How You Do: Outsmarting an Automated Phone System


Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line, and the next available representative will be with you shortly.

Have you ever heard THAT one before? How long is “shortly,” exactly? I don’t think “shortly” should be allowed to mean any longer than 10 minutes, but I have waited upwards of 45 minutes to talk to an actual person on an automated phone system, and I bet you have, too.

Even better are those automated systems that make you feel like you are speaking to a real person, but you are not. And you realize it when you find yourself screaming “NO,” “CREDIT CARD!!” into the phone again and again.

There is only one word that can express my thoughts about these systems: ARGH!!!!!

Not all of them can be cracked, but I recently picked up some tips that will help you get an actual live person on the line as quickly as possible. For all of our sanity, read on:

Tip 1: Find an extension.

Many of these automated phone menus will ask you straightaway to dial the extension of the person you’re seeking. If you don’t know anyone at the company, do a quick Web search before you call to see if you can find someone’s—anyone’s—extension. Even if that person isn’t who you need to talk to, he or she can likely transfer you to the right person in far less time than you would have spent wading through the phone menu.

Tip 2: Dial 0.

You normally dial 0 for operator, and that can sometimes work on automated phone menus, too. If 0 isn’t an option for anything, it might connect you to a real person who can help you with what you need.

Tip 3: Spew some nonsense.

If you’re on the phone with the kind of menu that requires you to speak rather than press buttons, try saying a bunch of gibberish. The robot on the system won’t be able to understand a word you say, and it will likely connect you with a human representative instead. Note: You might have to repeat your gibberish several times as necessary for this to happen. Note 2: Do not do this with other people around.

Tip 4: Try the Web.

Lots of companies now have live-chat customer-service options on their Web sites. These can be quicker and more convenient than using the companies’ automated phone systems.

Tip 5: Go rotary.

If the menu gives you an option to hang on the line because you’re using a rotary phone, do it. Obviously, you’re not using a rotary phone, but you might get to a real person faster!

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