How to Get Through to a Real Live Person

Ah, the automated call center, where the wait is long, the frustration high, and the recorded music cheesy. Here’s how to dial S for satisfaction.

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“Thank you for calling. We appreciate your business and look forward to assisting you. Please press 1 for billing. Press 2 for tech support. Press 3 for new orders. Press 4 for existing orders. Press 5 to track your order. Press 6 to repeat this menu. Press 7 for more options. Press 8 if you really believe you’re ever going to get to talk to a real live person.”

Ah, the automated call center, where the wait is long, the frustration high, and the recorded music cheesy. Here’s how to dial S for satisfaction.

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Hold the phone

Before you even think of picking up the phone, try the self serve options on the company’s website. Companies want to help you help yourself, whether it’s locating a store, finding out the hours of operation, downloading a driver, or canceling a flight. Also check out websites like, which lists phone numbers, call-center shortcuts, and average wait times for hundreds of companies, among them airlines, banks, and cable operators. At no charge, Fonolo (, a phone-menu software company, will arrange for a call center to call you. “We have a database of 500 companies—phone companies, big retailers and airlines,” says Fonolo CEO and cofounder, Shai Berger. There’s also a fonolo iPhone app you can download from Apple.

Zero in

Depending on the call center, hitting 0 or bellowing “operator” can speed your journey to a live voice, says Patrick Gray, a communication systems consultant. Another option: Press absolutely nothing. “If you don’t select an option, many systems will assume you have a rotary phone and automatically route you to an operator,” he says. But when you want tech support, don’t press the number for billing (thinking you stand a good chance of getting a human being who will take your money). The employee who’s equipped to process your credit card will probably be unable to transfer you to the right place.

Make a smart call

Spend a few minutes trying to understand the company you’re trying to reach. If, for example, you need to talk to your airline about changes in a trip that’s two months away and you notice there’s a blizzard in the carrier’s major hub, wait until the storm has passed to make the call. Similarly, don’t try to get through during a call center’s peak hours (5:00 to 10:00 p.m. EST). Wait times will be far shorter if you call first thing in the morning.

Broadcast your frustration

If a company has a frustrating phone menu, share your displeasure on Twitter, Facebook, or consumer-oriented social networking sites such as PlanetFeedback. “It may not help you right at the moment, but it will down the road,” says Berger. “Companies feel the viral impact of bad service much more quickly these days.”

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest