Can i please, please just TALK TO A HUMAN?!!
IVR. It stands for Interactive Voice Response. If you haven’t heard that phrase before, I guarantee you’ve been on the receiving end of its ill-effects.
These days, whenever you make a call to any company, you are greeted with the dulcet tones of a pre-recorded customer service agent who leads you through a series of never-ending menus.
Say 1 for English, 2 for Spanish. Say 1 if you are an account holder. Say 2 if you are a new customer. Say 3 if you’d rather watch a 2-hour documentary on gromit-manufacturing than keep going with this call. You get the idea.
I’ve personally experienced some fairly awful IVR recently, the most obvious being for Amp’d mobile. After pushing buttons for an eternity and being put on hold for 55 minutes, I was put through to someone who couldn’t answer my question, and guess what. She put me on HOLD again! If I had hair I’d rip it out. And that’s when I discovered GetHuman.com , a site that’s dedicated to getting you through to a REAL PERSON as quickly as possible.
I’d read about it in various news stories but had never really taken advantage of this resource. And as time is something I value, and most Wisebread readers value too, I thought it was time to give this excellent site the Wisebread seal of approval.
I had the chance to ask Lorna Rankin, the Director of GetHuman.com, some pretty searching questions. And she was quite happy to answer them all, in as much detail as I could stand. Before you read the interview, I urge you to visit GetHuman.com today and find the various codes that will get you through to a human at the companies you call regularly.
The GetHuman.com interview with Lorna Rankin, Director.
PM: When did Paul English, GetHuman.com’s founder, first notice that getting through to a 'real person' was becoming a problem?
LR: The answer isn't necessarily a point in time, but a series of frustrating experiences with companies that he frequently dealt with and frequently found infuriating. One such experience was with his local bank that had recently merged with a national chain.
He had left some paperwork relative to his business on the desk of the bank manager with whom he dealt regularly. When he tried to call the manager to ask him to mail the paperwork, his call was routed to the bank's national customer service number, which placed him into a relentless IVR. He had to find a trick to reach a human in order to get transferred to the manager directly.
When this task proved to be monumental, he decided that enough was enough and began to share tricks that he found for such companies on his blog, www.paulenglish.com. Other people began to share their own frustrations and tricks that they had found. He started to log the information in a database and publish the data. The response was so phenomenal that early in 2006 he transitioned the site to www.gethuman.com and enlisted the help of 20+ volunteers to help verify tricks submitted by users of the site. And the rest, as they say, is history.
PM: Why are so many companies adopting this automated phone system?
LR: Reasons stated by companies for using IVRs are many and include saving time and money for both the company and the consumer. When implemented properly, those are valid reasons. If an IVR allows a person to accomplish a task as fast or faster than without an IVR, time IS saved for company and consumer and it's a win/win. But, all too often, the systems simply serve to keep consumers at bay until the company is ready to respond, and in some cases, the company hopes that the consumer gets too frustrated and finds a solution on their website or via another avenue. This certainly saves the company time and money in the short term, but in the long term creates extensive frustration for their customer base and destroys all customer loyalty... consumers will take their money elsewhere.
PM: Which companies are the worst perpetrators of the automated call system?
LR: See the database for those companies that receive an "F". I realize that's the majority, but the majority of systems are very poorly implemented. You might also want to see our discussion board under Worst Customer Service Stories to get an idea of which companies our users are frustrated with. In general, computer software and hardware companies, telephone companies and cell phone companies are among the most disdained.
PM: Have any companies become aware of this problem, and have they done something about it?
LR: Yes... and no. Many companies are aware of the problem and are working to address it. For a company that has a very complicated system ingrained in their culture, change is difficult. And, some companies feel that they've made improvement, but when we retested there was very little, if any change overall. That's why we're working so hard to facilitate change and hold companies accountable.
PM: How do you actually go about researching and recording each customer service number?
LR: Most of the numbers and tricks come from users of our site. They are then verified by our volunteers before they are published. In some cases secret numbers come from employees of companies... confidentially, of course.
PM: What else should people know about the Get Human site?
LR: The gethuman project is a consumer movement to improve the quality of phone support in the US. This free website is run by volunteers and is powered by over one million consumers who demand high quality phone support from the companies that they use. The site is funded primarily by Paul English, it's founder, with a minimal amount of assistance from the ads on the site. We allow Google to place ads on the site to help us defray the costs of running this free service. Google decides which ads to display based user interest, i.e., which ones our visitors click. We do not partner with any businesses or sites. This advertising structure and policy on partnering ensures our objectivity.
PM: Is the site constantly updated?
LR: Yes, we make changes to the database as companies change their systems. Usually our users let us know if a trick no longer works and we try to find a new solution within 24 hours. So, that means that the list is updated ramdomly, but frequently.
PM: What's your biggest tip for getting through to a human if you don't have the benefit of the Get Human list?
LR: Pressing 0 or a combination of 0 and # is a great place to start. For more general tips see here .
PM: What kind of traffic are you doing, and how quickly have you grown?
LR: We've had over 1 million unique visitors to the site and average about 10,000 page views per day. Our greatest growth took place in January of 2006 when we received a lot of national press and that's when the site was transitioned to the current url (www.gethuman.com) from Paul's blog.
PM: What does the Get Human site's popularity say about the way the general public is responding to call center automation?
LR: It clearly indicates that consumers have had it with automated systems and companies should listen to the needs of their consumers. Somewhere along the way, "the customer is always right" seems to have gotten lost. But, not for every company. Some companies make supporting their customers their top priority. See the companies in our database that received an "A": Commerce Bank, LL Bean, Land's End, Comfort Inn, Days Inn, Dillards, Hertz, Hyatt Corp., and Walt Disney World.
PM: Anything else you would like to say to our Wisebread readers?
LR: Our site is truly user driven and we could not exist without the input and dedication of our users and volunteers. We truly appreciate the support that we receive via email from real humans every day and we hope that Wisebread readers will help to spread the word.
I hope I’m doing that right now with this article. I truly believe in the power of the general public. Maybe we can turn the tides and start talking to real, educated people again. I hope so, because the future is looking more and more like 1984 and Blade Runner right now.