Top tips to beat the call-centre maze

Which? puts infuriating call centre phone systems to the test to find the best way to get through to a real person.

Call centre menus, known as Interactive Voice Response systems (IVR), are designed to channel calls to the correct department, but they often leave consumers baffled and frustrated.

Consumers have told us they have suffered at the hands of the telecoms market so we tested BT, Sky, Talk Talk and Virgin Media call-centre phone systems.

We found these top tips helped us to beat the call-centre:

  • Pressing 0 – this will get Sky and Virgin Media customers straight through to an operator, *0 will put Sky customers straight through, and Virgin Media customers will need to input their number and then *0.
  • Keypad bashing – randomly pressing a sequence of keys confuses Sky’s IVR and will put you through to a real person, as will pressing the # key twice.
  • Free ‘WeQ4u’ app – this app keeps your place and calls you back when an operator is available, plus it saves money if you’re calling a premium rate number.
  • Web chat – this should get you talking to an adviser within minutes. Sky says it’s the quickest way to get an answer and BT claims an advisor will respond within 30 seconds.
  • Email or twitter – send an email or tweet to the company with your complaint, 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.

TalkTalk customers can also try the sales number which gets you speaking to a person and then ask to be transferred to customer services, and BT customers can try the same trick by calling head-office, or by using the ‘calling from overseas’ number, where they’ll need to state their account number before being put straight through to an adviser.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said:

“It is maddening to be asked to choose from a series of options by a machine when you just want to speak to a human, especially when you want to complain. Six in ten of us say we avoid using companies because of a reputation for poor customer service so firms should try harder to get it right and stop wasting their customers’ time.”

Notes to Editors

  1. We tested customer service at the four companies by asking real customers to pose three questions – how much it would cost to cancel a contract, what package they were on and how long remained on their contract. Which? also asked BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media customers to call their company and pose three simple questions to test out the customer service provided. We assessed each company based on how long it took to get through to a real person, the total length of the call and how friendly and helpful the advisers were. In the worst cases it took eight minutes to get through to an operator at Sky, and 17 minutes for a BT adviser to answer simple questions.
  2. We found BT’s IVR system was the most confusing. BT said they are investing in speech-recognition software to make it easier for customers to contact them and get connected to an adviser.
  3. Call-centre menus can change so some of our tips might not always work in the future.
  4. 61% of people surveyed agreed that they have avoided using a company because of its reputation for poor customer service. Methodology: Populus surveyed 2057 UK adults online between 28 March and 1 April 2013.  Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all UK adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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