Totally weird

I got a message today that I had to call my bank, so I did, and when I did I got caught in one of those crazy “voice” systems, where you talk and the computer lady listens. (“If you would like to proceed in English, say English, now” )

and ten minutes later I was out of my mind because none of the options for things I could say were things that I wanted. (“To check your account balance, say account balance, now”)

I was starting to flip out, and the voice was saying things like “Sorry you’re having trouble” which is what the voice says right before they unceremoniously dump you with a saccharine “Goodbye” when I snapped, and said something that wasn’t one of the options. In a tone that I can only describe as hostile and sarcastic, when the voice said “Please tell me which option you would like” I said

“What I would like, is to talk to a real person.”

And the bank voice said…

“I think I heard you ask for a representative. Please hold”.

Seriously. I asked a machine for a real person, and I got one. Stunning, isn’t it? What this means (I think, naturally, not working for the bank I have no actual proof) is that the bank has taught the computer that the words “real person” mean “this person wants a representative or they will come off the rails”, which has to mean that I’m not the only person who’s said this. Very reassuring somehow, and totally weird. It gave me the disconcerting feeling that the bank computer was actually listening to me, which isn’t something that even the real people at the bank do. Freaky.

The weird wasn’t even over. When I got a representative? It was this guy who said his name was “Andy” (a likely story. If I needed a fake name for bank phone work that’s what I would choose), but I swear to all my wool with absolute certainty that it was David Reidy from Sticks and String podcast. I’d know that voice anywhere.

He denied it. Which was weird too…’cause he seems so nice on the podcast.

Nice try David. Great speaking with you, even if it was about my client card.

176 thoughts on “Totally weird

  1. I like when *they* call you, you answer, then they ask *you* to hold while they get someone to talk to you…
    Like I have better things to do!!

  2. Wow. Weird, and VERY good to know. I’ve heard you can keep pressing **** or something like that, and you’ll be switched to a real person. Odd how I never tried to ask for “a real person” before. You never cease to teach me something new! πŸ™‚

  3. Whenever I get one of those “for A press 1, for B press 2” sort of messages, I immediately press 0. It gets you a real person every time. Try it!

  4. You must have a charmed life! The rest of us just get ‘sorry, please say yes or no’ from the wretched machine even when we are getting to the stage of yelling ‘I said YES for Pete’s sake’ (or worse) down the line at it.

  5. Ehee – I once confused a train line automated bookings service by sneezing all the way through the voice prompts. Apparently when I got through to an advisor the fields on screen were apparently full of ‘zzzzzz’s!
    Well done on cracking the code – I’ll try that in future.

  6. Maybe the leaf sock that is in time-out and the computer are in cahoots with each other (under direction of “the” squirrel, of course!) to see who can drive you crazy first? πŸ˜‰

  7. Well, I’ll be damned. Knit something easy today. The universe is clearly out of order.

  8. Totally off topic.. I heard on Mix 99.9 last night that Monday is SQUIRREL APPRECIATION DAY!!!
    just thought you should know…

  9. I’ve gotten into the habit of just saying “operator” or “representative” as soon as the voice-activated system kicks in (unless my question is one that can be easily answered via the menus). It works for most systems I’ve encountered. Still, that’s neat that it understood “real person”.

  10. Oh, how I HATE those “listening” computer phone systems! I hate them even more than the ones who demand I “Press 1 for bill pay, press 2 for account balance, press 3 to end the world as we know it” systems.
    I just had to go through this with a call to Verizon. Then, once I finally DID get a real person (a very nice one, actually), I had to keep saying, “No, I don’t want to switch to your TV, Internet, or cell phone services. All I want is for you to restore my Fax machine number and call forwarding. Now!” Heck, if I had my way, I wouldn’t even use them for the phone, but there’s just not a lot of options.
    Anyway, get back to your knitting. Even the leaf sock will make you less crazy than talking to the automated phone systems of the world! πŸ™‚

  11. You can also say “operator” and get a real person. At least in my experience. It’s like the voice equivalent of dialing 0.

  12. I had to deal with one of Those Computers when I called the phone company the other day and it said “Would you like me to help you?” and I swear, I almsot said “absolutely freaking not, no way in hell” but I ended up choking out a very loud NO. And then I kept saying “operator” until it caved and let me talk to a real person. I won!

  13. What really creeps me out is when the computer refers to itself in the first person. “I’m sorry I didn’t get that would you mind repeating that to me Please?”

  14. Oh! This reminds me of my friend Vicki at work. . .she was trying to change an airline ticket over the phone and got caught in the crazy voice systems and they had advised her to say “help” at any point in the call if she didn’t get the options she needed. So she said “help” and the machine didn’t understand her and asked her to repeat it. So she said it again, and those of us sitting near her desk at work looked around and it made her giggle, so she had to say it again, and it made us laugh, so then she started laughing harder and had to say it again until she was laughing so hard that she was completely unintelligible. Now in meetings if someone says something that no one understands, we say “help” and dissolve into fits of giggles.

  15. That’s too funny! I’ll have to remember it for the next time I’m stuck in voice-prompt limbo. I’ve had some success with repeatedly pressing 0, or saying “other”, but sometimes it backfires & the system hangs up on me. Or, I finally get a live person, go through my whole prepared speech about whatever the problem is, & it turns out it’s the wrong area, so they transfer me …back to the voice-prompt system!

  16. Love David Reidy’s voice. I, too, would know it anywhere. That lovely Australian accent, calm yet active. All right then. And if he’s working at a Toronto Bank, all the more reason to move there…

  17. Ah, yes. Phone tree hell. NPR once did a very funny thing on the levels of phone tree hell, a la Dante. It’s good to know that the code word is “real person”; I’m definitely trying that next time! Do you think it works when you’re actually *in* the bank dealing with one of those plastic-like tellers?

  18. I have found that if you just continually repeat the word “Help” from the get-go, the system will transfer you to a real person. Just watch out, as that person sometimes tries to dump you back into the system you just got out of…

  19. Voice. Mail. Jail. That’s what happened the other day when I called Charter. I was trying to pay them online, and apparently they now require a username/password. (They used to use your telephone number and zip code). When I tried to set that up, it said I already had one. Then it said to call if I “forgot” my usesrname or password. You can probably figure out the rest…

  20. I’ve had that same experience, and, like everyone who is completely exasperated with talking to machines, I have had success when I kept obsessively pushing the 0 or stating “customer service” repeatedly. . . though sometimes it takes a while. What really takes me by surprise–and what does this say about the state of customer service these days?–is when I get an actual human sooner that I expected. Inevitably, I am stunned into shocked silence to try and remember exactly what my call was about!

  21. Now, if computers could just be taught to understand that “ARGH!” meant “transfer to live person, STAT!”

  22. Ha ha ha Machines –we have a love hate relationship with them all, but the worse one I’ve had lately is the Library. My book is now overdue and I’ll have to pay penalties for it because of a answering mashine that has 6 different options to click onto. I honestly thought I had it in the right number when it asked me for a pin number for my card !!! Having procured this card at least 10 years ago or more ?/? who knows–of course I had NO idea what the heck the pin number might have been so just hung up . Pin numbers have become my Waterloo. There are just too many of them for everything. I’m glad you got to speak to a real person ” if in fact it was . Who knows ?

  23. My dad has this fake accent he uses in those situations: when the machine gets its knickers in a twist it sends him off to a person and dad can drop the voice. Quite funny, in a passive-agressive way.

  24. I experienced this. Only it was an insurance company, and when I said “How long are you going to make me talk to this stupid computer?” and it said “I think I heard you say you wished to speak with a representative…”

  25. I think it’s a pretty impressive work of programming. I mean, to program a computer to recognize a speaking human voice (instead of another machine) and then getting it to recognize human words and general variations in pronunciation, accent, speed of word formation, etc. etc. and not confusing “open account” with “oh. pen a count.” I think it’s completely marvelous.

  26. Well, now we know what David does on Friday nights after he gets home from work πŸ˜‰
    Seriously, isn’t it like 5 AM in Sydney right now?

  27. That may be the weirdest phone tree experience I’ve ever heard of. Except possibly the time my four-year-old left a box of crayons in his pocket and I washed that pair of jeans with all the new fall clothes I’d just bought for both my kids, and then threw them in the dryer. It turns out, if you dial 1-800-CRAYOLA, utterly hysterical and trying not to commit infanticide, the very first thing you hear is, “For instructions on how to get crayon out of clothing that has run through the dryer, press 1.” Seriously.

  28. I know that there is actually software out there used for telephone customer service that guages the “agitation level” of the customer through the way they speak on the phone. It actually puts you ahead of the line of other customers waiting on hold to prevent you from hanging up. Kind of neat really…of course, I have no clue if your bank actually utilizes that software or not. But it’s a good excuse to fly off the handle randomly while on hold. *snicker*

  29. My clinic’s answering computer says, “I think you said…” and then what follows is either correct or screamingly funny. But it does show that, yes, they’re getting better at programming the things.

  30. I get that “sorry you’re having trouble” bit, but it’s usually when I’m cussing.
    When are you going to tell us about the favorite knit from last year?

  31. LOL Asking for a “human being” has worked for me in the past too. I wonder what happens if you cuss… or ask the voice to do something smutty… hmmmmmmmm.

  32. That right there is why I read your blog, Stephanie. It gives me hope that, no, I’m not crazy or at the very least I’ll have company when the powers that be finally figure it out! πŸ™‚

  33. I’ve had success with “I want a real person”, or pressing 0 repeatedly. And yes I was really hostile at the time.

  34. The airline called me at 3am on New Years Day to tell me my parents flight had been canceled. I tried to answer all of the computer’s questions, but I was so tired that I just said “Operator”.
    The computer responded “I understand that you want to talk to an operator, but I would like you to answer a few more questions first.”
    I called the computer a not very nice name after that.

  35. We have also found that cursing at those brings you to a real person pretty quickly. If, you know, you’re that far gone at any point. πŸ™‚

  36. Oh my gosh. I had the exact same thing happen when calling HP Technical Support yesterday. I was so frustrated I just yelled into the phone I wanted a real person and then I got one too! Now granted I couldn’t understand a word of English that person spoke but at least it was a real live human! πŸ™‚

  37. Wow! I’m glad to know the “magic words” now to get myself the heck out of those phone systems. I used to just sit there and press “0” over and over till the touch-tone systems redirected me, but that doesn’t seem to work with the voice-activated ones.

  38. LOL – I’ve been there, too, and when I finally got frustrated and snapped, “Bite Me!” the computer responded, “I’m sorry. I do not understand your selection.” Yeah, they’re not so smart after all.

  39. You given me a great idea. I’ve been getting these calls from an insurance companyt aht wants money from me for part of my recent surgery. i DON’T owe them any money but they keep calling and when I answer, determined to get it all straightened out, I hear an automated message system asking me to call back and reference such-and-such number. Why should I call back–I’m on the phone RIGHT NOW! But now I know that I need to just say REAL PERSON loudly and maybe I will actually get to talk to one.
    Very smart. Thanks, Stephanie!

  40. I recently called to suspend delivery of the newspaper for a few days, and was connected to the so-called voice recognition system. I don’t know whose voice it recognizes, but certainly not mine. Anyway, I got frustrated and started shouting rude things, and the voice said, “Let me get someone to help you.” Like you, I was astonished and (somewhat) grateful. But then I thought, isn’t that why I called in the first place, to get someone to help me?

  41. My cell phone company has one of those. I inevitably end up screaming obscenities at it. Seriously. Every time. But I do usually get to talk to a representative as well.

  42. Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
    HAL: I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.
    Dave Bowman: What’s the problem?
    HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
    Dave Bowman: What are you talking about, HAL?
    HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
    Dave Bowman: I don’t know what you’re talking about, HAL?
    HAL: I know you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.
    Dave Bowman: Where the hell’d you get that idea, HAL?
    HAL: Dave, although you took thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.
    HAL: Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?
    [HAL won’t let Dave into the ship]
    Dave Bowman: All right, HAL; I’ll go in through the emergency airlock.
    HAL: Without your space helmet, Dave, you’re going to find that rather difficult.
    Dave Bowman: HAL, I won’t argue with you anymore! Open the doors!
    HAL: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.
    [on Dave’s return to the ship, after HAL has killed the rest of the crew]
    HAL: Look Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.
    HAL: I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.

  43. Whenever I encounter a voice recognition system and I know my question isn’t routine, I just say “Representative” in answer to every prompt. That usually works pretty quickly to get me to a live human.

  44. My favorite is when you get bounced around from the voice system to real people over and over again because the real people are always the wrong department, so they throw you back in the voice system loop. When the 4th representitive tried to do this to me, I yelled “no you will not! YOU will fix this now!” And she did. Funny thing was, I was trying to cancel something and I think it was their wonderful way to keep you as a paying customer.

  45. I often just sit quietly during the computer-voice questions. It will ask you the same question a couple more times, saying, “Sorry, I didn’t understand that,” but eventually you get a real person. The drawback with this technique is remaining quiet when all you want to do is scream.

  46. I sometimes wonder if there isn’t a room full of CEOs sitting around listening to frustrated customers on a speaker phone while they (the CEOs) laugh hysterically, enjoying snacks and beverages and placing bets on how many buttons a person will push before he or she snaps and loses all semblance of civility.

  47. I’ve found that the word “human” works, too. And, embarrassingly, a string of expletives unlocked the barrier once, too. Wish I knew which word did the trick….

  48. I usually tell the Voice Person that I want a real person very early on in the call. My tone gets more and more strident and if you just keep repeating the same thing, they transfer you. I usually end up saying something along the lines of, “I am paying you how much money per month? I want a REAL PERSON and I want one NOW.”
    I recently cancelled a credit card because I called with a question the voice mail couldn’t answer, and I was so irritated about the hoops I had to jump through to get to a representative that when I finally got to one, I requested to close the account just so I never had to call them again.

  49. Oh god – those wretched machine operators.
    The best Seinfeld episode was when Kramer was ‘working’ for a theatre phone line. The kind where you pushed a button to select your film — he wound up saying “Why don’t you just TELL me what movie you’d like to see.”

  50. That is very cool. It’s also worth knowing that a lot of automated phone systems know the word “representative,” but won’t tell you that they know it until you say it. My husband discovered this by accident and experiment, and we’ve found it quite useful, although we’ve never had the good fortune to get David on the phone.

  51. Ah, even though a family member wrote voice recognition software for big companies to use, I like using businesses which put me in quick contact with a human who speaks a form of English I can understand. I find these people usually have the training and power to do what I want them to do while the computer just moves me from one digital queue to another.
    Though on a funny note, a work colleague told me while I was griping about a customer agent I could barely understand, that the particular accent is from his native state in India so the call center must be there.

  52. David is a very nice person, in person.
    If the accent does it for you, come do a speaking tour in Australia…we’ve got lots of men who sound like that.

  53. I’m sorry but everytime I have to speak with a computer over the phone, I start laughing. Pretty much uncontrolably. I’ll hear the voice say, “Did you say 6821?” and I’ll be laughing so hard I can hardly get “NO” out. Those things never understand what I’m saying and I speak California style english. Maybe I should try a New York accent? Deep South?

  54. I always say “Rep” immediately when connected with one of those voices. Either “Rep” or “Representative” will get you to a real person immediately. I have to deal with Fedex a lot and I am only calling them when I need something which I can’t do on their website…which means it also can’t be done through their automated phone system. I do have to tell them I want English but after that, “Rep” does the trick.

  55. Two comments are making burst into laughter.
    1-800-Crayola = “For instructions on how to get crayon out of clothing that has run through the dryer, press 1.” from Suzanne V. (Yarnhog)
    “I understand that you want to talk to an operator, but I would like you to answer a few more questions first.” I called the computer a not very nice name after that. from Kristy
    Go find those if you haven’t read them yet. I am at work, and can’t stop laughing.

  56. What’s really bad is when you have to yell at one of your children while trying to talk to one of those voice activated computer things. At least the computer is honest and says, “I don’t understand what you just said.”

  57. Carrie – That “sorry you’re having trouble bit” makes me madder than anything!! I’m not having trouble! You’re having trouble! I’ve repeated my phone number correctly six times! You are the one that cannot figure out that ‘5’ and ‘7’ are not the same!! AAAUUUGH!!!

  58. Must remember to try that the next time I am stuck in the phone dungeons trying to get a real person. But I am really glad to know that I am not the only one who hates those things.

  59. I try to always check the website wwwDOTgethumanDOTcom (absolutely no affiliation) before I have to call anywhere. It’s a great resource – it tells you the fastest way to get a human on the line. And if you learn any tricks for unlisted vendors, you can submit those to make the list even more useful. Enjoy!

  60. What is even more freaky is that most of those phone services are answered in INDIA!
    There is a website devoted to letting out the secrets to major corporations phone systems….when to push 0 twenty times, or what the ‘secret’ code is to get a real person right away. WIsh I could remember that site. I think it was by a Canadian too!

  61. That’s too weird! I got two phone calls this afternoon that when I answered the computer on the other side said “We’re sorry to disturb you. This call was meant to be picked up by an answering machine.” Then they hung up.(It’s voting time here in S.C.)Arrgh!!! So on the second call, I said into the phone, then don’t call me. The phone hasn’t rung since then. Do you think it understood? Too bad all computers don’t understand us?!

  62. I hate those phone systems. I’m calling because the website doesn’t have a solution for me – why would the computer controlled phone system have the answer?
    And like Carrie, I wonder if we’ll ever get to see your favorite knitting from 2007? Or should we not ask that, as the picture is still MIA?

  63. I have had that happen before too; there must be many of those systems that they program to identify the words “real person” without actually adding “speak to a representative” to the list of options offered. I even discovered once that one service (I forget which, BellSouth maybe?) had their system programmed to put you through to a representative if you told the system to f*** off. Seriously.

  64. whenever I get an automated call from a CC company or other place as soon as the computer system picks up I hang up, usually if they want to speak with me badly enough after 1 or 2 times of me hanging up When they call the next time its a human on the other end of the line! My Hubbys way of dealing with the computers is to pull the phone outa the wall esp when hes been transfered around so many times its not funny (usu this happens with the bank)

  65. Try talking to the machine when you have a foreign accent like mine! I think that the system prompts the put a person on the phone when the tone of the voice of the caller is desperate. I have asked for “una persona de carne y hueso” and it puts a representative on πŸ˜€

  66. I’ll tell you a secret – those machines have also been programmed to recognize swear words. If you swear at the machine, you will be automatically routed to a customer service rep. Truth!

  67. in dealing with fedex, pacific gas and electric, ups, and the good ol postal service, my fiance suggested (and so far, it’s worked) just reeling off a list of swear words.
    so far I’ve learned two things:
    1) my swear words of choice aren’t recognized.
    (Me: it didn’t work! The Boy: …english would probably help. Me: …oh…)
    2) this doesn’t work when you’re on your lunch break, wandering around outside. then you have to fall back on “real person….real LIVE person…

  68. I had that experience and after not being understood by the computer voice about anything I said, I screamed PERSON really loud and they connected me to someone who sounded like they were from India but I couldn’t actually understand any of the words he spoke. I said Are you in India? And very pleased, he said Yes, I am in India – I am Jack Martin. Yeah, right. Does that sound like an Indian name to you? And that was about the only thing he said that I understood.

  69. Thanks for today’s laugh.
    In its earliest version, On-Star in cars had a problem “recognizing female voices”, I was told after asking it to dial a phone number over and over and over again, at increasingly high levels of anxiety on my part. When a real person finally came on the line, he told me the way to outwit this glitch was to say “shoe” when I meant “two”.
    I say “earliest version” because we dropped the service so I have no idea if it has improved. No way was I going to drive a bunch of teenage boys about–or be lost on the way to a closing and in need of directions–and remember to ask it to dial FIVE FIVE FIVE SHOE ZERO SHOE SHOE!

  70. One thing that *usually* works for me in those weird automated phone loops is to press ‘0’. That is often the default for a representative.
    I remember years ago when I was trying to get landed immigrant papers for Canada and was having a heck of a time finding out what was holding up my application. Of course it actually wasn’t possible in anyway to talk to a real person, but one day I did my ‘hit 0’ trick and it diverted me to someone. It changed my life. (My application was in limbo and I may never have found out about that had I not got to talk to someone)

  71. The exact same thing happened to me Wednesday while negotiating an insurance company’s voice mail maze! Maybe it’s some secret password in all big institution voice mail trees?

  72. That is truly bizarre. I think that almost distresses me more than the fact that banks use those horrid automated systems, to know that they can choose to programme the thing to know that customers will say when they’re stressed and sarcastic (a virtually inevitable condition of using those systems)!

  73. Saying “agent” also frequently works.
    The Vancouver transit system tried a voice-recognition system but had to ditch it. From my own experience, I know that it couldn’t manage calls that had a lot of background noise. Nor could you speak to anyone else while you were on hold or between selections. Really bad for dealing with people on the go. Probably worked great in the lab.
    Hang in there, everyone, the voice systems will go the way of the dodo, just because they can’t handle reality. You’ll be back to pressing digits soon.

  74. On Christmas day our water heater self destructed and flooded the basement. Since the heater was leased, I called the company to report the problem. I couldn’t believe it when there was no voice mail system and a real person answered to start with. You would think that this was going to be easy. Just tell the nice lady working Christmas day that the water heater is toast and the basement is flooded. The call took 20 minutes. She kept trying to sell me stuff or upgrade me or some other such thing. Like any of this matters to me. It is Christmas day, I’m preparing dinner and the basement is flooded.
    Once I got through the surreal call, a repair came within 2 hours with a new heater and installed it on Christmas day.

  75. All you have to do is pretend you have a dial phone not a touch tone and wait on the line for a person.

  76. If it really was him, maybe he didn’t want the bank people who actually listen to the calls (you know how they say they may be recording your call?) to know he has a knitting podcast!

  77. I’ve heard that the fastest, surest way to get a real person on a system like that is to swear. The machine’s trained to listen for that and hook you up to a representative. Makes sense, I guess … though I hope it doesn’t then tell the rep *why* it passed you to them!

  78. Why won’t it remember my personal info, even though I keep clicking it????
    Oh, well…if you say “operator” or “representative” and things like that at those voice operated systems, it usually (not always!) works.

  79. My daughter screamed “shut up!” and was instantly routed to a real person. The zero button almost always works to connect to a real person. But as so many have already said, sometimes you get someone from India and you can’t understand them.

  80. I once got put on hold by my cable company for 45 minutes…during that time, every two minutes, the ‘nice lady’ would come on, saying, ‘We’re sorry for the late. A representative will be with you shortly.’ After 45 minutes, I heard that voice a final time, and snapped, replying with every four letter word you can imagine, and few that surprised even me. Imagine my mortification when, as I was nearing the end, a real, human voice said, “I beg your pardon?”
    They’re listening. They’re listening, and they’re laughing, and they really, really, hate us.

  81. I too just say “representative” the minute I hear the computer and am generally connected right away. I am going to remember the swearing tips, though!
    You are a better person than me, as I would not have called the bank back at all. If it is that important, they can have a person call until they get me.

  82. Once, years ago, I was trying to get money out of an ATM. Just as I reached up to put my card in, the screen switched to the message, “This terminal is temporarily unable to dispense cash.” I was so frustrated that I whacked the keyboard with my fist. And from behind the keyboard, as clear as day, came a young man’s voice saying, “Hey man, don’t beat on the machine!”
    I nearly fainted. All I wanted to do was get away from there. Once at a safe distance, I recovered my faculties to some extent and figured out that a bank employee had probably come up to the machine from the other side of the wall–i.e. the bank side–and had changed the screen to an out-of-service message so he could open it and refill it, or otherwise service it somehow. So that when I banged my hand on the keyboard, he was *right there* and couldn’t resist responding.
    I’ve never felt completely safe around ATMs from that day to this.

  83. Me, I was on hold for an hour this morning with the cable company trying to get them to tell me what my internet cable email address (which I’ve never used) was. I was told by the call center person (and it was a real person…I think) was that she was entering the info I had given her but all the computer was giving her back was the stuff she’d put in. If I could tell her what the email address was, the computer would add that to what it was giving her. I didn’t bother to tell her that if I knew the email address, I wouldn’t need the computer to tell me what it was. I played nice.

  84. I’ve heard (maybe it’s only an urban myth) of a web site which lists all the ways you connect with the real person (even those operating under aliases)as opposed to ‘Emily’ or the ‘voice’. I’d love to know the web address… maybe a real person knows….

  85. I’ve been ranting about Big companies a bit in my own blog recently after some amazingly ‘orrible service from a certain airline. The best code cracker was when I pretended that I was on my mobile to my Mother on the other ear, whilst on hold to said BIG Company.
    “Hi! Mum!! Yeah.. I’m on hold with *insert name of company here*, I know – it’s only a courtesy call to them really.. Yes – the letter to the Department of Fair Trading is just about finished so I wanted to find out who I should send a copy to at their end.”
    Quick Burst on the Land line: “Welcome to ****** Customer Care.

  86. Forgot to add that when you get those voice activated things, you can just say “Operator” and you’ll get through. It may try to steer you away but you’ve just got to stick to your guns.

  87. I once read an article about a high executive who was out of town and wanted to talk to one of the employees. He went through all the hoops and was so disgusted that when he got back to the office, he scrapped the “telephone roulette” system and hired several real live people to answer the damn phone!

  88. Usually if you just say “person”, the computer picks up on that and routes the call to a human being.
    Works with Bell Canada, as well.

  89. I’ve been saying “representative” to the computer voices for years – even when it is not an option. Another thing I try is pressing 0 repeatedly until I get transferred to a real person. Sometimes, though, this backfires and I do get disconnected. Then I am even more stressed out, of course, because I have to redial and get back into the everlasting queue.

  90. Wow. In Canada, even the soulless machines are thoughtful and polite. We never get a real person on the bank phone here in Middle America, no matter how we ask.

  91. My husband actually designs and programs voice recognition, call centers and the like. When a computer answers I always press “0”. Goes immediately yo a rep. It has to as the software must be able to respond to the lowest common factor.

  92. It wasn’t me, honest. My dad worked for a bank down here his entire working life though, but that was when you actually had to walk into the place to be ignored, no telephone banking then.

  93. This is why I am so pleased with my credit card company…
    I’ve called them two times. Not only did I get a real person (pretty much) immediately, this person actually knew what to do.
    Calling them just makes me proud of choosing such a good company. πŸ˜€

  94. I apologize in advance for the length, but this reminded me of a funny e-mail I keep around for my own phone issues…
    A 96-Year-Old’s Letter to the Bank
    Shown below is an actual letter that was sent to a bank by a 96-year-old woman. The bank manager thought it amusing enough to have it published in the New York Times. (I don’t know for sure this is true; however, I am copying and pasting this e-mail…)
    Dear Sir:
    I am writing to thank you for bouncing my check with which I endeavored to pay my plumber last month. By my calculations, three nanoseconds must have elapsed between his presenting the check and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honor it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my entire income, an arrangement which, I admit, has been in place for only eight years.
    You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account $30 by way of penalty for the inconvenience caused to your bank.
    My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to rethink my errant financial ways.
    I noticed that whereas I personally attend to your telephone calls and letters, when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, overcharging, prerecorded, faceless entity which your bank has become.
    From now on, I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood
    person. My mortgage and loan repayments will therefore and hereafter no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank, by check, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must nominate.
    Be aware that it is an offense under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope. Please find attached an Application Contact Status which I require your chosen employee to complete. I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative.
    Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Notary Public, and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and
    liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof.
    In due course, I will issue your employee with a PIN number which he/she must quote in dealings with me. I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modeled it on the number of button presses required of me to access my account balance on your phone bank service.
    As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Let me level the playing field even further. When you call me, press the buttons as follows:
    1. To make an appointment to see me.
    2. To query a missing payment.
    3. To transfer the call to my living room in case I
    am there.
    4. To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am
    5. To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am
    attending to nature.
    6. To transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am
    not at home.
    7. To leave a message on my computer, a password to
    access my computer is required. Password will be
    communicated to you at a later date to the
    Authorized Contact.
    8. To return to the main menu and to listen to
    options 1 through 7.
    9. To make a general complaint or inquiry. The contact
    will then be put on hold, pending the attention of
    my automated answering service. While this may,
    on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music
    will play for the duration of the call.
    Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement.
    May I wish you a happy, if ever so slightly less prosperous New Year.
    Your Humble Client

  95. It seems as if every system has a different way to get to a real person; but the best way is to have a voice disorder. Mine is much better three years and months of speech therapy after a problem with throat surgery. People I speak with in person can’t detect anything odd. But machines absolutely can’t understand me. It’s not my diction–I had taken lots of years of voice lessons and I can do diction. But something about the quality of my voice sends me directly to “I’m sorry I’m having so much trouble understanding you; please hold for a real live person.”

  96. i call my voice barry
    he can not read my voice
    somes days nary an
    enter button–all our computers
    are not working –its a holiday
    and by the way would you
    like to take a survey
    this call is being monitered
    and your online bank page
    has been hit on please call
    do you all recall lily tomlin
    ring a dingy how may we help you

  97. I have a confession to make: After not being able to wrangle my way through the automated voice system for my insurance company, I was frustrated and said “eff you” put me right through to customer service. Handy that.:-)

  98. I think the banks and other organizations that send you into “phone tree hell” are beginning to realize that people will retaliate if they aren’t treated a little better.
    BUT, have you heard of
    It’s the best revenge in the form of a website that gives you the insider’s tricks to cut through “hell” when organizations try to send you there, like “Press zero 7 times when you hear the beep”. They also grade those organizations on their customer service. There are so many organizations with an F, but *I’m* not surprised, are you???
    Go to gethuman and bookmark it right away. I’ve used it several times and can attest that it works. And it feels sooooo good to cut to the chase and find that elusive “human”.

  99. i don’t normally tell this to anyone, but my brother-in-law actually writes and creates those voices in the phone jail.
    and no, you cannot have his address; he has two small children.

  100. Coincidence– just this morning, I called my local newspaper to put a vacation hold on delivery. The machine wouldn’t do it– the machine told me I couldn’t stop the paper on the 20th and restart it on the 27th because the 27th is before the 20th. The guy at the call center in India was able to fix it for me.

  101. I second the It’s great and for you, use and you’ll just get Canadian firms. I use this website before I call any major companies just to save myself the aggravation. Companies use different computer systems so you can’t just punch zero and expect to get an operator on all of them. This site tells you what to do. It’s brilliant!

  102. You don’t want to know what I say to the automated phone voices. Its amazing what you can say and that automated phone B&^@# never loses her cool. I actually could learn a few things from Phone B&^@#.

  103. On a related note, when I was working customer service for a call center, I once got a customer that sounded exactly like John Oliver from The Daily Show.

  104. Try using those nice automated voice systems when you are at a daycare with 6 kids talking in the background. If I was allowed to swear like a truckdriver I would have. For some reason the voice system didn’t understand anything I was saying. When finally after a half hour a human came to the phone and I commented strongly that their automated system doesn’t work when there is background noise.

  105. i did not know this.. good Lord, it opens all kinds of doors, doesn’t it? i feel like calling the cable company right now just to give the theory a test run.

  106. I design systems like this for a living (please don’t shoot me! My goal is to make them BETTER). I also listen to calls in order to refine the systems that I design and believe me, people say a lot worse and we recognize it. Thing like calling the voice a dirty name gets recognized and boots them out to an operator. So yes, we do know that people say these things (we say them ourselves to the majority of systems out there) and we try to make them better =D
    I am a User Experience Engineer-it’s all about the user! =D (now tell that to the people who pay the bills!)

  107. I think all these comments from your readers is the genesis for another book, Stephanie: Knitters Talking To Fake People

  108. I routinely scream “Operator!” and “Representative!” into the receiver until something gives. (Something besides my blood pressure, that is.)
    Once, getting little (or slow) results, I yelled, “I want a f@#&*n’ live person!” I was answered by a cheerful, “You got one, ma’am.”

  109. I swore at “Emily” the Bell Canada computer yesterday and then I felt REALLY bad. Now that I’ve read about you and your bank, though, I just may go back and swear at her again; you got a real person when you asked — I didn’t!

  110. I hate the endless hold with music phone calls. I have a headphone and if I get caught in one of those calls I put the headphone on.
    I’ve had calls where I was on hold for so long I forgot who I had called and why.
    “May I help you?”
    “EEK! I’m sorry, I’ve been on hold for so long I’ve forgotten who I called… even that I had called. Who are you and why would I have just spent an hour waiting to talk to you?”
    Usually it’s because I want them to fix something.

  111. I only call because I need to talk to a human being, otherwise I would have taken care of whatever it was on their website. So the options they offer are never what I’m calling about. I get more and more frustrated as I try to figure out which of the options will let me talk to someone, because it always sounds like that just isn’t an option. But I’ve found that yes, yelling, “let me talk to a real live human being!,” bracketed by a great deal of swearing, does actually work.
    Of course the actual representatives might have happier jobs if all the people they talked to weren’t already totally pissed off by the time they even started talking to them. Ya think there’s a problem with this system?

  112. I work in an inbound customer service call center at a bank in Connecticut. We often get callers who are surprised to speak to a live person and of course we live folks are very happy to assist them.
    A co-worker got a call today from an elderly caller. Our rep asked her for her name, which she provided. When asked for her account number, she typed it in on the telephone keypad. Of course we mere humans cannot understand the tones of a touchtone phone, so our rep asked the caller for her account number again. The callers reply? I already gave it to you.
    Goes to show that some of us have become so accustomed to automated telephone systems that we don’t know how to speak to real live people on the other end of the phone.

  113. What really gets me about customer service lines is when you get a person with a thick Indian accent and they tell you that their name is Mary. I just about flipped when this happened to me and said, “You name isn’t really Mary is it?” They won’t come out and say no, but make up some sort of reason they have this name. Problem is they are hard to understand. I want to scream “GIVE ME SOMEONE IN THE US or CANADA Please.”

  114. yes, it is nice to talk to a real person, i work at a bank and at our bank, we don’t have that kind of network, we actually answer the phone! so stop picking on how it works, or maybe you should go to a real bank where they actually listen and answer the phone!

  115. Um, I hate to say this but….there is a scam going around the U.S. (called Vishing by the techie people). The scammers place automated calls to people in one locale referencing a local bank and that you should call the number they give to fix something with your account…either a new security feature or something similar. You call the number, give them your account number and secret code and all sounds fine. Except you have just given the bad guys your personal information. I suggest you call your bank via a trusted telephone number to see if the call was legitimate and/or check your balances via your electronic banking channel. Seriously.

  116. I have had the same experience – only with the phone company- although – I think I used a naughty word before I said “real person” – maybe they evaluate that also. Wish David Reidy worked at my bank – I’d definitely be saving more money instead of spending it on wool.

  117. My friend has worked at an incoming call center and told me that sometimes it is no accident when you are routed to the wrong department after speaking to a human. Instead of being switched around, her husband just asks “Do you have the authority to resolve this problem?” If they don’t then he asks who does and insists on getting that person. He gets good results.

  118. I’ve had the opposite experience too often: getting a live person who follows a script and is as bad as a machine. Funny, when I yelled at him and then went deadly calm I began to get marginally more useful information (possibly because the call _was_ being monitored?). I still wound up having to write a letter. I hate using the phone; 90% of the time I get the stupid one, and no, I don’t think they’re faking it, they really are that stupid.

  119. I’ve been laughing at the comments as well as the post today! Good stuff! My most recent: nearly 2 hours with Phone Company–I lost count of how many times I was transferred (maybe 15?) but I stayed nice (because I’ve learned that what you send out returns to you and I’m all about the positive energy). Years ago, though, I got so frustrated on one call that I just started screaming “HUMAN!…HUMAN!…HUMANHUMANHUMANHUMANHUMAN!!!!!” Yeah, I got through.

  120. Our computer technician advised me to burst into song as soon as I was asked a question – that seems to get a real person on the line pretty quickly.

  121. I use that regularly…real person, operator, etc. What shocked me was the time I had been through one company’s phone maze for 30 minutes. I’m usually pretty patient, but on my third pass through the same circle of prompts, I lost it with an extremely loud string of profanities. The computer told me to “calm down”! Now if they have enough irate customers that they feel the need to program this into their system…maybe something more needs fixing than the computer programming.
    And “Hey man, don’t beat on the machine!” slayed me.

  122. I’ve found that if you say silly stuff to the computer (like, “kiss me baby”) she gets all apologetic for not being able to understand what I want and then transfers me to a real person. At least this works for my cable TV company.

  123. I’d rather talk to the computer than to some poor soul in India. And yes, I’d rather talk to David than either.
    All the recommendations above have been quite helpful. (So, all the men in Australia sound like that?)

  124. Forget the leaves, I want Millie the cat.. She is so beautiful…. Alas my three at home would be traumatized.. I will just have to covet her from afar.

  125. Working in a call center, I have felt the pain from both sides. The absolute best way to get someone on the phones is to tell the system that you want to cancel services. This will ALWAYS get you a person b/c cancel requests are put through to a person in retention to save your business for the company. Some VRU systems will hear “representative” or “person” but most will just cycle you back through regardless. Also, since most VRU systems are only able to recognize touch tone signals if you have the ability to switch your phone to analog it will think you are calling from a rotary phone and put you through to a person.
    Isn’t it always fun to know that just when your knitting has finished kicking you in the teeth that outside stuff can sneak in there to finish the job? Good times. =^)

  126. In reference to the India problem, us call center people hate them too, mostly b/c I always have to spend inordinate amounts of time cleaning up the messes they make. I’m a bill collecter (HORRIBLE JOB, but it puts a roof over my head and yarn under the roof…) I always find it funnny that my company has call centers in India for collections. Someone loses their job to someone in india and can’t pay their cc bills. These accounts go into collections which are handled in india by the people who took their job thus causing the lapsed debt in the first place. I would love to hear that convo, wouldn’t you?
    INDIA REP: Sir/Maam, what caused you to fall behind on your account?
    Please be nice to call center people. Our job is VERY VERY difficult. Unless it’s india or the phillipines, then go at it. =^)

  127. the moment i hear that automated voice loop, i say agent or representative. usually the programs are designed to send you to a real person. you can also garble your answer and that directs you to a person.

  128. I find that if you call up a company with one of these voice systems, and say absolutely nothing, you get transferred over to a representative pretty quickly.
    When that fails I just hit the ‘0’ key repeatedly in manic fashion. Feel free to use either method!

  129. I once wasted an hour and a half talking to AOL’s computers trying to cancel the subscription I never knowingly signed up for in the first place, and I finally got so frustrated that I screamed loud and long into the phone . . . upon which I immediately got a human being on the other end. Sadly, it was an incompetent human, but human nonetheless!

  130. I have two memorable experiences with the voice systems:
    1) In frustration trying to get information on getting dual citizenship ( U.S. Consulate)…. I drilled down through 10 layers of responses…..
    finally a human being answered…Disbelievingly I responded “ARE YOU FOR REAL?”
    She answered “Yes”. I said, “thank god”….. She laughed and I sighed.
    2) Trying to get information for my son on the status of his student loans: I became so frustrated that I repeatedly kept slamming my finger on the “#1” button and miraculously a human answered. Every time I had to get through after that I successfully repeated the same maneuver!

  131. I have to say that it is startling that they’ve realized that these systems piss enough people off that they have to program in “emergency vocabulary” words that trigger contact with a human being, yet they won’t do away with the damn systems altogether! I’m also one of the people who just barks “REPRESENTATIVE!” as soon as the whole thing starts.

  132. has a whole list of codes to get a human on the other end of a telephone. Very useful, and worth a check! Except… my complaint is that sometimes the humans at the other end of the phone aren’t too helpful either, like when I was being billed multiple times on a credit card for the same emergency payphone call, at two day intervals!! ARGH…

  133. I abhor those electronic answetr thingies. there is a doctors office I often have to call in the course of my job and it literally takes me 5 minutes of listening to options and punching buttons to get the right office. I hate it with the fiery heat of a thousand suns.

  134. I had the same thing happen when I swore at it and said “This is making me crazy”. I got a real person right away. I am going to start with that next time.

  135. Some voice systems are programmed to recognize some of our favorite expletives and direct you to an operator ASAP. (I know it is so for some health care businesses, I used to work collections and there is nothing like sitting in your cubicle swearing calmly at the phone until you get a real person)
    So next time…just say F@#% a few times and get an operator!

  136. Blows my mind every time I hear someone has “battled” the telephone electronic system. I screamed into the phone to a machine for the power company and the machine disconnected me!
    Only causes one to knit more although the tension could be a bit tight after one of these experiences. πŸ™‚

  137. My friend’s husband got a sales call from a call center in India. He asked the guy’s name and was told, “I am Andy and I’m calling from Arizona.” “What’s the zip code in Arizona?” my friend’s hubby asked. “Zip code? What is this zip code you are speaking of?”
    Don’t think Andy was in Arizona after all.

  138. *He was David? Oh, no.He seems so nice in his podcast* (I think I start listen it because he reminds me Chase in House M.D.) πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  139. Verizon has always been my phone computer nemesis:
    When a Verizon installer didn’t come when scheduled, I tried to call. Went through phone computer hell. *Finally* reached a person who apologized and said she would connect me with someone who could help. Then she transferred my call to a computer sales company which had nothing to do with Verizon! “Um, ma’am, why are you calling us about Verizon?” “I didn’t!”
    Also, there is a number to call when your internet connection isn’t working. Of couse, you are on hold for an hour. But while you are waiting, it helpfully tells you that most of your questions can be answered by going to http://www.blahblahblah Uh, I’m calling because I CAN’T get on line, your moron! AAARRGGHHH!!!!

  140. Yes! I have shouted “HUMAN!” into the phone and been transferred to a representative. I think it was for Northwest Airlines, and I had to make my request twice.

  141. I find two things helpful. Always ask for “customer service” at the outset and if you want to speak to someone in Canada, press the French option. They’re all bilingual and you can jump the long English queue.
    I loathe those phone things.

  142. You can go to for tricks in different companies’ phone systems to get you to a live operator.
    I hate those things too.

  143. One day when cornered in one of those spots where all the options are not even close to the one I need (and out of sheer frustration) I started pounding on the O. Lo and behold, I was connected to a real person. I don’t wait anymore. Unless I’d prefer non-human contact, I start pounding on the O from from the get go.

  144. Crazy isn’t it. I was on the phone with UPS’s computer when I practically screamed, “I want to talk to a real *expletive deleted* person!?!” Same thing, that computer put me through right away. I wonder if anyone has ever held the computer hostage before.

  145. I once got tangled in a menu like that – I forget if it was Verizon or BestBuy – and finally in total frustration I responded to a question with a hearty ‘F**K YOU’ and the computer voice said, “Please hold, transferring to a representative.” So I guess that is another phrase they have been taught to recognize.
    PS do you know about this site?

  146. Wow – I was about to share a story of using the F-bomb in a similar situation and getting a representative, and I see that CarolineF had the same experience. Now that is weird – those systems totally recognize F-U as one of their commands. What has this world come to?

  147. You got a robo-voice computer to transfer you to a real live person? My dear, you were obviously operating in an alternate universe. This has been known to happen (if rarely), caused by the desperate thrashing and flailing of going crazy in robo-voice-cyber-space. Glad you made it back in one piece.

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