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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  1. Professor Clifton Shallot

    Good idea

    I suspect I will find this useful - well done that man. I hope it becomes significant enough that companies provide him with the details of any changes they make so it all stays up to date.

    1. LarsG
      Meh

      Re: Good idea

      One technique I use, when asked to press 1 etc I do nothing, just talk to myself then wait for a minute as the phone connects me to a person. Some call centres have caught on to this and disconnect, but many do not and assume you may be disabled and put you through to a person.

      1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        Re: Good idea

        I suspect they might be assuming you don't have a touchtone phone[1], rather than disabled...

        [1] More recent than you might think; I bought a mobile back in 2008 (an HTC Diamond, if I remember correctly although I could be wrong) that had no option to send DTMF tones during a call. I got rid of the phone very quickly as without DTMF I couldn't listen to voicemails, call the office, get in touch with the bank, etc etc etc. A disastrous design decision.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: HTC

          ah, yes. The company who decided that if you have your phone on mute, you don't want to hear feedback over the bluetooth. So you put your ringer off (for a meeting) come out, get in your car, press your BT to call home, and get no response from the phone to speak the number. At least my replacement Nokia 5800 worked properly.

    2. Cari
      Unhappy

      Re: Good idea

      "I hope it becomes significant enough that companies provide him with the details of any changes they make so it all stays up to date."

      Doubt it, they make money off these calls and this site is taking that away from them by saving the rest of us time and money.

      1. Can't think of anything witty...

        Re: Good idea

        I do wonder how he will keep this up to date, that would be the big challenge.

        For what it is worth, i think that the cash made generated by the use of 08** numbers is pretty low compared to other costs in the business.

        I think that given the choice between the money from the 08** number and shaving 20 seconds off the handling time of each call, pretty much every company would go for the cost saving. Non-geographic Numbers (NGNs) like that are as much about having a more memorable number that is completely portable and transparent to the consumer.

        sure, the money that comes in will offset other business costs, but i think that it is as much about marketing as anything else. also, don't forget that when many call centres opened people would have to remember numbers or write them down (pre-mobile phone era) so those confusing 0483 codes just cause a headache. then of course they added the "1".

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Good idea

          "For what it is worth, i think that the cash made generated by the use of 08** numbers is pretty low compared to other costs in the business."

          Ex callcentre bod here. Very, very few companies make money off their 0845 numbers. Only really dodgy premium line types do that. In general the 10p/minute or whatever goes straight to BT for renting the lines. The ones who do make an obscene amount of money from 0845 numbers are the mobile networks. More and more people call from their mobiles, probably unaware of the 10p/minute charge to begin with, but definitely unaware of the fact that it's more likely to be 40-80p/minute. It does not cost the mobile networks 30+p to peer the call to the POTS.

          Also, it must be said, companies are wising up to how annoying dialler menus are, so more and more are employing staff who are trained across the board, or using real humans as virtual receptionists. Unfortunately this costs a small fortune as customer service tends to be bottom of the pile when it comes to spending.

          That said, supreme tip? Just press 1. Keep pressing 1. You'll get through to *someone* and they'll be Happy To Redirect Your Call to the correct place, much faster than you will, and usually internally routed calls jump to the front of the call queue.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @AC Re: Good idea

            I used to work on a support line, and we were option 1. 1 for servers, 2 for desktops, 3 for laptops, something along these lines. We were actually wasting valuable time redirecting old folks with the "err there's a sticker that says Intel on it" computers.

            So please spare a thought for the agents who are at the end of the chain of "press 1". They too can be the victims of terrible phone menu design.

            Extra tip: the person you end up talking to when you keep pressing 1 may well ask you to redial and press 2 if they've already transferred 5 others before you, or if they've just had a shit day.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @AC Good idea

              See, I thoroughly enjoyed getting people who had just 1'd through and wanted to be manually redirected (prior to the days we got a Consumer Entry team who'd do that for them - they ended up saving the unit a fortune in the long run). Our managers were inept and the systems they used terrible, so the calls we resolved in 30 seconds just by redirecting someone would count against our average call handling time. Get a couple of sub-1 minute calls in on a day and you were well on your way to your weekly bonus.

  2. Craig 28

    Nothing worse than spending ages on an automated system while it figures out exactly what you want, then getting a generic how can I help you when a human finally answers. I strongly suspect it doesn't even alter who you get put through to in many cases.

    So convoluted I thought I saw Amelia Earhart in there, indeed.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Facepalm

      To make it better, some systems tend to be redundant at routing. Though not always, it can sometimes be just to give a little display on the phone to the customer assistant you called, that says "brand X customer" (for multi branded call centers) and "problem X, Y and Z" (for multi trained/optioned centers). But this is a waste, as they will probably ask you those questions anyhow.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Stop

        Yeah like phoning Barclaycard. The system asks you to say your card number right at the start. Then what's the first thing you're asked when you finally get through to a human? Your card number.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Consequence of the Data Protection Act usually. You need to verify the customer you've got on your phone is the same as the customer you've got on your screen and you have to do that without giving them any information - so you just ask them to re-state everything to confirm. It also puts agent handling the call in control. People tend to follow instructions, so once a call is opened with a relatively friendly, direct question, the agent has the upper hand and can ensure the call goes smoothly. Giving the customer too much leeway will end in tears.

    2. G7mzh

      In the place I worked, most options came through to the same place (even the ones we couldn't deal with and had to generate an email for someone to call the customer back).

      The company spent a huge amount of money on a new phone system, the only advantage of which was that it provided a private line between the various company outposts. It was beset with misrouting, failure to connect, and trying to be "intelligent" with the result that even outbound calls didn't det through.

      It became obvious that whne a customer complained they'd pressed 1 but got option 2 that it was the phone system's fault; after trying - unsuccessfully - to put them through to the right place, I started giving out the switchboard number. (Though I suspect the poor woman on the board had just as much troble as we did).

  3. wowfood

    Brilliant

    I can't help but remember the number of times I've called up a call center and wound up with the situation of "My option is possibly under 1 of 3 of the following. Lets try 1, nope, 2 nope, 3... great, now it's likely under one of two fo the 7 options... erm, ah 2 sounds like a good guess."

    "Sorry wrong department, I'll just transfer you over"

    I can't help but agree 100% that these places have terribly inefficient designs. Even when you get through you get the nromal gaff.

    Name, age, phone number, post code, password, secret question, dogs mothers owners blood type. And then when they transfer you to a colleague, you have to answer it all again.

    I swear that these call centres don't actually have different departments, they just use the whole "press 1 2 8 1 3 9 * 1 1 1 1" as a replacement for putting folks on hold.

    1. FartingHippo
      Mushroom

      Re: Brilliant

      You missed a bit:

      "Sorry wrong department, I'll just transfer you over"

      *click* ... *dial tone* ... *scream*

      1. Lamont Cranston

        *click* ... *dial tone* ... *scream*

        I see you've been calling BT.

    2. Cubical Drone

      Re: Brilliant

      "Name, age, phone number, post code, password, secret question, dogs mothers owners blood type."

      Don't forget shoe size.

    3. SoaG

      Re: Brilliant

      "Sorry wrong department, I'll just transfer you over"

      There's a reason that's so common.

      Departments/3rd parties that deal with customers track a number of different stats about the calls they get. NONE of the other stats matter unless the Average Handle Time (AHT) target is being met.

      I was in a place with an 8 minute target.

      Overall AHT for tier 1s that made it through 3 month probation (including 2 months classroom training so only 1 on the phones)? Varied week to week from 6:45 to 7:57 minutes with transfer rate of 33%

      AHT for tier 1s in 4th and final probation week on the phones? 10 minutes with transfer rate of 10%.

      New class of trainees every month representing 20% of tier 1 staff total. Why so many? 90% of those that complete training not kept on because they don't meet AHT, even though the low transfer rate actually means less time on the phone for the customer.

      So keep in mind it's not that they don't want to help you if they can. Doesn't matter if you're the tier 1 drone, department manager or CEO of a 3rd party call center. Beat the AHT target you're getting a bonus, blow it and you're fired.

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: Brilliant

        So what is the mischief being avoided by having inflexible AHTs? What would the call-centre drone do to make their life easier if they didn't have to get rid of customers so quickly? Alternatively, what is the business case for quantity over quality? Genuine questions hoping for genuine answers.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Childcatcher

          Re: Brilliant

          You're assuming reason where none exists. AHT is a simple number that can be tracked and understood by managers. If you replaced this with something nebulous like customer satisfaction, there'd be more work, more challenges about bonuses and firings, more questions from higher ups etc. It's simply easier for all of them to use a number .. After all, that's all we are, numbers.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Brilliant

            Remember most managers are old phone-drones themselves. They understand how utterly absurd the KPIs in use in the callcentre industry are and how easily they're manipulated. The problem is almost all callcentre work is done by outsourcers like Teleperformance, SiTel, TLC etc., and the stuff that isn't outsourced is usually tacked onto a business unit as an afterthought. You then end up in a situation where the outsourcer is dancing to their client's tune and managing to maintain absurd KPIs, or the team handling the callcentre work is so small it lacks any proper expertise and is accountable to a business unit that doesn't understand the realities.

            The companies that get it right, with a large, well-managed, sane and in-house callcentre team are few and far between. Sky manage it, as do EE, but there are very few others.

            The problem is AHT is supposed to be a red-line target. It isn't a "target", it is supposed to be a breach of contract kind of thing. Unfortunately it ends up being managed as another target to work towards, rather than something that should not be broken, because reducing AHT means higher effective [on-paper] throughput with the same staff costs. Despite this, there's usually very little money in contracts for meeting AHT - the good money comes in for customer satisfaction (CSAT), but that's difficult to do because who honestly fills in those after-call surveys?

          2. Geoff Campbell
            Boffin

            Re: Brilliant

            Goodhart's Law:

            "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

            GJC

  4. Ol'Peculier
    Thumb Up

    Fantastic effort. If I had to comment on one thing, linking to the saynoto0870 website would be a big help - most mobile contracts don't include non-geographical numbers in their call plans, so a number that uses part of your call plan allowance would save people even more money.

    1. Lamont Cranston
      Thumb Up

      Thumbs up for my energy provider, on this issue (Ovo Energy),

      as they prominently display both an 0800 and a regualr (geographic) number, on all their materials (and the welcome message on the 0800 reminds you of this, again). I do wish more companies would do this.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    First Direct Bank have it right.....

    Phone up, straight through to a person in the UK after only a few rings! Well so far, only had to call them twice.

    1. garden-snail
      Thumb Up

      Re: First Direct Bank have it right.....

      +1 for First Direct. I always get through straight away, and not just to "A. Person" but a genuinely helpful person who knows what they're doing.

      1. HxBro
        Thumb Up

        Re: First Direct Bank have it right.....

        It's a pleasure calling first direct, 2 rings and an answer, and they know what you are talking about.

        The first time I called they even knew what I was calling about before I said it!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: First Direct Bank have it right.....

      I was going to put in a good word for First Direct too, but I see I'm late to the party here (though I've been a happy First Direct customer since a few years after they started).

      There is a great deal that other companies could and should learn from whatever magick it is that the First Direct team have been using.

      It's occasionally said that outsourcing of call centres is a substitute (usually a poor substitute) for properly run onshore call centres. First Direct's performance (as seen by individuals here, and as shown in pretty much every financial-sector customer satisfaction survey since FD started) certainly supports that theory. Maybe their products aren't always quite as competitive as the leaders, but when your customer service is as bad as (e.g.) Santander (again as evidenced by many independent surveys), you have to have something to get people's attention.

      Plus, for the old-timers here, First Direct started in Systime's old place (Millshaw Park in Leeds). There's been lots of stuff for old-timers here lately, when's El Reg going to dig out the full and unexpurgated story of the rise and fall of Systime?

      1. Ian Yates
        Thumb Up

        Re: First Direct Bank have it right.....

        Also a First Direct fan, but I wanted to mention Smile as well, since they have a similar policy.

        Both companies seem to have made the common sense judgement that call centre staff should actually have the ability to help, rather than apologise that the system won't let them do something.

        Oh, and both have 0845 numbers. Perfect.

  6. Wibble
    Thumb Up

    Also SayNoTo0870

    Apart from being annoying, these non-geographic numbers are excruciatingly expensive to call from mobile phones.

    Must also make a shout out to www.saynoto0870.com

    1. VinceH Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Also SayNoTo0870

      "Must also make a shout out to www.saynoto0870.com"

      Yes... it's just a shame that when I should use it (because it's only very infrequently I need to call an 08xx number), I forget all about it!

  7. Sorry, "Sorry that handle is already taken" is already taken.
    FAIL

    "as grating as high grade sandpaper."

    So not very grating at all, then.

    More like.....polishing. ;)

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: "as grating as high grade sandpaper."

      Try it on your teeth!

      1. Sorry, "Sorry that handle is already taken" is already taken.

        re: "Try it on your teeth!"

        Not a chance!

        I'm not falling for that again. :-/

  8. Don Jefe
    Happy

    Rare Thing

    This is one of those truly rare things that makes people say 'we should have always been doing this'. Good on this guy for a great idea.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who could like the automated system

    I usually choose based on the chance of getting a human regardless of department. Then I demand they transfer me or give me a direct number to avoid the machine. It works often enough but it is wrong to charge someone to navigate the maze of options on these systems. It should be law that any automated menu system must be a free phone number unless there are 3 or less options (3rd is human) and there is no sub menu or intro.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who could like the automated system

      Accounts. Always accounts. They are well trained and trusted staff who can do just about anything if required to. At the very least, transfer you to someone who will definitely solve your problem, as if they don't you'll be back and asking for a refund! :D

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ummm...

    There's something not right about having your homepage say

    "Phone menus for hundreds of UK Companies & Organisations including:

    Listing Organisations like:

    NHS Direct

    Which when followed tell you:

    No phone menus - you get straight through to the service.

    If they don't have menus, and your setup is about mapping menu systems, wtf are you doing listing them?

    1. Velv Silver badge

      Re: Ummm...

      I think your name sums up my thoughts on your comment

    2. Skoorb

      Re: Ummm...

      Well, NHS Direct doesn't even exist anymore in England, and when it did exist it wasn't available in Scotland or NI.

      And there are a lot of 'needs an account or phone number to go further so we have no information' as well.

      1. chrisevans1001

        Re: Ummm...

        NHS Direct exists for a few more months yet with 111 being phased in across the country. 111 is not yet available for a significant proportion of the country.

        http://www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/

    3. gerdesj Silver badge

      Re: Ummm...

      >If they don't have menus, and your setup is about mapping menu systems, wtf are you doing listing them?

      You must be aware that zero is a number as well?

      Logging the fact that there are zero options in a menu (ie no menu) is valid data to record for the website's stated aims.

      Cheers

      Jon

  11. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge
    Pint

    @ First Direct have it right...

    It has been this way with FD since I joined them around 2000.

    Hats off to that man though. Good effort and a beer for your troubles...

    It has to be said though that most of these are "designed" and make no mistake - they are designed - to prevent you calling them. The difficulty in contacting these companies is also making its way into their websites as well.

    1. Rikkeh
      Pirate

      Re: @ First Direct have it right...

      This is when you deploy Plan B- use linkedin to look up senior management and then work out their email addresses on a firstname.lastname@domain basis.

      The other week a friend of mind did this with a well-known UK retailer and found to his surprise and delight that the CEO had left his mobile phone number on his vacation response.

      Funnily enough, the friend's complaint was sorted out very soon after.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: @ First Direct have it right...

        First initial & last name is common as well (dhead or d.head @somesite). The easiest people to find are their PR or Investor Relations people, they just throw their contact info at you & once you've got the format you've got it all.

        Also had luck with god@somesite (usually their chief admin) and ceo@somesite.

      2. Fatman Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Funnily enough, the friend's complaint was sorted out very soon after.

        <-------- One for your friend in taking the initiative!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Linux

      Re: @ First Direct have it right...

      Yes - try contacting people in a business like Australia Post for instance.....

      Professional stone walling antics to the max, no middle management, just loads of clueless drones on the front line and nothing else.

      You can tell the general attitude of a company and it's management, who view customer service, and contact, as a thing that is to be viewed as an unnecesary cost / hassle etc., where 99% of them will give up and go away, if the methods used to contact them are so well hidden, minimised, convoluted, and just as totally difficult as they can be, AND they usually dump you into a foreign call centre.... filled with clueless drones....

      Me: "HI I want to enquire about establishing an account."

      Them: "Excuse me sir, what is your account number."

      (groan - this is going to be a long day.)

      "Hi can you divert my call to the offices in Sydney Australia?"

      "Sorry sir I cannot do that sir."

      In Australia, we have Telstra, Optus, Mastercard - to name a few.

      Master Card are a particularly outstanding example of how to piss customers right off - "We are the big shiny happy corporation - eager to do business with you." - their adds lie, while backed up with a complete lack of phone numbers, for any people in any countries.

      The service is just fucking appalling......

      The other issue is why do these smart corporate types, pick the stupidest of people to place on the front line? - which is the very area to have your smartest and most mentally agile people?

      Why are their human relations depts filled with clots who's idea of customer service is based on a home life of "Neighbors" (evil Australian soap show), and the general IQ is of the nasty girls in the playground playing one-up manship over the others....

      I have also had HUGE fights with companies who have endless robot phone systems, complete with great, happy, shiny, shiny fucking advertisments - running several minutes, before you get to the actual robot button pressing games.

      And then we have the likes of Microsoft....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @ First Direct have it right...

        I've encountered government phone robots in a dozen or more countries and Australia is definitely home to the most infuriating. They're no longer restricted large governments departments either - the bullshit plague has now infected poxy little outback shire councils with just a few staff members.

  12. clanger9

    Awesome - thumbs up to this guy!

    Nice website too. Really nicely done :-)

  13. Moktu

    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.

  14. Irongut

    £96million

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

  15. Winkypop Silver badge
    Trollface

    Hello? Tin-foil hat Dept?

    Is this: 0118 999 881 999 119 725 3 ?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    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

  17. ukgnome
    Pint

    Top work that man - Have a virtual pint

  18. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    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.

  19. Volvic
    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Joke

      Re: This will be useful...

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

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: This will be useful...

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

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      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.

      1. Volvic

        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

      2. Lamont Cranston

        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.

        1. Richard Gadsden
          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.

          1. Jess--

            Re: This will be useful...

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

  20. All names Taken
    Happy

    Nomination?

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

  21. IHateWearingATie
    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!

    1. Gerhard Mack

      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.

  22. M Gale

    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.

  23. no_RS
    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

  24. Jemma Silver badge
    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…

  25. nowster

    Charlotte Green reads Les Barker's poem "Voicemail"

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

  26. Gilgamoth
    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.

    1. G7mzh

      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.

  27. trafalgar
    Facepalm

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

    1. Rikkeh
      Trollface

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

  28. TomChaton
    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.

  29. Tom 11
    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.

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      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.

      1. Tom 11
        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.

  30. Evil Auditor Silver badge
    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?

  31. Alain Moran
    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!

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Seven years?

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

      I can only be called PLUTONIUM!

    2. ObSolutions, Inc
      Happy

      Re: Seven years?

      Man needs a hobby.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      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.

  32. The Nameless Mist
    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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!

  33. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Pint

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

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

  34. Andus McCoatover
    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.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  36. ecofeco Silver badge
    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.

  37. JeffyPooh Silver badge
    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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

      1. JeffyPooh Silver badge
        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.

  38. itsallgonepearshaped
    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?"

    1. Jim Carter

      Re: Fabulous Idea... but...

      Ah, you mean like here?

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

  39. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    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/

  40. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Facepalm

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

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

  41. Lost in Cyberspace

    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.

  42. Stevie Silver badge

    Egad!

    Give that man an OBE at once!

  43. Palf

    Common shortcuts to get a human

    are 0, 00 or saying "agent"

  44. Dave Lawton
    Holmes

    08xx Numbers

    Slightly O/T

    Since nearly all mobile operators still charge these at their full rate (34/40p per minute), and are excluded, unless you pay extra when that's possible, from included minutes, these are really only suitable for POTS.

    There are, however, a series of non-geographic numbers, 03xx, which are covered by inclusive minutes.

    These do not appear to be well publicised for some reason, but I try to make the point to any company using 08xx numbers that these were great when everyone used POTS, but they are not mobile friendly, and give them the info about 03xx.

    Thanks for reading.

  45. RISC OS
    FAIL

    For someone who hates bad design...

    ...it's odd that his site is so difficult to use and understand what is being presented, especially when you expand some calls... This will be used by nerds only.

  46. Reue

    Typical

    Typical of so many companys: Free sales line number but then premium rate for any customer/technical support.

    I've taken to just calling the 0800 new customer sales line and blagging my way through an internal transfer to the support teams.

  47. Christian Berger Silver badge

    I don't quite understand the reason for this

    I mean just having short codes robs you of the fun of exploring the IVR. (If you are into it) Obscure options might be more interresting. If you want something from a company calling them usually is the worst option, sending a letter to the CEO personally will give you a better and quicker response. (letter not e-mail!)

    Well for my IVR I'm thinking of adding an "I just want to talk to someone" option. It then randomly picks a country and city, and dials a random number in it.

  48. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
    Flame

    Has anyone else noticed?

    That these services often record your call (for "staff training"), so if (when?) there is a problem, the Company has a record of the conversation, and you don't. They have the choice, conveniently "loose" the recording ("it was deleted after X days, for data protection purposes"), when it includes their agent promising something never delivered; or, reveal the part where you were incoherantly ranting due to on-hold frustration over their polite employee whispering the relevant detail.

    Time to conduct all my business in writing, carved in tablet of stone.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Has anyone else noticed?

      "That these services often record your call (for "staff training"), so if (when?) there is a problem, the Company has a record of the conversation, and you don't. They have the choice, conveniently "loose" the recording ("it was deleted after X days, for data protection purposes")..."

      Unfortunately for those working in the industry, things are rarely deleted for data protection purposes, they have to be kept for a long, long time. It's entirely normal for a call centre in the banking industry to still have the full recording of every call ever made immediately to hand.

      You have the right to access these recordings, or at least transcripts of the recording, with a simple Subject Access Request for no more than a nominal fee.

      Please don't do this.

      It's a fucking nightmare.

  49. leenex

    Programmer

    Maybe try parsing spoken language again? They must have forgotten about the last time by now and hardware had become more powerful since the 1990's.

    It should be possible for a robot to be able to respond to keywords in a sentence and prune the menu tree accordingly ... but the first to simulate a semi-intelligent conversation will earn more than a round at the pub ...

    1. CoffeeFueled

      Re: Programmer

      Paypal actually do the keyword voice recognition thing. It was rather frustrating, right up until I discovered that just repeating "Operator" got me a human within about thirty seconds.

  50. Magnus_Pym

    How corporations save money

    In a board meeting at every corporation ever:

    CEO: Ok, the end of the financial year is coming up so we need to save 10% on costs this year so I can look good to investors. I need ideas people.

    Director 1: We have too many directors, what about cutting the board a little?

    Director 2: We could use the feed-back from customers to improve the product and reduce costly returns.

    Director 3: We could listen to shop floor managers who have been telling us for years where the real problems are.

    Director 4: We could sack workers and outsource everything non-core to the best third parties in the industry segments. Many would re-employ our staff so we don't loose any hard gained product experience.

    Director 5: What he said but fuck the experience go for the cheapest option, save more money, we all get bigger bonuses and we move on before the inevitable shit/fan confluence.

    CEO Good idea Director 5, have a promotion and extra bonus. Implement the plan immediately.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How corporations save money

      That's exactly what Canon (the copier people) did. Get rid of all the experience engineers and get in untrained panel-jockeys who can just about fix most simple faults most of the time. Keep one or two senior engineers on call in case panel-jockey gets stuck (or breaks it). When panel-jockeys become too knowledgeable, and therefore want too much money, get rid of them and outsource servicing to an agent who is paid on throughput.

      Then outsource the call centre overseas so any local knowledge and personal involvement is lost, along with the ability for the telephonist to find out where a missing engineer has got to, and again pay them on throughput, so they are forced to get people off the phone as quickly as possible.

      If anyone can, Canon - probably can't any more.

  51. Charles Wolfe

    What the inventor thinks of it now

    As a former colleague of the inventor of this system, I can tell you that he specified the tree should never go more than 3 levels deep and not more than a "handful" of options at any level. He was greatly disappointed by what happened to the technology when set lose in the "wild".

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