[HOWTO] Avoid Voice Menu Mazes

Category: Telephony

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 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, 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. GetHuman.com is one example. Enter the name of the company you want to reach in their search box. On the next page, look for the link that says "Phone & contact info." Click that, and the results page 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 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.

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.

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 "[HOWTO] Avoid Voice Menu Mazes"

Posted by:

10 Jul 2017

I have tried all the variations you mention except the "Spanish" one, with mixed results.

A friend is convinced that if you shout and sound angry you get through quicker ... I don't want to try that though, it is stressful enough being stuck on hold.

I do like the sound of the LucyPhone service, it sounds like a good option to save time ... plus it has such an attractive name :-)

Posted by:

Mac 'n' Cheese
10 Jul 2017

Lucy, I can see why you like the name of the LucyPhone service! Did your mother name you after Lucille Ball?

Mac 'n' Cheese

Posted by:

10 Jul 2017

I used to work in a call center so I got to hear all the complaints about IVRs. Skipping the IVR can actually go against the callers best interest as it often skips over the specialist and goes to a bottom level agent. While these agents can deal with most issues often it takes longer and may not resolve your issue fully. Agents are often penalized for transfers so getting up to the level you would have gotten in the IVR can be difficult. One of those no-win deals. Spanish agents are often in South America, english is a second language.

Posted by:

10 Jul 2017

I ran into one IVR that hung up on profanity.

The call center I worked in hung up on computer voices so Lucy and others like it didn't usually work

Posted by:

10 Jul 2017

Once I've gotten to the department that I want I just keep repeating "customer service". Usually the IVR gives up after a couple of questions and transfers me to a human. This has worked with Comcast every time.

Posted by:

10 Jul 2017

Because of my ADHD, navigating multi-layered phone menus can be a nightmare for me (I wonder if they could be considered a violation of the American Disabilities Act?). Getting a live operator can be a study in frustration since there is no one solution to bypass the blasted phone menus. When you do manage to get a live operator, the operator is often poorly trained, and barely speaks and understands English. If the operator I do reach is useless and I ask for the call to be elevated to a supervisor, I'm often refused.

Then there are the companies that simply have no live operators. The only words that can even begin to describe my contempt for those companies are ones my Mama "told" me not to use.

Posted by:

10 Jul 2017

I always use and say "Agent" several times and it seems to work for me.

Posted by:

10 Jul 2017

My latest frustration dealt with the new addition to IVR: "We'll call you back just as soon as a representative is available." I had a medical emergency in my family and had to cancel my trip, so I called my tour agency. The voice promised to call me back. Two days later, no return call. I had a time limit to cancel the tour, so I just continually called them until I finally reached a real person. Next, I had to call the travel insurance company to file a claim. They used the same plan (we'll call you back) AUTOMATiCALLY--I had no choice because they hung up on me. The only time I got a return call, the surgeon was in the room. I finally did all work online, although unsure if it would be acceptable to those two companies. I told both companies to hire more people.

Posted by:

bob rice
10 Jul 2017

I believe comcast forces users into the annoying voice menu because they hope to discourage users and they hang up. B/A and comcast are considered two of the worst companies and I think it's because of CusSer voice menus.

Posted by:

10 Jul 2017

The torture for me is not the punching of additional keys and/or the waiting for a live operator. It is the gawd'awful quality "elevator music" I have to put up with.

Posted by:

Robert Deloyd
10 Jul 2017

I just speak a bunch of garbled words and I seem to get an operator every time.

Posted by:

10 Jul 2017

One of our companies adopted the technology in the early 90's and it was my job to implement it. The main goal at that time, was to provide a useful timesaver for our customers to get information quickly 24/7.

Frankly, it never occurred to us to set it up in a way to keep people from getting through to a real person. In fact, the FIRST option told how to reach an operator during regular hours and the SECOND told how to leave message when calling after-hours.

At the time, this kind of automated system wasn't very widespread yet, so the remainder of the menu was kept short and simple, as we certainly didn't want to confuse people and have them go to our competition!

We felt it was imperative to keep the menu up-to-date and if we got similar complaints about certain features of the system, we took them to heart and took corrective action. Embracing technology, wasn't an excuse for making poor operational decisions.

Over the years, it's never bothered me to use a well thought-out menu system (when I can find one). But I always use the touch pad to enter information, since I refuse to repeat myself... unlike of lot of my other retired friends. I never fight poorly designed automation. I just take my business elsewhere - a lot, really...

Posted by:

11 Jul 2017

Just repeating the word 'No' works for me. I'm usually in after two or three robo-(ahem)-'person' interrupts.

Posted by:

11 Jul 2017

Sometimes just pushing the number 1 (on the touch pad) for every question will cause the robots to give up,

(I can remember being annoyed at work one day when the guy in the next cubicle had a problem and keep saying "Billing" and "Home Phone" over and over.)

All else fails I keep repeating the one Chinese swear word I know.

Posted by:

11 Jul 2017

wow - nice job with this one - i knew about getting live person and hitting O and/or say operator/live person, but the websites were worth their weight in gold, no maybe platinum . . con mucho gusto!

Posted by:

Pat C
11 Jul 2017

I pick a number key (1 or 0 usually) and punch it about 8-10 times really fast. That interrupts the system and I get a real person.

Posted by:

12 Jul 2017

When I encounter an IVR system I just mumble. That usually gets me to an agent.

Posted by:

13 Jul 2017

Keep bashing the # and * keys. Eventually you will be connected to a live person someplace in the world. The Philippines or Ireland is often the domicile of the person answering your call.

Posted by:

14 Jul 2017

Don't let anyone tell you any different, Bob, you are the MAN! Can't tell you how many times a day I find myself reciting a bit of knowledge that I picked up from you to help someone.
Many, many thanks for doing all that legwork for us!

Posted by:

Mark Pikas
18 Jul 2017

I used to generally not mind the systems, early on they were less complicated and often better designed. When the voice recognition ones started coming out I thought "oh cool," especially when entering something like a long account number, but soon got frustrated with them because I have a lower voice that they tend not to understand.

Lately, it's gone completely the other way.

They've gotten more complicated and how to get a person seems more obfuscated, it seems like more often than in the past I run into ones that get you into a dead end, hang up on you or just don't work, and I've run into a bunch of them that the typical hit 0 a bunch of times, ask for an operator or agent a bunch of times... doesn't work or even gets you hung up on. They've gotten much worse.

The biggest problem is that almost everyone now has an online/website service for automated stuff which I'll use first so if I'm calling I already know that the automated system can't help and I NEED to speak to an operator, which makes the phone system MUCH more frustrating.

The ultimate- recently I went through the online system at PayPal, they gave me priority number "good for 1 hour" to use to get past the system when I called because I already tried automated with 2 phone numbers- the first accepted the number but told me to call back during business hours to get a person even though I was inside of those hours, the second number didn't have any way of entering the number.

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