My Guide To Avoiding On-Hold Telephone Hell

Have you ever wondered how much time we spend waiting for our telephone calls to be dealt with?  As a nation, we Brits are no strangers to queuing but with the increase in call centres and automated telephone systems, there’s no such thing as a ‘quick call’ anymore.

Red telephone handset and cord
There’s nothing worse than being kept waiting on the phone!

And it’s probably no surprise to learn that “your call is valued” was recently voted the most irritating phrase to hear whilst waiting for your telephone call to be dealt with.

The survey by Which? found that the most useful information was

* Being told average call waiting times (33% of respondents)
* Being informed of a caller’s position in the queue (32%)
* An offer of being called back (30%)

The preferred choice of backing track was classical music – although brace yourself – I am already hearing reports of Christmas music starting to irritate callers across the UK.

Anyone who has braved the telephone system at HMRC (average waiting time 47 minutes!) will know the combination of hope and annoyance well.  You daren’t put the phone down because what if your call is about to be miraculously answered?

It certainly doesn’t feel as if your call is valued, does it?

So is there anything we can do?

There are now online companies who help you find relevant telephone numbers in the particular area you are looking for – for example, banks, broadband, and mobile providers and utilities, or government departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions.  Who wants to wait for hours on end to sort out their benefit claims or queries?

Do bear in mind, however, that these services are not free and all 0843 numbers are charged up to seven pence per minute.  There may also be an additional access charge levied by your chosen network carrier.

Or you could try these:-

Have all the information to hand

You might find it useful to start a home file for, say, your internet or utility provider with a list of direct lines and contact names to have to hand before your call.

On the front of the file, I would place a large sticker that has your account number so that you don’t have to go rooting around to find it.

It’s also worth keeping a list on your PC (mine is handwritten in a book for safety) of internet account passwords – tip – don’t make your password “password” or if it’s numeric “0000”!

For example, when I contact my domain name provider, not only do I have to give a customer number and a password but I also need to give them a 4 digit pin code.

Many banks will have ‘memorable questions’ as part of their online security so it is worth recording your answers to these as well.

Call off-peak 

It’s often pointless trying to call first thing Monday morning or last thing on Friday afternoon unless you want your position in the queue to be closer to 10 than 1.

Know who you want to speak to

Is there a contact name with their direct telephone number on any correspondence?

Find out how much your call is likely to cost  

Here’s Ofcom’s guide to phone charges.  Numbers starting with 0500, 0800, and 0808 are free but other business numbers starting with 08 are chargeable business numbers.

It’s worth finding out how much your call is likely to charge you before picking up the phone!

Go online

Sometimes it’s quicker to route your query via a website and lots of companies now offer online chat or a virtual assistant who can answer basic queries. You’ll also save on heavy call charges (see above).

Email instead

If you do have any correspondence, is there an email address you could use – ideally to a named contact rather than

I sometimes think an email is more likely to be opened and actioned quickly simply because bosses can monitor their employees’ inboxes to check that work is being done.

And what about the calls made to us from companies?

I am sure you are familiar with the automated dialing systems which plague us with silent calls or those recorded messages about insulation schemes or PPI (probably soon to be replaced with information about reclaiming your bank overdraft charges).

You could register with the Telephone Preference Service which is free.  This is the official central opt-out register where you can record your preference not to receive unsolicited sales or marketing calls.

It is a legal requirement that all organizations (including charities, voluntary organizations, and political parties) do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS unless they have your consent to do so.

But, whilst our data is still being sold from the Electoral Roll and companies where we have not opted out of allowing our personal information to be used, (DVLA for example), relying on the TPS alone is unlikely to stop the deluge of cold calls.

Until many UK companies get to grips with call handling, consumers are going to have to get savvy and plan their calls with military precision.

And pray that we’re not listening to “Fairytale of New York” from now until Boxing Day.

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