Things to Do in Customer-Service Hell

I am probably typical in that I hate making a customer-service call to just about any large company. The odds of getting useful information in anything under a half hour are pretty slim. One problem is that many companies’ “phone trees” — the automated menus that ask you to mash one button after the next — are silly mazes that have you chasing your tail. This is additionally frustrating when you discover, as I remember reading a few years ago, that some companies actually monitor how hard you are pushing the buttons or how aggressively you are reciting the voice prompts, presumably to identify customers who may cause trouble.

One solution to Phone Tree Hell is the beautifully named GetHuman database, which provides a nearly encyclopedic list of companies’ phone numbers and the string of menu choices you must press to bypass the phone tree and get to a human. Example: “SUNOCO … 800-?278-?6626 … Press 0 five times, then mumble when prompted for an account number.”

Now there’s a new website, still in beta, called Bringo! (a.k.a. NoPhoneTrees.com), which takes a different approach. Here’s how Bringo’s Marcin Musiolik describes the project: “Our mission is to help users skip phone trees and connect with a real human on the customer support phone lines at many companies throughout the U.S. Users simply choose the company they wish to call, and we’ll dial the company directly, navigate their phone tree, and call them back when they are in queue for an operator or customer service representative.”

I can imagine that some people won’t be interested in giving out their phone numbers, even to a website that’s providing a free and pretty useful service. I can also imagine that some people may be tempted to exploit this service, getting a customer-service rep on the line and then, since it cost nothing to do so, hanging up on them out of spite for all the past injustices.

Modern life may not be particularly fair, but at least it’s not boring.

TAGS:

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

 

COMMENTS: 24

View All Comments »
  1. william says:

    Hang up? Even better would be to connect two representatives of the same company, or perhaps two reps from different companies that you don’t like. I’m sure there would be lovely arguments about who called whom and why.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  2. william says:

    Hang up? Even better would be to connect two representatives of the same company, or perhaps two reps from different companies that you don’t like. I’m sure there would be lovely arguments about who called whom and why.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. msp says:

    “One solution to Phone Tree Hell is the beautifully named GetHuman database…”

    Maybe the Dubner posts are worth reading after all…

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  4. msp says:

    “One solution to Phone Tree Hell is the beautifully named GetHuman database…”

    Maybe the Dubner posts are worth reading after all…

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. Dan says:

    Can someone explain to me what’s so great about getting a human on the phone? In my experience, any information I get from a human is usually wrong, while information from machines, if available, is always right.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  6. Dan says:

    Can someone explain to me what’s so great about getting a human on the phone? In my experience, any information I get from a human is usually wrong, while information from machines, if available, is always right.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. zbicyclist says:

    Dan has a point about the information from machines being more reliable — but if you need any sort of nonstandard action taken, you need to get a human to take it.

    Be sure to get the human’s ID# up front. If you wait until the end, they will sometimes refuse to give it, or give it in a blurry way and then hang up.

    An amusing [if it's not you] story: I was talking to my Dad tonight — relatives had been worried since they’d call and he couldn’t call back. Dad’s 83, so people worry. To save a few bucks, and against his son’s strong recommendation, he signed up for a “phone over your cable line” service.

    First, they disconnected his old AT*T service (OK) but the cable phone didn’t work right.

    In fixing it, they cut off his cable service entirely (and, of course, the phone). The cable TV had to be fixed by the cable company, which is either unaffiliated with this cable phone company or pretends to be. But they only partly got the phone working.

    When I talked to him, he could receive calls, but couldn’t call out unless the call was local.

    And, of course, he had to make all the “phone tree” calls from a neighbor’s house. He was spreading out the calls among different neighbors so as not to try their patience too much.

    Tuesday he’s going to try to cancel the service. I told him to get a good night’s sleep on Monday, because he’ll need a lot of patience on Tuesday.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  8. zbicyclist says:

    Dan has a point about the information from machines being more reliable — but if you need any sort of nonstandard action taken, you need to get a human to take it.

    Be sure to get the human’s ID# up front. If you wait until the end, they will sometimes refuse to give it, or give it in a blurry way and then hang up.

    An amusing [if it's not you] story: I was talking to my Dad tonight — relatives had been worried since they’d call and he couldn’t call back. Dad’s 83, so people worry. To save a few bucks, and against his son’s strong recommendation, he signed up for a “phone over your cable line” service.

    First, they disconnected his old AT*T service (OK) but the cable phone didn’t work right.

    In fixing it, they cut off his cable service entirely (and, of course, the phone). The cable TV had to be fixed by the cable company, which is either unaffiliated with this cable phone company or pretends to be. But they only partly got the phone working.

    When I talked to him, he could receive calls, but couldn’t call out unless the call was local.

    And, of course, he had to make all the “phone tree” calls from a neighbor’s house. He was spreading out the calls among different neighbors so as not to try their patience too much.

    Tuesday he’s going to try to cancel the service. I told him to get a good night’s sleep on Monday, because he’ll need a lot of patience on Tuesday.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0