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 493.

    This isn't a labour of love, you're giving free advertising, and it's a way to make money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    The designers of such systems, especially in the U.S., are deluded scumbags of the highest order...

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    Most IVR systems all go to the same dept anyway. All they are used for is so companies can log the reason people are calling in. Also companies get a share of the money from these non geographical numbers, so it's in their interest to keep you on the phone for longer pressing stupid buttons you really don't need to press. I've worked in call centres for over 10 years and I know this to be fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    @241.AndyMcG123 - are you so naive that you believe that call centres actually operate with different departments?

    Newsflash - Most call centre workers deal with multiple different department queries.

    The menu queues are there to a) manage phone traffic and more importantly b) indicate how much, and of what type, phone traffic a company is getting.

    Not for you to get in the right queue!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    Particularly annoying are the systems that just don't have the option you're after (just pick 'sales' or 'lost & stolen'), and systems that make you type in a 16 digit number, date of birth, house number, etc., then don't pass it on to the person who takes the call, who asks for it all again, 'for security', when all you want to know is if they're open on Saturday afternoons... aargh!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    ... To be able to provide this 'Freephone service' requires input from BT, IP communications software developers and others. For each analyst that answers the phone, the licence for the call management software costs over £500 per analyst, per year. The infrastructure (when split per analyst) costs over £2,000. A lot of companies cannot afford these costs, and as such have premium line costs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    Welshy2000... it's not always about 'the money' as such. I work for a large UK company and have a large amount of our Internal support lines on 0843, 0844 and 0845 numbers whilst our 'Customer' lines are all 0800 numbers with 1p a minute numbers available for mobile users. We recuperate the £1mil a year, external customer, costs by cross charging within the company... TBC

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    People - less apathy and more action! Change your services providers today. Do not allow this sort of cruddy fob-you-off second rate service to persist.. They'll soon get the message when customers leave on mass.

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    I work in the softphone / SIP industry for a major UK service provider. I have helped spearhead an internal telephony system that has driven down time spent within a menu structure from an average of 1.5 minutes to an average of 24 seconds, with a minimum of 4.5 seconds. In my opinion, in a service driven environment, this is too long. I would encourage any suggestions - [Personal details removed by Moderator]

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    I find that if you press anything to get through to a human, no matter what department, and then explain to that human what you want, said human often says "Oh, you've come through to the wrong extension/department/number/whatever" and then puts you through to the people you need to talk to, frequently explaining to their colleague what you want, so you save yourself loads of tooth-grinding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    I think the worst thing about these confounded menu systems is that there is no legislation for an incorrect choice. Just try calling BT; it's HORRENDOUS. Any mistakes and one has to call again. The whole experience is exacerbated further by repeated recordings which either 'inform' or 'sell' whilst you are waiting. I KNOW I can visit the bloody website, but there's a reason why I am CALLING!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    It's the stuned blank "eerrmmm" comments I get from operators on the other end when they say "sorry, you've pressed the wrong options. You need to dial back, and select3, then2, then 4 to get to the right team" and my reply is "I'm not hanging up as that's the option I selected to get you after speaking to a colleague when I dialed 2 minutes ago!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.


    No doubt this is true, but just object to people calling 08 numbers premium rate, which they are not. Though if people are daft enough to call them from a mobile, they deserve what they get. As I've said before both my landline and mobile bundle include 08s, so it's not difficult.

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    These long, involved menu systems are primarily designed to discourage people from actually contacting the company or organization, thereby lessening their workload. As a bonus, nobody can complain about poor products or service or request a refund.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    looked for a number this morning regarding a change of tax district to find out where it had been relocated to the warning on the page was obvious but it was an 090 number at £1.53 per minute for the first minute and then £1.53 for each subsequent minute, nice work if you can get it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    I avoid having to call anyone, unless absolutely MANDATORY. stuck on the phone pushing buttons and listening to music, waiting several years for someone to answer.. give me a break i want to enjoy the years of my life left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    Getting info about people from telecom companies who very happily sell all of your details on to a third party for a profit will mean that you get a call. TPS system is good to avoid this system, until the moment when the TPS people accidentally give out their details by not signing a box, or trying to buy something through eBAY etc. Once they have done this, the TPS rule no longer applies.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    I used to write these systems decades ago (I wrote some of the first in the UK) and one of the greatest difficulties was to get clients to keep menu options simple and to make usability the prime requirement. Some of the systems I've heard are so horrendously unusable and badly designed it makes me cringe. But these days fresh graduates write these systems and it shows.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    The pain of labouring through these menus is unberable but when faced with an 0844, 0845 or 0870 number go to the SAYNOTO0870.COM website and find the alternative number. Simples!

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    @472.waitedtoolong. I never had a problem with HMRC, and the advisors are great (but then I only ever made one mistake with my P11D). I have been using the oneline servies and they are OK. As is HMRC RTE,
    @all: I am not fond of big organisations but I can see that making it right for everyone is hard. Which! always give good advice on Cust Service.


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