Caller Tips

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Free directory assistance & calling

If you dial 411 from your mobile phone, stop. Almost all carriers charge a fee, and those fees can add up over the course of a month or a year. 

To find the toll-free phone number for US-based companies, call 1-800-555-1212 (AT&T).

 To obtain company and government phone numbers at no charge, the best solutions are either 1-800-GOOG-411 (Google) or 1-800-BING-411 (Microsoft).  These work great from mobile phones since they are hands-free and they even complete the call for you at no charge.  They both also deliver the number to your cellphone as a text message.  The Microsoft service also includes turn-by-turn directions.  It also has options to provide weather, sports, traffic, movie and travel information, as well as stock quotes and places to obtain cheap gas.

Another service (1-800-FREE-411) is available that provides free business and residential phone numbers.  You need to listen to audio ads, though, which are pretty gross and you need to dial the number which makes it a challenge to call from a mobile phone.  Useful for finding residential numbers at no charge, though.

For companies who try to hide their phone numbers, many times the Google search will find a page from a disgruntled customer who exposes the phone numbers for that company. For example, see these gripe pages about and PayPal and these for eBay and Walmart.


Getting to a human

For calling enterprises that are not in the gethuman database, you will need to figure out how to get to a human. Once you have a phone number, here are some tips to try to get to a live human:

  1. Interrupt. Press 0 (or 0# or #0 or 0* or *0) repeatedly, sometimes quickly. Unfortunately the same keystroke does not always work for each company. Many automation systems will connect to a human after a few "invalid entries", although some  will hangup. :-(

  2. Talk. Say "get human" (or "agent" or "representative") or raise your voice, or just mumble. :) The IVR might connect you to a human after one of these key or unknown phrases.

  3. Just hold, pretending you have only an old rotary phone.

  4. Connect to account collections or sales or account cancellation; they always seem to answer quickly. First ask them for their name and rep number (so they know you are writing it down, and thus so they are more likely to help you.) Then ask them to transfer you to the department you need. Sometimes they will put you ahead of the queue, although sometimes they will send you to the end (and thus in those cases this tip is useless).

  5. Toll call. For credit cards, if the expected wait time is too long, hangup and try to call back on their non-toll-free number, as they often have shorter queues.

  6. Selecting the option for Spanish will sometimes get you a bilingual human more quickly than if you just waited for an English-only operator.

When you do finally find a human, ask them how to connect directly the next time (in case your call gets disconnnected etc), and be sure to tell us so we can then list their number here. :-). 

Can’t communicate properly with the agent

Increasingly, American customer support jobs are being outsourced to regions of

the world where the cost of labor is considerably cheaper.


In many instances, this has created a severe communication problem.  The callers are not able to understand what the agent is saying and the agent does not understand the caller.


What can you do about it?   One thing to do is to tell us about your experience with a call.  If you click on the name of the business, you will be taken to a very brief (less than 5 second) survey where you can tell us if the agent was understandable or not.   During the next months we are planning to confront the businesses that are providing agents that are unable to communicate properly. 


Another thing that you can do is ask the agent to connect you to the supervisor.  Then ask the supervisor to connect you to North American based call center.

See also the gethuman standard for a description of how automation system should work, and the consumer tip on using Spanish operators to get to an English speaking operator. :-)



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