Aaaack! People have been complaining about this for years and we don’t seem to be any closer to a solution but it still drives me nuts: the dreaded automated phone receptionist.

“Press 1 for this, press 2 for that, press 3 if you’re losing patience, press 4 if you want to shove your phone down our throats.”

In the old days people caught on pretty quickly and figured out you just had to push 0 to get the Operator.  Then the programmers got sneaky and by-passed this convenience. Pushing 0 now bounces you back to one of the following: one, the Main Menu; two, a condescending voice telling you that’s Not An Option; three, somewhere out in the universe where no sentient life exists…although, actually, that just about covers most terrestrial companies with these darned systems.

Of course, all of this nonsense only gets worse the more desperate you are to talk to someone, anyone, who can help you solve your problem….like there’s a mathematical formula that proves the level of your desperation is in direct proportion to the amount of time it takes you to get through the push-button maze.

OK,  maybe these automated services are a necessary evil. Here’s an idea: how about turning the situation around and making it a convenience for your customers instead of the mother-of-all-frustrations?

I got caught again in the push-button vortex recently. My internet server was down and called the tech support line for help. Line 1 was for new customers, line 2 was for existing customers, 3 for commercial services and 4 for the corporate office. Here’s my question: why 2 for existing customers? Most people who call this number are looking for tech support which pre-supposes they’re existing customers. Shouldn’t they be directed to the front of the line? Why make them wait?

When I finally did get through I spoke for a few moments with a wonderful tech guy who had to put me on hold for a moment when, naturally, I got cut off.


Had to repeat the whole process over again.

Here’s a thought – why don’t they take my number so they can call me back if this happens? It’s not unheard of – I was quite impressed when the customer support staff at Dell did this. I don’t normally name names here but that strategy was so unique I think it deserves mention.

When I finally got the whole tech business sorted out I asked to speak with a manager. I was curious to know what kind of analytics the company kept with regards to calls to customer support. I was finally connected to an Assistant Manager who had no idea. What she should have know is that it’s one thing to compile statistics of this sort, quite another to act upon the information to service your customers.

Smart companies would take time to analyze the types of calls they receive and adjust the “button journey”.  This would identify the most frequent callers and their reasons for calling –the vast majority are probably existing customers. Use this information to determine the order of your automated phone system.

Then coach your staff to welcome the customers and thank them for having taken the time to call.  Do whatever you can to help mitigate the frustration of the push-button dance. Then call them back the next day and double check that everything is going smoothly.

Too busy?