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 youve ever tried to call a big company, youll 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, its 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.
Its 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 pleasepress1.com 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 UKs 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 UKs 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 youre connected.
With the options mapped on Clarkes 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, its 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: "Id like the companies themselves to say, "We care about our customers, well 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.