Call centre menu options catalogued by frustrated man


The BBC's Mark Norman meets Nigel Clarke to find out about his one-man mission against call centre menus

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Retired IT manager Nigel Clarke, from Kent in the UK, has launched a website listing the call centre menu sequences for accessing thousands of services.

He started the project after growing frustrated about the number of options and amount of recorded information on call centre menus.

Mr Clarke discovered that some automated menus have nearly 80 options.

It can take over four minutes to get to the service required if the caller listens to each stage in full, he said.

As an example, speaking to an adviser at HM Revenue and Customs only required pressing four buttons but it could take six minutes to get through each menu level, Mr Clarke said.

HMRC said it was working on improvements to the service.

"HMRC is looking at ways to improve its interactive voice responses and is getting ready for the introduction of new speech recognition technology," said a spokesman.

"This technology will react to what the caller says instead of asking them to select an option by pushing a button on their phone. HMRC plan to introduce these improvements later this year."

Labour of love

Mr Clarke said the website was a "labour of love" which he built after seven years of creating post-it notes of sequences he used regularly.

He used Skype and recording software to make thousands of calls, with the bulk of the work being carried out in the last six months.

Reporting a water leak to Lloyds TSB's home insurance department requires dialling a total of seven numbers, one at each stage of the call (1, 3, 2, 1, 1, 5, 4), and it takes more than four minutes to navigate the 78 menu options, according to the website.

"The companies have these systems in place for a reason," said Mr Clarke.

Start Quote

I'm not against the system, but I am against bad design”

End Quote Nigel Clarke

"I'm not against the system, but I am against bad design."

In an ideal world, he said, companies should just offer different phone numbers for different services.

"No menu is best - but if it is a necessity then design it properly. I think two levels maximum is ideal. Some stretch to three. You don't really want much more than that."

Mr Clarke said he was inspired to build the website after being surprised by the "emotional response" he got from people whenever he mentioned it.

He says he doesn't intend to devote himself full-time to maintaining it.

"I'd like the companies themselves to say, 'we care about our customers, we'll publish our menus'," he said.

When tested by the BBC, some of the sequences did not seem to result in significant time savings, while others ended with the user being transferred straight to a customer adviser rather than going through each level of the automated system.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    Don't forget to avoid the premium rate numbers by checking on the
    Used together these are going to save £££s

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    Ever decreasing circles seems to be what happens once you are involved with these operating systems. There never seems to be the option you need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    @ 255.MrLore
    "...what really grinds my gears is when people call up with problems which are on the front page of our FAQ site..."

    Which is useless when you're calling to ask why your broadband connection has suddently gone down; or you don't have access to a computer; or you don't own a smartphone; or the caller is blind.

    Your reply just illustrates the lack of genuine customer service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    Missus spent 25 mins on a call last month explaining the microphone on her mobile had failed.

    'Fine, we'll send you a pre-paid envelope to send it to our service centre.'

    Envelope takes a week to arrive. The fault, pre-entered on the paperwork to help the guy at the service centre? 'Does not charge'.

    They simply don't care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    255. MrLore :-As a software developer who also has to take support calls from customers, what really grinds my gears is when people call up with problems which are on the front page of our FAQ site...........

    its called customer services dude !!!! or do you think your customers are morons ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    HMRC are switching to voice recognition instead? That's even worse! I hate those systems. 1) They sometimes have trouble understanding my Wigan accent. 2) It's embarrassing shouting odd words and numbers robotically and sternly down a phone while in the office surrounded by work colleages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    This is exactly what I found last Monday when I rang HMS Customs & Revenue. After going through & listening to the menu options I began to get really annoyed & my language became more & more expressive. It was made even worse after I then waited a further 20 minutes to speak to an operator. Eventually I rang off in frustration cursing them for not answering. Drop the awful loud music as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    HMRC has become a nightmare of late. The frantic cost cutting has lead to a failure of basic standards of xare to people needing to contact the HMRC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    aah yes, the endless options of royal mail, the various Indian call centres and the endless music, oh the joys of the modern telephone age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    One of the main reasons I bank with 1st Direct is that you get STRAIGHT through to a person. I also have accounts with two other banks and I dread having to call their labyrinthine systems.....these are not a substitute for customer service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    I just press 1 anyway, and say what needs sorting out,and it get's sorted anyway, normally no problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    They used to be called Process Courts, what are they called now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    They are frustrating in the extreme and cost a fortune!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    One of the things the designers of these systems fail to take into account is handset design. If you have an all-in-one handset that has both the speaker & the buttons on it (or are calling from a mobile), taking the handset away from your head to press the button suggested by the menu you have been listening often causes the system to time out... Grrr

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    I find it astonishing. I have been with the same bank for almost 20 years and a human being always answers the phone within 10 seconds. Not only that, but the person is helpful, cheerful and effective.

    No other large organisation I know of does this. I can't think why not. WOuld they rather spend money on irritating call systems than training their staff?

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    One that really gets me is the automated voice that says 'please key in your policy number or reference number' and when you finally get through to a human being the first thing they say is 'Can I take your policy number'!

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    These companys have these extended menus so that they can fleece the callers with high call costs and premium rate numbers at best. At worst these menus are desgined to put off people ever calling the company as the companies are not interested in serving their customers. Hence the extended menus so that they can fleece ....... repeat , repeat, repeat ,

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    This is particularly galling on premium rate numbers. I am oblidged by circumstances to use mail/phone order retailers, they're the worst offenders. They often include gems like recorded annoucements telling you: 'why not use our website?' and then giving the address in full! The worst ones have faulty kit, so when you manage to speak to a real person you then get cut off!

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    @41. Steve84 But do you know what 'really' grinds my gears? With some companies the first thing the automated menu 'advises' you to do is use their website for the answer to any queries before contacting via phone.

    As a software developer who also has to take support calls from customers, what really grinds my gears is when people call up with problems which are on the front page of our FAQ site.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    I work on a help desk for a rather small company (4 of us on the Support/Remote Help desk) and it only takes 1 button press to get through to us, it really does make a difference as neither the Support person/Customer are pre "Stressed" out which allows for quick and easy help.


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