CalcentremansmallI have a lovely telephone company.  Through the magic of mergers, it’s also my mobile phone company, my Internet service provider and (if I had a TV) my cable company. Multiple services mean multiple reasons to contact its customer service line.

And there the loveliness ends. The organization that enables me to communicate with you and the rest of the universe seems intent on preventing customers from communicating with its helpful help desk.

Place a call to the customer care line and you’re connected with an interactive voice response system (IVR). In other words, a fake guy, with an incessantly cheerful recorded voice tries to guess why you’re calling. Our IVR Guy has advanced beyond the "Press 1 for billing enquiries" stage and saves you the digital wear and tear of button pushing. All you have to do is speak the right words.

Pray the situation fits the options offered. Unless he hears the magic words, this poor man apologizes. "I’m sorry," he says, "I must
have misunderstood. Can you repeat that please?" Welcome to Canada, where even our robots are polite.

Outwitting the robot – Since there’s no
officially sanctioned way to bypass IVR Guy, getting to a real person requires creativity, if not cunning.

I try the obvious. Silence. IVR Guy apologizes. I state a firm, "No!" Another apology. I try, "Human" and "Operator!" IVR Guy seems to be getting a bit stressed, himself. "You seem to be having difficulty. Would you like me to repeat the instructions?" I press O and #.  I resist the temptation to swear.

After babbling potential passwords for what seems like hours, I reach a human being who handles my request with speed and charm. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what I said to get to him.

Help is on its way – The increasing use of IVR systems has created a new passtime for consumers. Hacking the system. At www.gethuman.com you will find people dedicated to getting quality phone support from the companies whose products and services they use. They publish the magic words and phone pad keys that will hook consumers to a live human being at banks, health care agencies,  utility companies and other IVR-enabled organizaitons in the US  www.gethuman.com/us, Canada  www.gethuman.com/ca and the UK www.gethuman.com/uk.

Can you guess the magic words for IVR Guy at my phone company? Cry out, three times,  "Customer Service. Customer Service. Customer Service." I kid you not!