Get Out of Voice Mail Jail, Free!

Category: Telephony

Are you one of those people who hates Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems - otherwise known as voice mail jail? Automated voice menu mazes 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 customer service agent who can help...

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 or "representative" or "agent." 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. For example, if you bank with Chase, dial 800-935-9935, press 0, then 0# when it asks for your account number. To reach a human at AT&T U-Verse, existing customers can call 800-288-2020 from the phone that's on the account. Press 2, 1, then say "Representative".

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. is one example. Enter the name of the company you want to reach in their search box. On the next page, the results will list the company's customer service number, the average wait time, the hours when they are open, and the magic sequence of numbers that will (hopefully) connect you to a real person. I tried several well-known companies, and had mixed results. Sometimes the instructions worked, and sometimes not.

Here's a neat trick that sometimes works. 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

If do finally reach a live operator, and end up getting put on hold, the LucyPhone service can help. Lucy is (was?) 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. I say "was" because today the LucyPhone website is not working. I've scoured the web to see if there is any indication that the service shut down, but didn't find any such news. So I'm not sure if it's a temporary outage or not.

FastCustomer is another service that can help. Instead of calling, navigating a phone system, and waiting on hold, FastCustomer has them call YOU. You can use their web interface to select a company and provide a callback number, or use a FastCustomer mobile app.

Servul helps you to get in touch with a company's customer service department by choosing the best service channel currently available (Chat, Call, Self-service, Email, Facebook, Messenger, or Twitter). Servul has contact info for only two dozen or so major corporations, but it's a good idea and worth a try if you're having trouble making contact.

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 "Get Out of Voice Mail Jail, Free!"

Posted by:

19 Apr 2019

I have used, and I am very frustrated when they give you 18 choices, when, by the time you get to the 18th choice, you have forgotten what preceded it. They could be honest and say, "Look, we don't want customers bothering us," but I don't see that happening any time soon.

Posted by:

19 Apr 2019

Whenever possible I use CHAT, it is less frustrating for all the reasons Bob mentions, plus I can get a transcript emailed to me at the end.

Posted by:

19 Apr 2019

I clicked on the link for LucyPhone and got a blank screen. No text, no error messages, just a whole lot of nothing. I have no idea what to make of this.

Posted by:

19 Apr 2019

Choose carefully. I use Ting mobile for my smartphone. It's inexpensive, but if I call, I get a human - always, every time. They don't have a roborep at all. Sometimes there is a short hold, but they really will answer, or you can get a callback which they really will do. I've had a different company that never calls you back. The only "drawback" is you can't walk into their store and wait 20 minutes to talk to an arrogant oaf who has no idea how to do a simple task. Oh, well.

Posted by:

Dave P.
19 Apr 2019

I drive for a living in the UK and before the advent of smart phones, getting British Airways flight information for Gatwick Airport by plain old phone was a pain. Info. wasn't available on the main Gatwick number. You HAD to ring B.A. flight information direct. It was an expensive-rate number and if you spoke to it, it would hesitate and say idiotic things like: "OK - here you go", or: "actually, there is a delay on that flight". All engineered to make you stay on the line and to make them money if you went through the whole sequence, as they got a cut of it. However, I found that the only thing you actually had to say was "arrivals" and the flight number could be tapped in and if "1" was hit as soon as the next comment started, it stepped on. The whole thing was frustrating, throwing in human-like phrases (it's a COMPUTER, for goodness' sake!) and treated the caller like a total idiot. I protested to them but never got a reply. It seems that things are not really a lot better now!

Posted by:

19 Apr 2019

I attempted to log onto LucyPhone, but Safari would not provide any results, except that the url window placed the words 'not secure' as a prefix. I modified that url to read The error message was that the website's certificate has expired. Maybe it will be renewed, maybe not???

Posted by:

Ken H
19 Apr 2019

Saying, customer service representative ad nauseum sometimes works. Sometime O works, but there are so many variations I usually follow the prompts until I inevitably get to the question they have no relevant response to and start repeating, customer service representative until they give up and usually connect me.

Posted by:

19 Apr 2019

Any suggestions on how to get past the rep who insists you do the troubleshooting steps you did before finally getting through?

Posted by:

19 Apr 2019

I have been with Ting for quite a while and agree with Charles. They try very hard to get to a caller as quickly as possible. Occasionally there is a long wait but not very often. Once you make contact, they are with you until you're satisfied.

Posted by:

19 Apr 2019

Voice mail jail is hell for a hard of hearing person!

Posted by:

19 Apr 2019

Social Security's long waits can by bypassed by
calling your closest SS office directly.

Posted by:

Dave M
19 Apr 2019

I have found that simply mumbling some nonsensical response into the phone will get you connected to a rep. You'll get a couple of "I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand that" replies. Just keep mumbling and you will then get a "please hold" followed by ringing and a connection to a Rep.

Unfortunately the "Chat" function is being replaced by text recognition rather than a live person. The other morning, Cox email was down and I couldn't get through on the phone. Went to the web site and selected "Chat". The "representative" came on and asked how she could help. Typed in "Is Cox having email problems right now?", which was promptly followed by "I understand you need assistance in setting up your email" and a few other completely unhelpful responses before I realized I was attempting to communicate with a machine.

Posted by:

Jay R
19 Apr 2019

I wish Dante had written The Inferno within the last 5 years. There WOULD be a special level in hell for all those who have foisted this nonsense on us. Press 1 if you agree. Press 2 if you disagree. Press 3 if undecided. Marque tres por espanol. OH!. Your text is very important to us. It may be copied and pasted for quality control.

Posted by:

Bob K
19 Apr 2019

Agreed that the Voice mail jail is hell! Using a telephone gets very frustrating when you can't hear well.

And the AI nerds are taking over. Just had one experience with one of the credit reporting companies where even emails to them I am convinced were being answered by a box. ("Answered" is the wrong term -- maybe "responded to" would be better.)

I do have my best luck via chat, when it's available. But then I suppose that will be switched to an agent-in-a-box.

Posted by:

19 Apr 2019

To get through at a credit card company, select stolen/lost card. This will get you a real person. Now proceed with your actual issue.

Posted by:

The Baroness
19 Apr 2019

I worked for the planet's second-largest Telecommunications company (Engineering & Operations Management) for many years. We'd always put the newbies on "Live Chat" and I have found that seems to be true for many electronics/communications/cable TV companies now. If you want to get hold of someone who is more skilled and experienced than a newbie, stay away from online "Live Chat" features and get on the phone to call customer support. Hang on, because it will be worth it. You can always ask for a Supervisor but are usually told there isn't one available. That's when I ask for the Customer Retention Department - THEY get stuff done, and usually faster than anyone else. (Say you will drop their service and in my opinion unless they're Comcast or Frontier, they will usually bend over backwards to keep your business and may offer you a better deal than you have now.) Also, ALWAYS ask for them to email you a summary of what's been discussed so they cannot say "they never told that to you." Get the employee ID number of who you've spoken to (they have to give that to you when asked) and make a note of the day/time of your call to them. Good luck!

Posted by:

Sarah L
20 Apr 2019

Bank of America has an automated voice system that lets me press keys for replies, eliminating the frustration and annoyance of being misunderstood when I say “Yes”. That is such an improvement that I use it regularly. In less useful systems, I do what I can to reach a real person.

Posted by:

20 Apr 2019

Pretend you have an old-school rotary phone and don't push any buttons. Don't say anything when the voice system asks you question. Sometimes, but not always, if you don't respond at all, you will get to a live person.

Posted by:

Jerry Barnes
20 Apr 2019

My Wayback Machine browser extension shows its last capture for the LucyPhone website was on Jan 27, 2019.
. Probably gone for good.
BTW: I've been using the Wayback Machine extension for years and highly recommend it.

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
21 Apr 2019

Some tangential advice: If you have a discount price or temporary credit which is expiring on your TV or DSL or cell phone or similar subscription service, or an annual fee for a credit card which is coming due, you'll naturally want to get a new discount price or credit or waiver of a fee to replace the old one.

The procedure to do that is to call the company and talk to a live service representative. Explain that you don't want your monthly payment to increase (or you don't want to pay an annual fee), and ask if there are any new promotions available as replacements or offsets to the price hike. Sometimes the representative will say yes, but usually you'll be told that they have nothing.

In the latter case, say that you want to cancel your service, and you'll transfer your business to a competitor. The representative will express regret to hear that, and will transfer your call to the department which handles cancellations (it's usually called their "retention" department or some similar euphemism). The new retention person will ask whether you're unhappy with their service, and you'll explain that the reason for the cancellation is the price. They will then do everything possible to find a way to cut or offset the price or waive the fee to keep you as a customer. (Incidentally, it's best to do this during a weekday when you are more likely to be connected to someone in the U.S. with more authority, rather than someone in a call center in India or elsewhere.)

On rare occasions this won't work, and you'll have to back down and pay the extra amount. But most of the time it is very effective, because you have an enormous amount of leverage. These companies often spend an average of $50 to $150 to acquire each new customer. Once they have you as a customer they'd be stupid not to do everything possible to keep you, rather than spend that amount to try to replace you.

Following this procedure I personally have maintained around $70 to $100 per month in credits on my DIRECTV bill, lowered by DSL bill by about $20 per month, and almost never pay an annual fee on any bank account or credit card. (Example: The retention rep might say that there's absolutely no way they can eliminate the $50 annual fee, but if I charge at least $500 on my credit card within the next three month they'll then give me a $50 credit. In my case I'll easily charge that amount many times over, so it effectively offsets the fee.)

The important thing is to threaten to cancel, and then talk to the retention representative who has much more authority. Don't use their CHAT box or automated voicemail system. And don't give up when the regular representative claims there's nothing anyone can do.

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