Automated phone menus - and how to survive them

Dummy call centre operators

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"Please listen to the following options." Does your heart drop at the sound of these words?

If so, here are eight ways of surviving automated phone menus and the call charges that may be adding up as you listen to them.

1. Avoid the phone altogether

There are normally different ways of contacting a company. Often web chat facilities can get you through to an advisor within minutes.

Consumer group Which? also recommends emailing or tweeting the company.

"It's free and means you have a written record which could be useful if you have to challenge or prove something in the future."

2. Beware high call charges

Number crunching

  • 01 and 02 numbers relate to locations in the UK so local or national rates apply
  • 0800 and 0808 numbers are free but may be charged from mobiles
  • Charges for other 08 numbers vary widely
  • 09 numbers are premium rate. Often used for chat lines, competitions and professional advice services

Many businesses use phone numbers beginning 08 - some of which are free, but others can carry a charge significantly higher than the cost of local or national calls.

Charges can also depend on your provider and call package.

Communications regulator Ofcom wants companies to make it simpler.

In the meantime, their guide to phone prefixes lists the charges you are likely to face for various calls.

3. Find a cheaper number

Which? provides advice on cheap alternatives to 0870 and 0845 calls often used by businesses, such as looking for a "calling from overseas" number. This will usually start +44 and is likely to be cheaper. Just replace +44 with 0.

The One Show's Alex Riley investigates automated phone menus.

Which? also recommends looking for sales-line numbers - these are often cheaper to encourage people to call - or searching for the company headquarters number.

In both cases ask to be transferred to customer services.

Once you get through to the right person, ask for the best way to call them next time. They might give you a direct line number which may be cheaper and faster.

4. Avoid the mobile or get an app

Call charges can be much higher if you use a mobile phone. In particular "Freephone" 0800 numbers can be charged up to 40p per minute from a mobile.

For smartphones there are a number of apps that can bypass the cost of 08 numbers.

5. Go off-peak

Calling 084 or 0870 numbers from a landline can be more expensive during the week.

So phone at weekends.

6. Take a shortcut

Nigel Clarke

Nigel Clarke's website pleasepress1 might shave some time off your call.

He provide shortcuts through the automated menus of over 200 companies.

As an example, if you wanted to call HMRC about a possible tax refund, you can dial the sequence 2,1,1 rather than listen through each menu option.

However, you still need to wait for each menu recording to start before pressing the button.

7. Don't hold

Which? recommends smart phone users download an app called 'WeQ4u'.

They say the app keeps your place in the queue and calls you back when an operator is available.

8. Learn to love them

Companies argue that automated menus benefit everyone as an efficient way of connecting you to the right service.

"Automated responses help banks to filter large call volumes" - that's according to the The British Bankers' Association.

"They also ensure customers are directed to the best person to answer their specific query as soon as possible."

Some very small businesses use them to appear larger and more professional. In extreme cases, every menu option can take you through to the same person.

But keeping quiet and ignoring every option will not get you through to someone faster says Nigel Clarke.

"In my experience that can still take you through a long route and you may not get you where you want to go," he told The One Show.

This material is for general information only and does not constitute legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Links to external sites are for information only and do not constitute endorsement. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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