customer service

I used to think I spent a healthy dose of time on the phone with customer service. Like the time I was renewing my two-year plan with Verizon Wireless and received a 119-minute voice overage charge the next month  (hint: I didn't actually go over my minutes, but that took about 3 phone calls to resolve).  Or several months ago when we lost our health insurance after Paul was laid off and I was on the phone with USAA learning about our new insurance options.

But now that I work for myself, I seem to be spending even more time on the phone with customer service reps.

It seems like almost once a week I have to call customer service to resolve some sort of technical issue or ask a question to get important information. I’ve logged many hours on the phone over the last few years disputing bills, adding money back into our monthly cash flow, starting and shutting down service, dealing with our credit card numbers being stolen, setting up an email system…the list could go on and on.

The great thing about this is that I've become somewhat of an expert on how to get through to a live person. Because let's face it, you generally can't get anything outside-of-the-box done without a live rep (and aren't most reasons for calling customer service because it's an out-of-the-box issue?).

Companies Charging to Talk to a Live Agent?

Calling customer service reps to take care of issues is commonplace for most people and we all experience one of the biggest frustrations with it: the lack of human interaction on the other end. If you could just talk to a live person and explain a problem that options A, B, and C from the first menu, and options 1-9 on the second menu cannot answer, then you would waste much less time and could get on with your day. In fact, most people are so frustrated with automated systems that they do not call at all, and just fork over the extra money on their bill even though they know they are being overcharged.

Businesses do not have the motivation to provide lots of live agents; if they can take care of most of the problems through an automated system, then they’ve cut down on their operating expense. And because the automated system frustrates so many of us, they further cut down on operating expenses by discouraging phone calls. Even more appalling is the fact that some companies are now charging their customers money to speak to a live person! According to Money Magazine’s July 2010 issue, If you want to order a pay-per-view movie with a live agent over the phone at DirecTV (and I purposefully have italicized the ‘direct’ part of their name), you will have to pay a $5 fee above the cost of the show. Making a credit card payment with HSBC with a live person will run you $15.

Fortunately, speaking with a live agent generally does not cost money, only a lot of time to get through all the muck. I’d like to use my expertise to help you get to a live agent as quickly as possible, based on years of trial and error and being spit back out to the main menu. While these tips will not work on every system, I have found them to work on most, which should cut down on your wasted time, energy, and money. Be aware that some of these tips are sneaky…but so are all of the ways companies have conjured up to separate you from a human being.

4 Ways to Get through to a Live Agent

  1. By Voice: Say “Agent” or “Representative” sternly into the phone. Many systems are voice activated through each of the menus. You can also say that you want to cancel the service, and your chances of being patched through to a live person will increase immensely (thanks, ADRealty!).
  2. By Keypad: Press “0” in a menu. This is typically a default to connect you through to a service rep. If it does not work in the main menu, try it in the second menu, and the third. In most systems, you do not need to hear all of the options of each menu in order to press a number.
  3. By Placing an Order: You do not actually need to place an order, but most systems will punch you through to a live rep if they know you are going to buy something from them. From there you can ask to be directly connected to whichever department you need. ***Word to the wise, once you find that most rare of species (a live agent), ask for their direct line number in case you are cut-off during the transfer.
  4. By Selecting Tech Support: Once again, I know that you do not need tech support, but select this option because you will most likely be put through to a live rep. Once there, they can directly transfer you to any department you need (and will likely be happy to pass you off).

Using these techniques has helped me to crack even the most seemingly non-human of systems to get my issue resolved. I’d love to hear of your own tricks to get through to live service reps in the comments below.

14 replies
  1. ADRealty
    ADRealty says:

    Sometimes I say I want to end my subscription or service and I get an operator right away because they don’t want to lose my business.

  2. grev
    grev says:

    I’m in the UK and stumbled on your site. Good work! … I find either hitting # or * will bypass automated systems 9 times out of 10.

  3. serdar
    serdar says:


    There is a better way. Install the app Fastcustomer. First, you save your phone number in the app. Then, choose one of the thousands of companies in the list. The app will go through the phone tree and ring your phone as soon as it reaches the live customer service. How cool is that!! Give it a try!!

  4. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    Or try this: do nothing.

    Some systems are still set up so that if you do not have touch tone phone, you can just wait a minute or two without pressing anything, and you will be sent through to a live person.

    • Dolph Hoover
      Dolph Hoover says:

      I’ve tried this back when my lenovo tablet wasn’t working for a day and a half and it worked. Turns out the tablet is notified on what to do and it is preventing itself from overheating Point of the story is, sometimes if you give it a rest it’ll be fine.

  5. Samuel
    Samuel says:

    It definitely sucks to wait for some help.

    I don’t use the phones enough to become irritated when the wait is so long.

    But I feel for those like yourself when the music won’t ever stop playing!

    Thanks for sharing some of your tips, keep up the good work on your blog.

    – Sam


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Frugal Confessions says:

    […] How to Get Through to a Live Person in Customer Service: I have spent many a lunch hour on the phone with customer service. Learn how to get through the recordings and machines and talk to a real person who can help you from my experiences. […]

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