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12 ways to get out of recorded-message hell and get a live customer service rep.
October 30, 2003: 4:35 PM EST
By Nicole Zeitzer, CNNfn Smart Assets Producer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - It's safe to say we've probably all been victims of automated customer-service hell. I mean, of course, that maze of choices we're forced to listen to when we call a bank or an airline before, hopefully, being connected to a live voice.

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CNNfn's Valerie Morris shares tips on how to escape automated customer service and shares a few codes that will help you get a human on the phone.

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The live operator has increasingly become the target of corporate cost-cutting efforts. Push-button phone menus or virtual agents are replacing human beings.

You might be thinking, "Can't I just press 'zero' and be directed to a real person?" Many companies have dropped that option, leaving the caller no choice but to listen to that dreaded automated menu.

Sometimes, however there are escape codes; a combination of keys that will open the gates to a live voice.

The banking industry

  • If you're a Chase customer you could skip the automated menu by pressing 5 then pause and hit 1-4-star and zero.
  • Bank of America's escape code used to be hitting zero twice, but they may be on to us. Now you must hit zero three times.
  • You can still just press "zero" to get an operator when you call Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual.

The credit card industry

  • American Express customers can hit zero to bypass the automated menu, but be patient. It will ask for your 15-digit card account number, which you may ignore. It will then say "We do not recognize your input," which you also ignore, and you will soon be connected to a live operator.
  • MasterCard holders can hit zero three times for a live voice.

The airline industry

  • You can bypass American Airlines' menu by pressing zero twice, then when the virtual woman says she will need some information, just say "Agent."
  • For a Continental airline live operator press 3.
  • Northwest Airlines press the star key then zero.
  • Southwest Airlines actually has live operators answer every call. If they're busy you'll be put on hold, but there's no automated menu.

PC support

  • If you want to reach a live voice at Gateway, hit zero twice, but be prepared to wait on Hold for a little while.
  • For Hewlett-Packard say "agent" when you're first prompted to speak.
  • We found no magic bullet to bypass Dell, Apple, or IBM's automated voice menus.
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