Angry Phone!

In an otherwise uninteresting Fast Company article involving Lewis Black’s take on customer service, an article written for people who wish they were reading something better than Fast Company, is this picture. I

t’s a graph of what pisses people off most about automated telephone systems.

We think there should be an extra plot point at zero for, “After you get a live person, they hang up on you.”

What’s your zero on this graph? Respond in the comments or tips at consumerist dot com.


Edit Your Comment

  1. acambras says:

    Zero for me is pissy CSRs with lots of ‘tude. The other night I waited on hold forever to talk with someone in Continental Airline’s frequent flyer division, but then the lady I talked with was so nice and helpful that it made up for the really long hold time. Conversely, if a CSR is unhelpful and/or pissy, it really escalates my frustration and hatred of whatever lameass company I’m trying to deal with.

  2. Mauvaise says:

    It’s not on the graph, but my zero point is when I don’t even get the option of holding for an obscene amount of time, but the recording says something like all their operators are busy and to call back later – *click*.

  3. joehowe64 says:

    Why is “your call may be monitored” on there?

    Being a call center site manager, I use those recordings to find out the truth when someone complains, as well as auditing sales to make sure the CSR didn’t slam a sale on a caller.

    Believe it or not, some of us run a tight ship.

  4. Pelagius says:

    0 = When you finally get the CSR they inform you that your query needs to be handled by a different department, they transfer you there, and you begin the hold pattern again.

  5. bambino says:

    *gasp* a CSR manager in our midst! Spill the beans joehowe!

  6. jacques says:

    I don’t mind the ones that use voice recognition as much. Either they accept something like “Customer Service” or “Operator”, or you can just mumble into the phone a few times unintelligibly until it gives up and transfers you to a person.

    My 0 would be when it says “Press 0 to speak to an operator”, and then says “before we transfer you, please answer these questions” and dumps you back to the start.

  7. wikkit says:

    The two most irritating things (by a large margin) are:

    1. Finally getting through to a live person (after traversing the 40-layers-of-hell menu system) only to be hung up on. I try to give the person the benefit of the doubt and assume that they were new and fumbled the buttons, but….

    2. What Mauvaise pointed out, going through the menu system only to be told that all circuits are busy, and being routed to an answering machine (that no one responds to), or just being disconnected. I’ll never shop at again for this reason.

    Oh, and Joe, I’m glad to hear that there are well-run call centers out there somewhere. Kudos.

  8. B says:

    When you finally speak to a live person, they can’t help you out, so the call is transfered to a supervisor, and you have to explain the whole story all over again.

  9. Triteon says:

    Speech recognition with no other option is my zero. What if I don’t want to announce my SSN, account number or birthday to the office?

  10. AcilletaM says:

    1. After finally getting a live person, being transferred to another department and getting the ‘call between the hours of…’ message because they are closed.

  11. sam says:

    Ooh, ooh, I’ve got one. When you’re on hold waiting for the eventual CSR rep, and the muzak stops, and you get all excited, and it’s just another recording saying “Please continue to hold…”. What’s really annoying are the one’s where this pops up every minute. Muzak I can at least put on speaker and kind of ignore while I do other stuff, but this crap keeps me running back to the phone thinking that it *might* be a real, live, human being who will hang up on me if it takes me more than a nanosecond to respond.

  12. humphrmi says:

    I would also put those speech recognition systems at my zero. As soon as I get one, I start mashing “0”. They are patronizing.

    Beyond that (maybe we’re going into negatives here…) as above, after following the rules / waiting, ending up with a CSR that is in no position to help out adds insult to injury.

  13. myls says:

    0. Having to press some number to stay on hold is the worst. My former healthcare provider had a system like this, and I have many memories of being doubled up in pain or whatever having to press ‘1’ every 2 minutes for 1/2 hour.

  14. Ishmael says:

    Speech recognition without the option to use the keypad is my zero. I’m southern and (apparently) have a pretty strong accent. Those stupid things never understand me.

  15. When you reach a person and find out the call center is actually closed…

  16. 44 in a Row says:

    Speech recognition with no other option is my zero. What if I don’t want to announce my SSN, account number or birthday to the office?

    This drives me nuts, too, but for other reasons. Amtrak’s phone system is the only way, when traveling, to get information on train status, but the system only allows for voice recognition. I.e., you can’t enter the train number. And the problem is that this system is so incredibly sensitive, that any background noise will throw it off. Making it entirely useless, say, in a train station. Because that wouldn’t be someplace where I’d be trying to find out the status of my train or anything.

  17. Trai_Dep says:

    * Realizing you know more about the product than the CSR… And you’re Amish.

    * Accent from far-off clime is stronger than their painfully limited grasp of English.

    * Hold music? Best of American Idol vol. IV!

    * Reading off a script. Laboriously.

    * Only “solution” involves giving them more money for enhanced, better, still-nonfunctional product.

    * They try making you reveal your Social Security number… For “security” purposes

    * Mastication. ANY mastication. Enough said.

    * Any (any!) mention of 3rd party product results in strenuous shift-the-blame

    * Damn smug bastards tell you, “funny, that NEVER happens on my Mac…”

  18. HawkWolf says:

    Zero for me:

    – When you say ‘no thanks’, ‘please stop’, ‘cancel my account’, and the rep then goes on to either stall or try to sell you something else.

    – Being put on hold for more than about ten minutes. Really. Think about that. It means there are so many people with such long problems and so few people to answer them, that you end up on the phone for 40 minutes just to ask some dumb question you couldn’t find an answer to on the website.

    Comcast wins this one, for forcing their techs to spend upwards of an hour on hold to provision digital cable boxes. Think about that. the TECH has to sit *ON HOLD*. Why does the tech have to sit on hold? The funny thing is, it’s an automated system.

    – Phone systems that don’t work. Again, comcast wins this one (although the story’s four years old.) Call, press the, “my service doesn’t work” button, enter your account number, *CLICK*.

    – Hold music that is about 30 seconds of a smooth jazz groove. Over and over and over. And Over. AND OVER. Comcast, again. Hey, either Speakeasy or Palm (I forget which) had *BJORK* on their hold music. Anyone with Bjork as hold music is cool.

    – “Hi-this-is-Clar-a-how-can-I-help-you-to-day?” Look. This isn’t grade school. Reading out loud should not make you sound like you just graduated from from Hooked on Phonics.

    – “Please enter your account number.” Followed by the tech asking for your account number again. If you need it, why’d you ask me to type it in on the phone? It doesn’t make anything faster.

  19. acambras says:

    OK — here’s another zero:
    Anthropomorphized, automated phone systems that really pretend to be people, e.g., “Hi! I’m Lisa, your automated reservations assistant! Blah blah blah… I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you!”

    Of course you didn’t “understand me” — you’re not a sentient human being, you stupid, overly cheerful cyber-whore.

  20. When they refuse to let you speak to anyone above them or in a different department.

  21. TinaT says:

    I’m an American living in England, so their speech recognition software doesn’t understand me. I was calling some parcel company to reschedule a delivery, and apparantly the voice system was my only option. I give my address. Software, “Did you say ?” I tell it no. It prompts me to try again. “Did you say ?” I tell it no again, expecting that two failures would get me a human. I had to fail the system SIX TIMES before it put me through to a human. How awful would that be for someone with a lisp or a stutter, or even a bad sore throat?

  22. Triteon says:

    “Please enter your account number.” Followed by the tech asking for your account number again. If you need it, why’d you ask me to type it in on the phone? It doesn’t make anything faster.

    No kidding! I listed my zero earlier, this is my #1.

  23. acambras says:

    Maybe they make a distinction between “active” hold time (entering in account information) vs. “passive” hold time (waiting, waiting, and more waiting. In other words, maybe getting you to input all that information is busy work to distract you and keep you from realizing how long it takes you to get a real, helpful person (if you get one at all).

  24. Nancy Sin says:

    Whenever someone utters the phrase “as a one-time courtesy”.

  25. GenXCub says:

    0 = Music while on hold is:

    Air Supply
    Vanilla Ice
    Katrina and the Waves
    Joy Division (in case there are any Ian Curtis wannabes out there)

  26. Solo says:

    Voice recognition is the best. HP support is fantastic.
    – I think you said: personal computers
    – Nope, I said storage
    – I did not understand you
    – S T O R A G E
    – I think you said: personal printers
    – no
    – I’m sorry, you can chose from the following: tape drives, personal computers, personal printers, pocket calculators, nuclear guided missiles…
    – tape drives
    – I think you said: storage.
    – good enough.
    – please wait while I tranfer you.

    Then get put on hold forever. (or 1 hour)

    Hang up.

    Call again, go through the same rigmarole with the numbskull speach thingy, get transfered and somebody picks up immediately.

    I love HP.

  27. Chairman-Meow says:

    Some of the things that really annoy me:

    1. Having to enter stuff on the keypad (acount number, etc) then having to repeat it all over again to the CSR.

    2. 4000 levels of voice mail jail before you can reach a human.

    3. “Call back later” after being on-hold forever.

    The one that really pisses me off to the nth degree however is when you are parked on-hold with the annoying announcer voice telling you over and over again that “Your call is important to us, please hold” Grrrrrrrr!!!!!

  28. FLConsumer says:

    The major thing this report highlights is that the “customer service experience” begins from the very moment the phone call is initiated, NOT JUST when the representative answers the phone. This INCLUDES hold times, non-functional voice recognition systems and other stupidities.

    I don’t mind being placed into a hold queue, but my practical limit is 5 minutes. After that, my blood starts to boil. Why? Because I’m usually in the position of PAYING for services/products from the company I’m currently on hold for… and being on hold wasn’t part of the deal. Furthermore, it wastes MY time, which I find to be highly valuable considering I work 40-80 hrs a week plus full time in grad school.

    BY FAR, my worst experiences have been with Comcast, with the WORST being when they transferred me to “tier 2″….and I got placed on hold. 5 hours later, still on hold, my own PBX disconnected the call b/c it thought the trunk line was stuck. (Who would ever have a 5+hr conversation otherwise?) Come to find out, Tier 2 closes at 12am and if there’s still calls waiting in the queue when it’s time for them to leave, oh well, they don’t care, leave them on hold.

  29. FLConsumer says:

    ack.. I forgot to mention CSRs who don’t speak proper English. I would prefer they speak The Queen’s English, I’ll accept quite a few dialects. However, thick accents are NOT acceptable, nor are they cost effective. These type of calls easily take 2-3x as long and even if the CSR is intelligent, they quickly appear to be dumb when the caller isn’t able to understand a word they’re saying. Accents/dialects I have the most difficulty in understading: ebonics, Indian, and southern.

    I guess this one’s a bit of a 2-way street, as I’ve had CSRs complain that they don’t understand me (I happen to speak The Queen’s English.)

  30. juri squared says:

    Local numbers. I got stuck on hold for twenty minutes with a large book club after dialing long distance.

    Fortunately, I’m using Vonage, which has free long distance. But how many people don’t?

  31. Ben Popken says:

    David writes:

    “I got a new prompt while sitting on hold that really bothers me. I called a vendor (Enhanced Vision, deals in products for blind & people with low vision) & after listening for a short while to their hold self promo stuff, I was told that there was ONE person person ahead of me (when you listen, you’ll understand the all caps for the ONE), I was then offered the option of pressing one to leave a message. Okay so far. My problem is the other choice – I had to press another number, any other number, to remain on hold. Normally if I’m on hold like this, I will occasionally hit the speakerphone so I’m not locked at the desk. Can’t do that with this.

    yeah, a minor complaint, but this is an evil trend if bigger companies start using it.

    The number to check it out is 888-811-3161″

  32. glitterpig says:

    All ISPs do this, and it enrages me to the point of flames shooting out of the eyeballs: every 10 seconds of their recorded message (and you’re always on hold for at least half an hour), they repeat, “For troubleshooting, check out our website at!” GAH! If I could GET to a WEBSITE, would I be calling you for tech support? FURY!

  33. Jennifer42 says:

    Mine? “Please enter your account number, followed by the expiration date, and press pound,” because this is invariably followed by a rep picking up and asking for the very same thing.

    I think they put it there just to stall you for five minutes while you scramble around for the number, I bet they don’t even record it.

    -1 would be “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that,” endlessly repeated by the VR system. (Warning: after getting really ‘colorful’ with one of these, I got a giggling operator who let me know they heard every word…)

    -10 is the one which just hangs up on you when you reach the end of a menu tree, especially if you got there by mistake.

  34. Mary Marsala with Fries says:

    Yes, the more human-like the computer on the other end tries to be, the more infuriating it is. I always end up swearing at them, which is just embarrassing. ;) There was NOTHING WRONG with pushing the buttons for menu options, okay? It was quiet and efficient. We changed it to having to participate in a Turing Test WHY??

    My 0.5 is being asked for my social security number. Are you the fucking IRS? I didn’t think so. Then no, you can’t have it. And don’t you DARE try to make me feel uncooperative about it; I’m a published author on the topic of identity theft and you want me to tell some underpaid stranger my SSN!

    The recording-notification doesn’t bother me; most of the time I’m recording too!

    But my absolute zero is, very simply, having to repeat myself. Going through it is painful enough without having to describe every dirty detail eight times, okay?? Working Assets is the only company I’ve ever seen who actually paid attention to this: If they had to transfer you, they would three-way the “new guy” in and the CSR would explain my situation to him while I listened, and then ask me if it was correct, before hanging up with me. Yay!

  35. dewo says:

    I absolutely hate when I call my DSL company to say that my internet isn’t working and the message contstantly tells me to check online for tips on troubleshooting.

    If I could get online, I wouldn’t be calling!

  36. Mine would be calling and it refers you to the website, you go to the website, and it refers you to the customer service number.

    UPS, I’m looking at you.

  37. jwissick says:

    One thing that really pisses me off is calling for support on a product and being forced to listen to ads for the company’s latest offering or other propoganda… Or being told on EVERY call that I have been selected to take a survey on the customer service.

    Voice recognition should also respond to “human”.

    I think “10” should be a person answers the phone instead of a machine.

    Repeat calls, like if you made a call less than a week ago, to support from the same number should not force you to navigate the maze all over again, but offer at the start to send you to the last dept you talked with.

  38. trixare4kids says:

    CSR MANAGERS HEAR MY PLEA!!!! I don’t mind being on hold.. I can pretty much handle the hold music, whatever it is; however, IT MAKES MY BLOOD BOIL BOIL BOIL to have to hear “Thank you for holding.. ” or any kind of message every 30 seconds.

    It’s hard to concentrate on anything else when you are being interrupted every 30 seconds. One can tune out smooth jazz while one work on that report, watches some TV, reads a book, or whatever while you are on hold. One CANNOT tune out the stupid lady telling us our call is important or that we can visit a website or, worse still, that you have the largest selection of widiget for only 19.99 this week. We are NOT SO RETARDED and INSECURE that we needed to be reminded every 10 seconds. DEAR PLEASE GOD STOP IT. Okay? Okay.

    (This happened to me this morning for 40 minutes so it’s fresh on my brain. Thanks for listening, that felt good).

    I hate having to listen to 3 minutes of messages about your hours, mailing address, lastest stock prices, or any other information you think we are calling about before I can actually push a button to reach a live person. I KNOW I need a live person, let me bypass the info I don’t need.

  39. Brad Ackerman says:

    * “Please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed.”

    * “Your call is important to us” — then why is it not important enough to answer?

    * Being on hold for more than a few seconds, possibly excepting completely unforseen and unforseeable events that cause a dramatic surge in calls.

    The textbook example of absolute zero would have to be Telstra. I haven’t had the misfortune of dealing with them myself, but there was a really good Get This podcast where the presenters were talking back to the Telstra IVR system. Aboso-fracking-lutely hilarious. is the RSS feed; the episode in question is “Birmingcast” from 12 September.

  40. SpamFighterLoy says:

    I had trouble last Monday morning and called Roadrunner … pushed the buttons through the menus to get to the right department … and was transferred back to the main menu again. Apparently they changed part of the menuing system but not all of it. That was annoying as hell.

  41. timmus says:

    My pet peeve is where you have to key in an account number, then when you get connected to a human they ask you for the same damn number again. I remember when we were with SBC I always hated that. Some credit cards do it too.

  42. timmus says:

    One CANNOT tune out the stupid lady telling us our call is important or that we can visit a website or, worse still, that you have the largest selection of widiget for only 19.99 this week.

    Oh god, I agree… but I think the intention IS to piss off customers and force them to hang up and use the website, thus cutting down call volume. I think the proverbial “good/cheap/fast” triad needs to be redefined as “good customer service/cheap prices/big (economy of scale)” — your company can have only two.

  43. FLConsumer says:

    I had a rather good chuckle at Comcast’s on-hold message hyping their “Digital Phone” service… nevermind that it’s $40 more/month than what I pay for VoIP, BUT, I was on hold, waiting for a Comcrap rep to answer because my cable connection AND internet had been down for TWO WHOLE WEEKS. Yeah, like anyone who’s calling tech support is really interested in spending more money with your corporation at that point.

  44. simmo says:

    Hearing a 30 second loop of crappy music ending with “your call is important to us” rates about a 2 for me.
    0 for me would be to pick up a ringing phone only to be told that the operator will be with you soon…about 15 seconds later a loud Indian accent (with loud chatter in the background) informs me of me winning a holiday if I answer the following survey!

    Toshiba weren’t too bad, but still advised me that the internet would be faster. I am on 13 hours a day of course I have been there before this point!

  45. cheesebikini says:

    I can’t -believe- I’m the first to say this… (Surely I’m not the only one to feel this way?) BUT–

    The worst thing that happens during automated CS hell, is -advertising.- To be forced to listed to a bloody commercial pushing some crap you don’t want, while you waste time waiting for the service you’re paying for. Talk about adding insult to injury..

    And the number one worst manifestation of that ever: Bank of America’s new ATM-card activation line. You get your ATM/credit card in the mail, but before you can use it you have to call them to activate it. Activation process is fully automatic (ie, you’re not waiting for a human). But before they will activate t, they force you to listen to a -LONG- commercial pushing some scam credit-insurance product. There’s no (apparent) way to skip past the commercial, so you just have to sit there for what feels like 5+ minutes listening to details of a product you dont want, burning away your cel phone minutes, until finally they tell you you can use your ATM card.

    That would be not zero, but about -50 on the chart. And I think that BofA abuse deserves a post of its own on Consumerist and an interview with whoever at BofA is responsible for this unbelievable customer abuse.

  46. … but I think the intention IS to piss off customers and force them to hang up and use the website, thus cutting down call volume.

    If BCBS wants me to use their web site instead of calling them they should try fixing it some time this year.

  47. acambras says:

    LOL, Rectilinear —

    Same goes for U.S. Airways — one of the suckiest websites around.