NeoBytes :) "Press 1 if you've had enough of listening to call centre options..."

NeoBytes :) is an occasional feature that takes a step back from the big headlines, to take a look at what else is happening in the vast, scary expanse of the tech world - often with a cynical eye, always with a dose of humour.

There are countless aspects of technology that have changed our lives for the better - some dramatically improving an entire way of life, and some making things just that little bit easier. But if you've ever tried to call a big company, you'll likely have spent at least a few moments cursing what technology has done to make even the simplest task infinitely more convoluted. 

In principle, it should be a quick, two-minute call. You want to call your bank to query a charge, or contact the courier to arrange a new delivery date; pick up the phone, dial, chat, job done. The reality, of course, is usually far more tedious. 

Before you even come close to speaking to a real human being, you must first navigate a complex labyrinth of menus and options that are supposedly designed to connect you with the right person to deal with your specific issue. In many companies, it's not even a case of just selecting one option before your call is connected to an exhausted, bored, underpaid agent; in some cases, you have to sit through two, three, four or more layers of options before you finally emerge from the maze, only to find yourself placed in a queue, listening to tinny, butchered playback of some song you really, really hate. 

It's a problem that plagues virtually everyone at some point - and a problem that one man has had more than enough of. Enter, Nigel Clarke, our hero, our saviour, the man who aims to make the whole process that little bit easier. 

Clarke, a retired IT manager from the UK, became so exasperated with listening to seemingly endless lists and options that he decided to do something about it. As BBC News reports, he created the website as a "labour of love", to help callers breeze through the menus, and get through to someone that might, possibly, be able to help. 

Over the last few months, Clarke used Skype and recording software to call scores of companies to track their menu options and build a searchable database that users can check before they call a company.

He found that some companies were much worse than others. For example, to report a water leak to the home insurance department of the UK's Lloyds TSB bank required sitting through seven layers of menus, and around four minutes of sitting through up to 78 menu options. Even organisations with fewer options such as HMRC, the UK's tax office, require just four button presses to get through to an agent, but still takes around six minutes of listening to menu options before you're connected. 

With the options mapped on Clarke's website, users can simply select the option they need as soon as each menu begins to be read out. For those of us who have sat, exasperated, through endless layers of options, while contemplating smashing our phones with a hammer to simply put an end to the misery, it's something of a godsend. 

Clarke has so far created a database with hundreds of UK companies - including the likes of British Airways, Virgin Media, Tesco, British Gas and HSBC - but plans to expand it even further, with a US version of the site already under development. But he says he has no plans to devote all of his time to running it, and invites companies to participate in the process to make things easier for their customers: "I'd like the companies themselves to say, 'We care about our customers, we'll publish our menus." 

Customers the world over will no doubt be hoping that companies heed his advice - but until that day comes, for now, many of us will still have to sit in silence, gripping our phones and gritting our teeth, waiting for the right option to come up. 

via BBC News | Angry businessman image via Shutterstock

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Haha, those menu's are often either to
A: Let the user hang up without filing a complaint, ticket or question.
B: Make sure each call is at _least_ 2-3 minutes long, and thus garanteeing a certain income for a certain amount of users.

I've worked at callcenters and often the excuse is to make sure people are helped faster and easier by letting the choices guide you to the proper department... newsflash, you end up in the same department most of the time
Some callcenters even make you answer the phone in the 'department' the caller thinks he's calling to, even tho its the same.

Guess you haven't called Virgin Media in the UK huh? What a PITA to even reach a human and when you finally do it's some Indian guy who you can barely understand.

alwaysonacoffebreak said,
Guess you haven't called Virgin Media in the UK huh? What a PITA to even reach a human and when you finally do it's some Indian guy who you can barely understand.

I find if you speak to the indian call center people in a strange accent, they can't understand you, so transfer you to their 'manager' back in the UK who is English. Works every time.

they always say, "we have changed our menu options to serve you better."

First off, I had a hell of a time trying to get around the menus the old way.. AAARGH!

Second, having ANY menus doesn't improve the service to me.. AAAAAAArgh!

lastly, they ALWAYS ask you to please pay attention as the menu options changed...

How does a person, on blood thinners, who cuts themselves pay attention as they slowly bleed to death?? /sarcasm

The worst is the when you call the telephone provider for help. First they say is "to better assist you please enter your 10 digit telephone number" .. then when you finally get to a live person the VERY first thing they ask is "What's your telephone number?"

Protip: They are trolling you.

Even providers like AT&T Business require you to say your 10 digit T1 circuit ID in their prompts, and of course it never understand you... even if it gets it 100% right the customer service rep will always ask for it anyway. It's just a system to get people to give up before opening a ticket.

I don't really understand why anyone has to press 1 for English. It should all be recorded in English.

You can Press 9802983029341918273918273982734923874 for Spanish though. That would even the score here in SoCal.

Your call will be answered in the order as it was received.

Hello how may I help you.

.. profit.

What I really despise, calling a place that is here in the US, initially getting a language other than English and having to wait to actually hear some English!

I have a couple work related places I have to call. I just made a cheat sheet with the numbers required to get where I want, so I don't have to listen to the "press 1 for English" BS.

naap51stang said,
I have a couple work related places I have to call. I just made a cheat sheet with the numbers required to get where I want, so I don't have to listen to the "press 1 for English" BS.

Most of the time, I don't even bother pressing anything. The systems normally put you through to a human straight away assuming your dtmf tones aren't working on the phone for what ever reason. Then you can be patched over to the correct department. Sometimes just hitting # a few times will do the same thing.