"It is just maddening for me," said Paul English, a Boston-area resident who has vented about the issue on his blog.

More companies are using automated customer service systems because it is much cheaper. A customer service call handled by a human in the United States costs a company up to a dollar a minute, and calls outsourced to India cost about 40 cents a minute.

A computer system can handle a call for less than 15 cents a minute.

But when you have a broken appliance, credit problem or complaint, what a computer can't do is feel your pain.

"If you are frustrated, humans want contact," English said. "You want someone who is empathetic and can help you."


Beating the System

English didn't just get mad he got even. He used his blog to create a cheat sheet a combination of numbers and codes that will take you right to a human at more than 100 major companies.

One of the best tricks is to keep dialing 0 or "pound," even when the system says it doesn't understand. It will eventually connect you to a person.

There are other codes and numbers that bypass some computers. At Sony, keep saying "agent" again and again and again. For Dell, once you get the computer, dial 726-6966.

English learns his secrets through trial and error, e-mails from other frustrated consumers and even from disgruntled workers inside big companies. Although he has made some businesses nervous, he got a complimentary message from one executive.

"She said, 'This is great. I love your system. This has helped me with a particular company,'" English said. "And then she said, "P.S.: I'm glad you don't have my company on there yet.' And I replied, and I said, 'I will.'"

ABC News' John Berman reported this story for World News Tonight.


IVR Cheat Sheet to Find a Human

Here are the secret numbers and tips to bypass IVR phone menus to get to a human. Do you know a new cheat? Suggest it here. See also more information.

finance phone steps to find a human
American Express 800-528-4800 0
ATT Universal 800-950-5114 ###
Bank of America 800-900-9000 1 loan; 2 account; 3 investing; 4 info; or 00 to human
Bank One 877-226-5663 0,0
Capital One Visa 800-867-0904 ignore prompts and invalid entry warnings; press #0 four times
Charles Schwab 800-435-9050 3 then 0
Chase 800-CHASE24 5 pause 1 4
CitiBank 800-374-9700 1 online support; 2 billpay; 3 non-online; 4 credit card; or 0 to human
Discover 800-347-2683 ****
E-Trade 800-387-2331 ####
Fidelity 800-544-6666 ignore prompt for social security number, just enter ###
MasterCard 800-MC-ASSIST 000 on each menu
MBNA 800-421-2110 00# when menu starts
Paypal 650 864-8000 cf http://paypalsucks.com/PayPalPhoneNumbers.shtml
Sovereign Bank 800-SOV-BANK 1 english; 1 personal; 3 then social#; passcode, #; then 0 (1-3x)
Sun Trust Banks 404-588-7815 Yes
US Bank 800-US BANKS 0000
Visa 800-847-2911 000 (ignore prompts saying that it's an invalid entry)
Wachovia 800-922-4684 accounts personal banking
Washington Mutual 800-756-8000 At any time after the announcement(s) press 0,0.
Wells Fargo 800-869-3557 0,0,0
Western Union 800-325-6000 * then ##
government phone steps to find a human
INS 800-375-5283 After selecting English, (with a 2 second delay between) 2 6 2 4
Social Security 800-772-1213 00 will confuse computer and send you to an agent
Veterans Affairs 800-827-1000 1,0
insurance phone steps to find a human
Aetna 800-537-9384 "2, then say ""operator"" (check this)"
Aetna 800-680-3566 * then 0 anytime
AFLAC 800-99-AFLAC ***
Ameritas 800-745-1112 0,0,0
Cigna 800-849-9000 ##
GEICO 800-841-3000 Wait for prompt then 6, 1, 5
Humana 800-4-HUMANA After entering insurance number and details, 0.
Medicare 800-633-4227 "After the opening prompt say ""agent""."
Principal Life 800-247-4695 1 for english, 2, then 0 several times until it redirects you to an operator.
pharmacy phone steps to find a human
CVS local listing dial local store, after promt. press 6 will connect to store manager
Eckerd 800-eckerds 0 for pharmacy, 8* for manager
Rite Aid Local Store Press 3 to speak to the pharmacy
Walgreens local store 0 for a pharmacy employee
products phone steps to find a human
Bose 800-444-2673 Direct to human!
Sonos 800-680-2345 1 sales; 2 support
Sony 800-222-7669 "When prompted by the automated voice system to answer ANY questions, just say ""Agent"""
retail phone steps to find a human
Advance Auto 800-314-4243 0 when the automated message begins
Amazon.com 800-201-7575 Direct to human!
Best Buy 800-365-0292 00*
Best Buy local store wait for extension prompt (sometimes must 4), then ext. 2021
Circuit City local store 0 for customer service or 218 for store manager
eBay 800-322-9266 0,0
Home Depot 800 677-0232 "When asked for account number, keep hitting ""#"". After 5 or 6 times, a human appears!"
Home Shopping Net 800-284-3100 0
Ikea 800 434-IKEA "0000000 (hit ""0"" many times fast, if you do it once, or too slow, it will merely repeat the menu)"
K-Mart local store 0
Kohl's 800 5645740 After providing account info, press 0 three times
Lowes local store 0 for customer service or #450 for commercial sales
Old Navy 800-OLD-NAVY 0
Overstock.com 800-843-2446 At the main menu, 0 three to four times to bypass the menu
QVC 800-367-9444 0
Safeway local store As soon as voice prompt starts type 1200 to get human
Sears 800-4-MY-HOME Silence don't push numbers just sit there and you will be placed at front of queue.
Target local store 0 during greeting.
"Toys ""R"" Us" local store 0
Wal-Mart 800-925-6278 1 for directory
shipping phone steps to find a human
DHL 800-225-5345 press 1, press 5, press 0, enter your phone number.
FedEx 888-GO-FEDEX "At message say ""Representative"""
UPS 800-pick-ups 0,0
USPS 800-275-8777 7-3-2-0-0 or send them some junk mail
technology phone steps to find a human
AOL 800-827-6364 0
Apple 800-275-2273 "000; if virtual rep answers, say ""operator"""
Compaq 800-652-6672 No easy escape
Dell 888-560-8324 2 order; 3 support; 4 purchase help; or 00 to human
Dell Service 800-624-9897 option 1, xt 7266966, option 1, option 4, option 4
Earthlink 888-earthlink 1 find a dialin number; 2 billing; 3 sales; 4 support
Epson 800-922-8911 yes
Gateway 800-846-2301 00#
HP 800-474-6836 "Say ""agent""."
HP 888-560-8324 00
IBM 800-IBM-4YOU You go into a hold queue immediately
Microsoft 800-936-5700 Always 0. This is true for just about any MS number.
QuickBooks 888-729-1996 1 purchase; 2 billing; 3 registration; 4 tech support or 0 to human
Symantec 800-441-7234 00
telco phone steps to find a human
AT&T 800-222-0300 #### then 1 if for current phone, else 2 to enter other, else 3
AT&T Wireless 800-888-7600 No easy escape
BellSouth 877-678-2355 *0
Cellular One 888-910-9191 "4, say ""agent"", then #"
Cingular 800-331-0500 For faster service, the option that you are looking to close your account, You get the same ppl but an immediate answer
Nextel 800-639-6111 0 five times
SBC 800-585-7928 Again, an (intelligent, this time) IVR wants YOUR phone number first.
Sprint PCS 888-788-5001 "If live person does not answer, 00, then say ""agent"""
T-Mobile 800-TMOBILE "Say ""representative"" at any time."
Verizon DSL 800 567 6789 "Say ""I don't know it"" then ""technician"""
Verizon Wireless 800-922-0204 #00 or enter phone # then 0 then 4
travel phone steps to find a human
American Airlines 800-433-7300 "00, then say ""agent"""
Amtrak 800-872-7245 "0 or say ""agent"""
Delta 800-221-1212 "say ""agent"" four times - every time it asks for a response from you"
jetBlue 800 JET-BLUE 1 flight status; 2 reservations; 3 vacation packages
Kayak.com 203 899-3120 0
Northwest 800-225-2525 Star, 0,0 after initial greeting
Southwest 800-435-9792 Calls answered by operator; during busy times you might have to hold
United 800-864-8331 Do nothing, wait for human.
US Airways 800-428-4322 4, wait, 1
Walt Disney World 407-824-4521 Direct line to Magic Kingdom Guest Relations
tv/satellite phone steps to find a human
Comcast 800-266-2278 Customer service, but an IVR wants your number first.
Direct TV 800-347-3288 0 repeatedly
Dish Network 800-333-3474 0 during menu
Sirius 888 537-SIRIUS 0
TiVo 877-367-8486 "Say ""Live Agent"""
Xm Radio 800-998-7900 Direct to human!

108 companies listed as of Wed 23-Nov-2005 6:26 PM. This page is updated frequently. See more information.