A blogger named Paul English is attracting attention for helping consumers cut the corporate electronic red tape.

English has posted what he calls a “cheat sheet” filled with tips on how to get past corporate telephone menus to talk to actual humans.

In many cases, simply hitting zero will get customers to real people—that’s the case at Toys ‘R’ Us and QVC—but in other cases it’s more complicated, akin to a code. In the case of Chase Financial, for instance, the reader is told to hit 5, pause, then hit 1 and 4.

For Wells Fargo, a notoriously customer-unfriendly bank, the secret cipher is three zeros in a row.

English also advises customers on what to ignore on phone menus. At Visa the code is three zeros, which will trigger a recording saying that it’s an “invalid entry.” Ignore that prompt, English says, and a person will come on the line. At Fidelity Investments, he says, ignore the demand for a Social Security number and instead hit three pound signs in a row.

For Home Depot, “When asked for account number, keep hitting #. After 5 or 6 times, a human appears!”

English provides similar information for federal agencies (the Internal Revenue Service code, after selecting a language, is 2-6-2-4).

In two cases—Compaq and AT&T Wireless—systems are so resistant to customer friendliness that they defeated all attempts to get in and “No easy escape” is next to their entries. (English conceded that “No easy entrance” would probably have been better wording.)

In some cases, English refers readers to other sources of information. For Paypal, English provides a link to PayPal Sucks, a Web page that reports, “Some may wonder why you have to come to PayPalSucks.com to find the phone number to Paypal? Well the reason is simple: Paypal has so many unhappy customers, that they make it very difficult to find and use their telephone system for support.”

For Amazon Books, English provides a link to Cliché Ideas, which reads, “Looking for the Amazon.com customer service phone number? You certainly won’t find it on their site. In fact, it only shows up on the page that appears immediately after you place an order. You can, however, find it here.” Cliché Ideas also provides direct phone numbers for such shy corporate citizens as Netflix, Yahoo and Ebay.

Just as useful as the information on the sheet is knowledge of who’s not on the sheet. English says some companies, such as Nordstrom’s, are so customer friendly that they don’t need to be listed. And some companies on the list are better than others—phones at Southwest Airlines, for instance, are answered by humans unless there’s a backlog of calls.

Of course, the companies could see English’s sheet as an indication that customers want more personal attention—or they could take action to close off the holes he has opened.

“I hope they’ll choose the second option,” he said. “I get most of my information from their employees, and that source of information will still be there to help me reopen any ports they close.”

The “cheat sheet” is posted at www.PaulEnglish.com/ivr.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...