back to article IT bloke publishes comprehensive maps of CALL CENTRE menu HELL

Most people can't bear to use automated call centre phone lines for even a few minutes. But one former IT manager has spent seven years on the phone in a bid to produce a map of Britain's phone menus. Nigel Clarke, a self-confessed "call centre menu enthusiast", released details of his project today on a site called www. …

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Alternatively

I prefer it if someone published the home addresses of the people who commissioned, designed and implemented these systems.

Then I'll know where to send the comrades on the first day of the revolution.

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£96million

I suspect BT will not be happy at losing all that revenue on their local call rate numbers.

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Trollface

Hello? Tin-foil hat Dept?

Is this: 0118 999 881 999 119 725 3 ?

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Anonymous Coward

“For English, Press One. Para Español, Marque Número Dos.”

Sadly, the US section is still under development :(

For non-English pseudo-English speakers, here's a US list: http://www.dialahuman.com

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Pint

Top work that man - Have a virtual pint

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Stop

Your call is important to us...

But not quite important enough for us to devote a minion to answer it.

Meanwhile, here's some very bad Stravinsky for you to enjoy at 8p a minute.

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FAIL

This will be useful...

...for about a month, until companies' IVR options change and people who think they're being crafty are actually putting themselves through to the wrong call queues.

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Joke

Re: This will be useful...

Dilbert already predicted a similar future: http://dilbert.com/fast/2004-03-18/

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Re: This will be useful...

"No problem, I'll just transfer you".

It should be a legal requirement that any automated phone menu goes straight to a human (even with a queueing hold system, if necessary) when you press, say, 9.

I get through to the right department approximately 70% of the time. And the more complex the categorisation, the more I just press buttons and then get the human to transfer me. And they can ALL transfer me. So why don't you just have calls go to ANY FREE AGENT in ANY DEPARTMENT and let them shuffle calls around instead of the menus?

It's one of those things that I've promised myself if I ever run my own business again, I'll never use an automated phone menu no matter how big I get. And if I do have a busy phone line, I desperately want the system that Dabs used to have nearly a decade ago where it says what number you are in the queue and how long it'll take to get to you every minute or so. Then at least YOU can decide if it's worth waiting or not.

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Re: This will be useful...

It's because having people wasting their time transferring calls to other departments COSTS YOU MONEY and also CAUSES QUEUES TO BUILD UP which then causes POOR CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE which can lead to you LOSING MORE MONEY

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Re: This will be useful...

I forget who it was, but I had cause to phone a company who's hold music would be occassionally interrupted to let me know that I was "[n]th in the queue". All well and good, but I soon found out that the longest wait was when I was "next in the queue", suggesting that the whole thing was just an artificial countdown.

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Thumb Up

Re: This will be useful...

Dilbert is just a photo of reality with a cat drawn over the top to protect privacy.

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Boffin

Re: This will be useful...

You're insufficiently cynical.

You were getting pushed up by other people abandoning the call. When you got to "next", you had to wait for the one person actually answering calls to finish with the customer in front of you to get pushed up.

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Re: This will be useful...

on a lot of call systems Zero is an unmentioned option, usually drops you straight to a human

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Happy

Nomination?

Can we nominate this fell for sainthood or something like that?

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FAIL

HMRC system is the worst I've encountered...

... I seem to remember going through 4 levels of menu before speaking to someone, with each level having a one minute (sometimes more) description of how you can do things on their website. The reason I was ringing is because the website said you can't do what I wanted to online and needed to speak to someone.

Arrrggghh!

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Re: HMRC system is the worst I've encountered...

For me it's a tossup between Telefonica Spain and UPS.

UPS because it demands I speak the 18 Character and I know it will fail be cause the system chokes on my Canadian accent every time. It will repeat the number back to me in a monotone artificial slow speaking voice with the digits wrong and when it realizes it has failed it will ask me to repeat the process twice more before giving up and passing me to an actual human to sort it out.

Telefonica because of their chipper First verse (and only the first verse) of Be Ok by Ingrid Michaelson in a tight loop.

"I just want to be ok, be ok, be ok

I just want to be ok today

I just want to be ok, be ok, be ok

I just want to be ok today "

Ask yourself how long you can stand to hear that before homicidal urges become irrepressible and consider that their hold times are well over half an hour. Picture half an hour to an hour of hearing that stupid verse repeatedly. Even the BOFH was never so sadistic.

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Nice idea, but I can see a flaw.

Damn website can take so long to load over 3G that by the time you even get to the search box to begin your query, you might as well have just dialled the number and gone through the menu system the long way.

There a graphics-light option available? In fact I reckon they could make some money by creating a dirt-simple crossplatform app that acts like a dialler and lets you search and call in a couple of clicks.

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Happy

Use 0800

Just phone the 0800 sales number and you will usually get put through to the right department but at their cost, if they don't you haven't lost anything but it has cost them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Use 0800

Good idea.

Another is that since companies purchase their numbers in blocks; grab the saynoto0870 number and dial a bit above / below it. You'll probably get someone for the company. Ask to be put through.

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Windows

Something I wrote a while back, seemed strangely apt...

Real life: Press one to talk.

The phone it rings and rings and rings

Till life and time seems to fall away

“Press one to talk to an imbecile,

Who can’t/won't help in any way.”

“Press two to be disconnected,

So you can call another day.”

“Press three to be put on hold again,

Canned classical to wile the hours away”

“Press four to talk to a manager,

With no chin and upper class bray”

“Press five to go back to one again

So we can find you other ways to pay”

Technology should make things easier

All upstanding experts so say

If this is a life that’s made easier

I think I’ll just sit here and await the day

When this particular facet of an ‘easy life’

Will up and go away…

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Charlotte Green reads Les Barker's poem "Voicemail"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi-74wHCeAs

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Facepalm

Please Enter Account Information

What really gets my goat, is the bit where it asks you for your account number to be punched using the key pad, then the first think the operator does is as you for your details.

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Re: Please Enter Account Information

I used to work for a credit card company. The phone system always asked callers to type in their card number; why it did this is a mystery as the information wasn't passed to the telephonists.

BT's machine also asks for your phone number, and this aparrently is also not passed to the person who eventually answers the phone.

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Facepalm

We've killed the site... Won't load for me...

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Trollface

Oh dear, does the site have a helpline listed that you can call instead?

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Go

What a hero

I think he's going to need a bigger boat, though. The website is responding very slowly.

My method is to call the sales department, if such a thing exists, then the salesdroid that answers can transfer me internally to the department I need.

Sales numbers are rarely engaged or have queuing systems, and are normally answered by wetware.

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Big Brother

Wait, hasn't anyone told him this:

Simply hammer # or 0 when you hit the first hit a menu 90% of the time this will plop you straight to a real person, and, quite often if it's a company with several call centres across the globe, it'll drop you to an English one as a default as they are more often than not the nerve centre of things rather than tech support or sales in India.

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Re: Wait, hasn't anyone told him this:

Sorry, Tom, but many Computer Assisted Annoyance Machines are now rigged to spot an immediate "0" as an "unrecognized response" here in New York.

I believe National Grid's voicebot was the first I encountered to be so hardened against the customer experience, proving that British firms still have what it takes to lead the way. (NG moves gas in my neck o' the woods).

No doubt coming to a voice navigated menubot near you soon.

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Meh

Re: Wait, hasn't anyone told him this:

Sorry, Stevie, but for one, I am not in New York, and if you have voice navigation then simply utter something unintelligible several times over or repeat "advisor" will have the same effect.

Secondly, notice the caveat in my post: 90%? Meaning that I fully understand that some systems are BOFH proofed, but most are not, and to be honest, when I find one that is hardened to my back door intrusions it just makes me try harder.

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WTF?

13'000 calls?!

The outcome sounds like a good thing, but...

...time wasted through inefficient design.

I wonder whether there was not a more efficient way to gather this information. I mean, manually dialing through all those menus? And by the time he finished the job half of those menus have already changed?

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WTF?

Seven years?

Am I the only one who is wondering why on earth he navigated these systems manually?

Speech recognition software might not be 100% accurate, but you could automate navigating the options and record the prompts for later manual correction & have an up-to date map in a couple of weeks!

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Coat

Re: Seven years?

Something like Selenium for Phone Robot Hell....?

I can only be called PLUTONIUM!

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Happy

Re: Seven years?

Man needs a hobby.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Seven years?

"Am I the only one who is wondering why on earth he navigated these systems manually?"

From the tone of the article, I'm guessing this guy makes trainspotters look like party animals. I think he intentionally did it manually.

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FAIL

NEWS : Major Corporates Update Phone Systems

In news today, major corporate operations globally have amended their call trees to introduce a new unique RANDOMISER into the system to frustrate people trying to bypass in-tree advertising.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: NEWS : Major Corporates Update Phone Systems

"major corporate operations globally have amended their call trees to introduce a new unique RANDOMISER into the system to frustrate people"

Quick! Someone patent that, and sue the wotsits off anyone who actually tries the idea for real!

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Hello, you've reached the psychiatric hotline...

If you are obsessive/compulsive, press 1 repeatedly. If you have multiple personalities, press 2, 3, 4, and 5. If you are simply paranoid, just hang up - we know who you are.

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Pint

Re: Hello, you've reached the psychiatric hotline...

Best post in ages! Have a virtual lager...

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Windows

Nordea, my bank in Finland gets it right...(Tad off-track)

OK, have to decide 1, 2 or 3 (Finnish Swedish or English).

(Reads phone number/name from computer): "Hello, Mr. Coatover, how can I help?"

OK, maybe the English bit helps...

There's a button at the ticket machine in the (physical) bank to use service in Finnish/Swedish*. Used to be all Finns pressed it. They'd queue for ages - upto an hour.

I press the button for service in English, get a ticket, and wait - oh, max. 5 minutes?

That was then.

Nowadays a lot of fluentl English-speaking Finns have twigged...my waiting time is slowly lengthening...

*Finland's bi-lingual, most Finns are reasonably fluent in the other.

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Happy

If this is of any help to anyone....

Automated robot phone cues are like a general anasthetic to me.... As soon as I hear, "To do / contact blah blah blah, press 1...." I go out like a light.

Brain switches off, I hear NOTHING.....

So my hints for dealing with some of this bullshit are:

Take up using a phone that has a hands free option.

And stay busy with things YOU like to do.

And if the company is staffed with people who are not the helpful types and you like to make them crawl over broken glass for every cent, having a mallet, and a wood chisel and a whole heap of timber working joints etc... to be done, while you talk to them - on the hands free, makes them an interesting chit chatty dialogue while you enjoy doing great stuff with your own life.

"Bang, bang, bang, bang bang, bang, bang bang, bang, bang" - "Oh sorry what was that? I didn't quite get that last bit...."

"Bang, bang, bang, bang bang, bang, bang bang, bang, bang" - "Could you say that again in English?"

"Bang, bang, bang, bang bang, bang, bang bang, bang, bang" - etc....

This way, you get your work done, and you can have a conversation while your at it.... rather than being stuck on the phone and having to put up with bullshit.

It's also a reversal of the power game on them.......

They are having to deal with you, in your space, on your time, while your busy - and if they don't perform, then you will just call back and keep them tied up for days.

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Pirate

Better customer service?

Most companies treat customers as a nuisance that is between them and the money the have a god given right to.

< Because most businesses are nothing but a legalized form of.

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Pint

I've got an idea...

An entrepreneur could create a new paid service to make life easier for the public.

This new system would have thousands of cheap Internet phone lines. Their system would constantly call the most popular call center numbers, and cue-up various popular but deeply-buried end nodes of the menu. It would use all sorts of tricks to keep the call center menu system on-line (perhaps backing-out and then moving further-in in an endless repeating loop to keep the system on the line).

Meanwhile, the impatient punters would call up this service via a certain defined short-cut telephone number, and (for a Dollar, or a UK Pound [same thing]) be instantly connected to the deep node of the menu within a given call center.

More aggressively - perhaps even get the call center human on the line, and then make some fake throat clearing noises to keep them on the line for a few seconds waiting, just in case an available punter wants to speak to them in that duration. This is a reverse version of the 'predictive calling' feature used by outgoing call centers. Right back at them.

Also, the fact that the call center's incoming lines are all plugged up by the service's robots would only help to ensure a successful business model.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I've got an idea...

"a reverse version of the 'predictive calling' feature used by outgoing call centers. Right back at them."

My irony detector has blown its fuse.

Thing is, I thought I'd read about something remarkably similar to this concept, within the last few days. No idea where, or how to find it again, but I think I remember reading that the service was to be offered on a premium rate number...

Suggestions?

Have a cold-calling-free weekend

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Pint

Re: I've got an idea...

Oh_Really?

Therefore I hereby formally Publish (above) and irrevocably place the above described Business Model(s) and any related Utility Patent worthy inventions that may be inferred into the Public Domain.

Excluding the Business Model of equating the US Dollar and UK Pound as being approximately the same value. That brilliant concept is *mine* and intend to pursue a worldwide Business Model patent on it.

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Thumb Up

Fabulous Idea... but...

Anyone who's had any dealings with LloydsTSB knows, that menu items are on their way out. It's all voice recognition now. How many times can you say:

"Pass me through to an operator you d^^k!"

before it cuts you off, or asks "what do you mean by d^^k?"

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Re: Fabulous Idea... but...

Ah, you mean like here?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfkPcTNnGNk

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How often do the menus change?

So the bloke spent the best part of seven years" to create the database. How much of it is still up to date? What kind of effort is required to maintain it? There is a "Report an Error" link on the "Contact Us" page - it looks like it has to be manually processed and, I presume, the reported error will have to be manually verified and corrected.

Simon was on the right track roughly when this guy started: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/01/27/bofh_2006_episdoe_4/

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Facepalm

Of course now sadistic companies will change their call center routing....

Can't have customers penetrating the bureaucracy, after all!!

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Doesn't matter which option

Doesn't matter which option you choose when calling Three mobile, none of the operators are able to correctly process a request or cancel your contract.

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