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.
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. …
I suspect they might be assuming you don't have a touchtone phone, rather than disabled...
 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.
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.
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".
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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
There's something not right about having your homepage say
"Phone menus for hundreds of UK Companies & Organisations including:
Listing Organisations like:
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?
>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.
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.
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.
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.
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....
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.
"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.
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.
... 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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
"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...
Have a cold-calling-free weekend
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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 ...
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.
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.
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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