Get the Help You Need Without the Hold Time

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“Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold.” Have ten more aggravating words ever been uttered? If you're fed up with doing time in customer-service limbo, take heart: Some startups are trying to take the cuss out of customer support by providing free online workarounds.

Fast Customer: This sparsely designed, straightforward site could not be simpler to use. Find a company in the list of more than 3000, click ‘Have them call me’, enter your phone number, and go about your business. A representative will call you back. You won't get a call until an actual conversant human being is on the phone, so no more navigating time-consuming phone trees or entering account numbers only to be shuffled back into a queue. The site lists a wait-time estimate before you send your request, so you have an idea of when to expect a call.

Fast Customer’s company list breaks out subcategories, such as “Dell: Tech Support” and “Dell: Customer Service,” so you can direct your call appropriately. It has a forum for user comments and feedback, as well, plus apps for iOS and Android. You can also use the service via text.

In addition, Fast Customer provides feedback on how customers feel about each company—when I checked, for example, 35 percent of Dell customers reported that they were “happy” with the company, 38 percent said “meh,” and 27 percent reported “bad” feelings. (Are you listening, Dell?)

LucyPhone: Can you guess how this site got its name? Think acronyms: Let Us Call You. It works in much the same way as Fast Customer. Select a number from the list or enter a toll-free number if you have it, and click Start; Lucy will call you back and patch you through.

You’ll probably still need to navigate the phone-tree jungle; if you are put on hold, however, you can press “**” (“##” on Google Voice) to leave a message for the agent who takes your call, or you can leave a call-back number. Once an agent is on the line, Lucy will call you back. A mobile version is available for iOS and Android.

GetHuman: Although GetHuman can connect you to the appropriate customer service department (courtesy of LucyPhone), it also offers an extensive collection of all the methods to contact a company, including phone numbers and email addresses for various departments.

Better still, the site ranks each contact method’s effectiveness, based on user data. For example, when I checked Facebook’s listing, it had about half a dozen contact options, from phone to email to chat. The site also lists the best way to reach a company (for Facebook, it’s email). You’ll find average wait times and user forums, too. GetHuman is also available as an app for Android and iOS.

It’s worth noting that companies are starting to offer their own callback services. For instance, Google’s Play Store has a “Click 2 Call” option for some product categories: Fill out your name, phone number, and a brief description of the issue and the product it involves, and an agent will call you back.

Tips for Resolving Support Issues

Ready for that call? Here’s how to resolve issues efficiently:

  • Research your problem thoroughly first. Try googling the issue, or search the company’s customer forum.
  • Collect all information and documentation, including email, call records, and invoices.
  • Take careful notes of all conversations. Ask for the agent’s name and contact information, and find out if you can contact the agent directly.
  • Explain the problem, and spell out the exact resolution you want. Stick to the relevant details.
  • Finally, a reminder about honey, flies, and customer service: Even if you are apoplectic with righteous outrage, take a deep breath, and avoid taking your frustrations out on the agent. A direct but consistently polite demeanor is best.
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