Avoid Voice Menu Mazes

Category: Voicemail

Are you one of those people who hates Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems - otherwise known as voice mail jail? Automated voice menu systems can be annoying, frustrating, and time-wasting. It is especially irritating when a voice-recognition system didn't understand your request and makes you repeat yourself in an ever louder voice. Here are some tips to help you break free of the voice menus and reach a real person...

How to Bypass Voice Menus and Reach a Live Operator

Wouldn't it be great to cut through the maze of options and get a live human being on the line? It can be done in many cases, if you push the right buttons or say the right words.

In many cases, pressing the zero button at every prompt will soon get the point across that you want an "operator". In IVR systems, repeating the word "operator" may have the same effect. If the IVR system says it doesn't understand "operator" try "live help." Often, the thing will give up and say, "OK, let me connect you to a customer service representative" or something similar.

There are some tricks, though, for bypassing the robo-attendant, and getting connected to a real person. If you bank with Bank of America, press the zero key twice after the first recitation of the voice menu options and you will be connected to a live human being. If you bank with Chase, press 5 and wait a moment; then press 1, 4, and zero.
voice mail menus

A number of Web sites let frustrated callers share the tricks they have learned for cutting through the voice menu mazes of major companies. GetHuman.com is one example. The magic sequence of keys to get a live human being at Comcast, for example, is "Press the # key at all prompts; say 'no' three times".

GetHuman also lists the "top secret magic phone numbers" that are answered by live humans always, although it can take a while. The average wait time for Verizon Wireless is 12.5 minutes, according to reports from GetHuman users. As they say in coffee shop lines, "You'll get fast, friendly service no matter how long it takes."

Here's a neat trick: pretend that you speak Spanish, then change your mind. Press the key to select voice menu prompts in Spanish, then say you don't speak Spanish, in English. Most systems will transfer you to a live person who speaks English (although there may be a foreign accent). The trick is to get yourself into the shorter line of Spanish-speaking callers who need live help; they don't have to wait as long as the English speaking majority.

Web-Based Services That Can Help

Fonolo is a free Web-based service that does "deep dialing" for you, connecting you directly to the option in an IVR menu that you want with just one click of your mouse. You don't have to wait while voice menu options are recited or press multiple keys to get to the key that you need. There is also an iPhone app that does Fonolo deep dialing. For companies that use IVR systems, Fonolo sells an enterprise software system that adds deep dialing functionality for frequent callers' convenience.

Oh, and if do finally reach a live operator, and end up getting put on hold, the LucyPhone service can help. Lucy is a free service that connects you to the number you want, and if you get put on hold, just press "**". Your call will be disconnected but Lucy will stay on the line, patiently waiting on your behalf. When the operator returns, Lucy calls you back and reconnects you to the conversation.

Voice menu mazes and annoying "on hold" situations can be trimmed with these tricks, saving you time and frustration. Do you have something to say about how to avoid voice mail menus and connect with a live operator? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Avoid Voice Menu Mazes"

Posted by:

23 Feb 2011

The LucyPhone sounds like a great service, but it only seems to be available to smartphone users with data plans, not us with dumb phones.

Posted by:

23 Feb 2011

I've been managing call centers for 25+ years and designing IVRs for over fifteen years. I've designed some with no "out" - meaning, there is no way to avoid the prompts without getting disconnected. Companies use IVRs in an attempt to reduce costs (overhead in call centers is huge). I've also designed them to push "cutters" (folks who try to circumvent the prompts) to ring at a new agent's desk or a slower agent's desk (this makes it "painful" and helps reduce costs since those agents are often paid less than the best agents).
I will say that I hated building those crappy unfriendly steps into the trees! It went against every principle of good service. And I will be the first to admit I hit 0 repeatedly while saying "Operator, Operator, Operator, Operator, Operator..." over and over until I get a live person or until I'm disconnected and forced to go through the prompts.
I love your tips and hope they help people, but unfortunately, the more sophisticated the system, the harder it is to get to an agent. Excellent companies will build "Zero Outs" into their trees, so pressing a 0 will always result in being transferred to a human...! A user who never speaks with an agent saves the company a lot of money (prompt-only calls cost about 7-14 cents on average, while agent-assisted calls cost about 60-90 cents). Multiply the difference by 100K calls per month or 500k calls per month and you can see why companies want you to use the prompts and not speak with an agent if you are calling with routine inquiries or are seeking billing information they have available via phone.
I'll leave you with this final thought: There IS no substitute for excellent customer service. Sincerely, Susan in Raleigh, NC

Posted by:

paul redfern
23 Feb 2011

with telstra, here in oz, i just press the hash button each time they say something. gets me to a nice indian every time. lol

Posted by:

23 Feb 2011

As a driver here in the UK, I frequently have to check flight arrivals. British Airways used to have a so-called voice menu that was an insult to the intelligence and extremely childish in some of the phrases they had endowed it with. It used an "0870" prefix, which is an expensive-rate number, of which they got a cut, which is why it was blatantly engineered to make you stay on the line for as long as possible, with long pauses and ridiculous phrases, such as "OK, (long pause) here you go", after entering the flight number. Similarly, on a flight delay it infuriatingly said "Well, (long pause) actually, (long pause) there's a delay on that flight". All in a rather prissy, schoolteacher-scolding-a-child voice! Doh! Oh goody. ANYWAY, I found that a press of the number 1 key on my phone was enough to make it step it on and the flight number could be entered on the keypad as well, thereby saving me a small fortune in call charges and that ploy does seem to work with a lot of automated systems in the UK once you know the routine.

Posted by:

24 Feb 2011

But how do you get a human how speaks well and knows how to help you? That is the magic question for my ISPs helpline.

Posted by:

02 Mar 2011

This article does NOT tell you how to get to speak to a real live human, one whom lives on planet Earth.
Let us have a list of companies in the UK, Australia, USA, et al.
Best wishes and good luck with it all.

Posted by:

09 Mar 2011

Terrific article--as a real estate broker doing short sales, I get put on hold with banks a lot.. I LUV U 4 this!!

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