Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Business

August 22, 2006

Website offers ways to bypass automated service

Q: How can I avoid automated customer service lines and speak to a human? And what can I do if I’m still not happy after I talk to a person?

A: You’re not alone in your frustration with automated customer service lines. Paul M. English, a software engineer, got so frustrated, he started a website, www.gethuman.com, in 2005. The site now has a database with the customer service numbers and shortcuts to a human being at 415 companies.

To talk to a human at Costco.com’s customer service line, for instance, press 5 twice.

We tried the tip for Verizon Communications Inc.’s phone service (don’t press or say anything) after this conversation:

Mechanical voice: “In just a few words, tell me what I can do to help you.”

Reply: “My phone doesn’t work.”

Mechanical voice: “I don’t understand. Please try again.”

Gethuman’s tip worked.

The site, which was launched in February, has been wildly popular; it’s now visited by about 20,000 people a day, according to English. Volunteers maintain the database.

Gethuman.com, along with Microsoft Corp. and Nuance Communications Inc., which both sell automated-phone system platforms and services, are developing a standard that will use a distinctive series of tones to let customers know they can dial 0 or say “operator” to reach an operator and dial GBP or “repeat” to have a phone tree’s menu repeated.

Under the standard, companies would always have to tell callers the current wait time to speak to someone and give them an option to leave a message and be called back.

So, let’s say you do eventually reach a person, but they’re no help. Some states have ratepayer advocates, who, under state law, represent utilities’ customers, advocating for the lowest cost, safest and most reliable services. Seema M. Singh, who is the ratepayer advocate for New Jersey, suggests putting your complaint in writing. Send your complaint by mail or e-mail to a specific individual at the company.

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