I managed to browbeat an Interactive voice response system!

Interactive voice response (IVR) systems are notoriously annoying. As the joke goes, “For a list of all the ways that Technology has failed to improve the quality of your life, please press 3″…

Some IVR systems are better than others; the best will make allowance for the user’s need to get around them. I ran into a good one today. I called Continental Airlines to do a seat assignment, and this IVR setup gives me a bunch of options that don’t include what I want.

On a hunch, I said loudly: “I want to talk to an agent!”
System: “I think you said you want to talk to an agent. But if you give me your flight details first, I can help the agent serve you faster” (or something to that effect).
I play along and give the flight details to the machine.
System: “OK, your flight is confirmed, as follows […] You can hang up now”.
WTF?!! Hey, it promised! So I say, firmly and loudly:
“I want to talk to an agent!”
System: “OK, I’ll transfer you now”.

Got it? I took a stand and the system capitulated! Have to hand it to them, though: they never mentioned the option to talk to a human, but they included the speech recognition to identify when I ask for it. Good job! [well… almost. I was euphoric for of the three seconds until the system helpfully added: “your waiting time will be approximately 25 minutes”. And it was good at its word this time].

5 Responses to “I managed to browbeat an Interactive voice response system!”


  1. 1 Adam Greenberg

    Thanks for stopping by the Ifbyphone blog. This is a funny post – and it sounds like Continental Airlines has some decent IVR practices in place, but needs to let people know about the access to human help. Also, when you say once that you need a live person, they should transfer you right away.

  2. 2 Ilya Zeldes

    Nathan, whenever I get to automated system which provides no usable option for me, I hit the “0” key, sometimes twice. In most instances it works…
    Thanks for inviting me to see your blog. I’ve enjoyed it.

  3. 3 deanna

    I am still alughing as I have had similar experiences. good to have the recognition. i often find myself yelling for the operator and I think 50%, maybe more, it works. If not pressing 0. I also try every number as in some instances they are tricky and use “3” to get to the operator. Great post, enjoyed it and if only there was something useful they could provide for that 20 min wait. Maybe some services at our employer could learn too. travel reservation, IT support…..hmmm, should I continue?

  4. 4 Chip Camden

    For DirecTV, as soon as they ask the reason for your call, say “DISCONNECT SERVICE!”. A friendly human will be on the line pronto.

  1. 1 Human or IVR? A reverse Turing Test! at Commonsense Design

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