business.

People tend to forget that getting directly through to an actual person when you pick up the phone used to be a given in customer service. But not in these high-tech but low-overhead, outsourcing times, when most companies would rather you do everything automated online and not put them through the expense of hiring actual humans. Hence when you try to call up to talk to a person it is rarely a simple task. Usually it is like entering a voice system obstacle course -- one that's gonna take time and bit of wit and a lot of patience.

The pre-programmed voice (often a woman's) on automated phone systems will do all it can to waste your time before (if ever) it lets you talk to that elusive human voice on the phone. It will suggest you press certain buttons. It will assault you with an arsenal of (seemingly) pertinent questions. And, guaranteed, it will always remind you about the company's website. Did you know you could save 5% on your monthly bill just by registering online? In other words -- get off the goddam phone. But the ever-professional sounding automated voice will never use those exact words, since it "really values your business."

Instead it will ask you the last four digits of your social security or your mother's maiden name. And this it will ask even though the human that you finally do get to talk to will repeat those very same questions. But I already told the robot voiced lady, you'll half-protest. I know. It's for security purposes, the poor overworked human will sigh.
So how does one get through automated voice hell to a human in the least amount of time? Many people have many theories on this. Some say first try pressing 0 or 00 or even 000. Others swear that it is best to ignore all the commands and just say either "operator" or "agent" or "representative."  Others suggest that you just stay silent. Say nothing and soon a human voice will arrive on the other end. Or you can try cursing. 

Of course, many will just naturally curse at the automated voice out of sheer frustration. But some shrewdly do it deliberately, believing (and it is true in some cases) that when you say certain key words such as fuck or shit or bitch that the voice system that is programmed to react to particular words, is designed to bump up the queue complaining, vocally unhappy customers. And it can work sometimes. But the system can also be programmed to work the opposite way. Then it will simply respond in its calm voice. "I'm sorry. I did not understand that command."

While there is no one golden rule to navigate a speedy journey through an automated voice system maze, the wonderfully resourceful website Get Human offers many tips and insights, including details of how to bypass touch tone phone menus and speak to live human beings in the shortest possible time. On its website is an invaluable list of 500 companies including Visa. For Visa, Get Human advises "Press 0 at each prompt; ignoring messages." Meanwhile, for AT&T Universal Card it advises, "Don't press or say anything" to get through the system speedily. And the list also includes, surprise, numbers where a human representative answers right away -- or at least usually does. But these are generally car rental  companies or places where they don't already have your business.

In my case EBMUD was the best one to deal with. I got through to a person in a relatively short time but it took calling two different numbers to get the best one. As for Bank Of America, despite what I was told at my local bank branch about getting to a human directly by "calling the main number and pressing 00," it took a lot more pressing buttons and time than that to finally get to a person. And AT&T was the absolute worst with long waits between the four different numbers that I got bounced around to just to simply drop the phone part of my phone/internet package. It's as if they didn't want me to drop that service.

But really the best way to beat the system is through patience whenever you do call, using the Get Human website's tips, listening closely to the options and being polite to the human you finally get to talk to since they (most likely) are having an even shittier day than you are -- and are, you can bet, extremely overworked and underpaid. And more importantly, do be careful about whatever deal (be it new mobile phone or credit card) that you get yourself into. Examine deals up front before you enter into them as much as possible, and realistically think about how much future time you have to waste on hold.

If you have any good tips or horror stories of waiting on hold in touch tone hell please share them in the COMMENTS below. Thanks!