Time Is Money -- and This Website Can Save You Some

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"Voice mail hell." DefiniThing.com defines the expression this way:

"When accessing a voice mail phone answering system, one becomes lost, going down the wrong path or getting stuck in a loop, unable to get pertinent information or leave a message with the appropriate party."

We've all been there, trying to get through to someone in customer service at a company, only to find there are a half-dozen menus we must navigate before reaching someone who can help. Or more likely, reaching a point where we're put on hold waiting for someone who might be able to help ...

Welcome to Voice Mail Hell. Please Take a Number

In 2013, Time magazine reported that the average American spends 13 hours a year on hold. Over the course of a lifetime, that's 43 days spent on hold, says Huffington Post.

On a smaller scale, receptionist services company Conversational Receptionists reported last year that U.S. callers wait on hold for an average of 56 seconds a call. And according to The Washington Post, calls to one notable suburb of voice mail hell -- the IRS -- kept taxpayers on hold as much as 30 minutes a call last tax season. And many of those calls were ultimately dropped through an Orwellian service described as "courtesy disconnects."

Inc. magazine estimates that across the nation, time wasted in voice mail hell drains $130 billion from the U.S. economy every year in lost worker productivity. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Time Is Money

As the Inc. statistic confirms, time (lost in voice mail hell) really is money. But two great companies are doing their best to put time back in your hourglass, and money back in your pocket.

The first, CallPromise, looks at the problem from the perspective of the company taking the calls. With products such as "in-call virtual queuing," CallPromise enables a company to estimate the time a new caller will wait on hold before his or her call can be answered. In a prerecorded message, it then offers the caller the option of not waiting around, hanging up instead, and getting a callback when a customer service rep is available.

Putting You Back in Control

A second company tackles the problem from the consumer's perspective. GetHuman will give you several options for avoiding voice mail hell.

In cooperation with CallPromise, GetHuman permits you to look up a company or government agency on its website -- the IRS, for example -- enter your phone number in a callback box, and then ... Just go about your business, and wait for the IRS to call you back. No 30-minute wait times. No dropped calls.

Alternatively, the company collects tips from consumers, and conducts its own research as well, to discover the best phone numbers to call to quickly drive through voice mail hell and reach a human customer service rep. For example, for cable company Comcast (CMCSA)(CMCSK), GetHuman offers you:
  • a general support number right up front
  • a different number for new customers to call to set up service
  • a third number to check out deals and packages Comcast is offering
  • plus the CallPromise get-a-callback tool as well.
Of course, even the numbers GetHuman digs up sometimes have voice mail systems attached to them. For these instances, GetHuman provides a cheat sheet of which buttons to push to move quickly through the system (without having to listen to each prerecorded menu option).

For example, when calling Comcast, GetHuman suggests you "Press 0# each time it asks for a phone number," and then wait. If you're a current customer, you'll always want to have the last four digits of your Social Security number handy and be ready to enter those, followed by dialing 1, then 2, on the next two menus.

Is All This Really Necessary?

It depends. Presumably, most companies have all this information on their websites ... somewhere. But the great thing about GetHuman is that it starts saving you time from the get-go. Search for any company name at all, and if it's in their database, they'll give you a number to call right away, without having to click around a website looking for it.

And if you don't think that's enough to save you some time... grab a stopwatch, click through to Comcast's website, and see how long it takes you to find a customer service number yourself. Go ahead. I dare you.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith has no financial interest in any company named above. But he just bookmarked two of their webpages -- and will give you three guesses which ones.

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