My colleague Chris Mihill and I have been talking lately about companies whose customer service lines don’t let you speak to a human being. Instead, they stick you into those voice-mail hellholes from which there is no escape. Chris related this true story of just such an encounter he had the other day:

He and his wife were home late one evening when the phone rang. His wife answered and there was a metallic-sounding voice spewing something not quite intelligible, so she hung up. Two minutes later, the phone rang again, she answered, and it was the same thing, so she hung up again. Two more minutes went by before the phone rang, but this time Chris picked it up. He listened for a few seconds, hung up, and to try to cut this nonsense off, he called the SBC operator.

He told the human who answered that he wanted to report harassing phone calls. She told him she couldn’t take that report, but gave him the SBC number that could handle his complaint. He hung up and dialed that number. Here’s where the fun starts.

Instead of a human, he now was in an automated system that said he could push 1 to report a problem with residential service, push 2 to report a problem with business service, push 3 to report a problem with long distance service, etc. After going through a few of these prompts and pressing the appropriate buttons, Chris was getting more and more frustrated. Finally, a voice-recognition prompt urged him to explain his problem out loud, and suggested a couple of examples like “no incoming service” or “can’t make long distance calls.”

At the beep, Chris said, “Harassing phone calls!” There was a pause, the automated system said, “thank you,” followed by another pause before the machine responded with this classic question: “Would you like to order this service??”

That’s when Chris slammed the receiver down, disconnected the phone for the night, and went to bed.

The next day, after telling me this story, he said he had found an indispensable resource. No, it’s not that SBC now offers harassing phone calls on demand.

Chris has found a website that gives you numbers to use to get through to an actual human being. I’ve tried it and since it works, I’ve bookmarked it and thought you might want it, too.