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Communications Technology

Fonolo Lets You Bypass Company Phone Menus 171

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the just-gimme-a-people dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Fonolo, a Toronto based voice 2.0 company, helps you avoid those annoying company phone menus by letting you skip ahead in the company phone system using a process they call 'deep-dialing.' Just search for the company on their website (apparently they have over 500), and you'll see a visual representation of the company's phone system. Then you just select the option you want, put your phone number in, and Fonolo calls the company on your behalf and dials you back when the agent is available — for free. They have a business product that provides this same service (visual dialing), plus virtual queuing and data pass-through." One company creates a phone system designed to encourage you to hang up to save them money. Another creates a phone system designed to make it easy to stay on hold indefinitely. I wonder where this ends.
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Fonolo Lets You Bypass Company Phone Menus

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  • by shoehornjob (1632387) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @08:48AM (#36540244)
    I think it's called Comcast 4u or something like that. If there's a large que of calls you get the option to have the company call you back when it's your turn. I can't imagine why more companies don't do this.
    • by j-pimp (177072)

      I think it's called Comcast 4u or something like that. If there's a large que of calls you get the option to have the company call you back when it's your turn. I can't imagine why more companies don't do this.

      This will give the companies incentives to do this.A really smart company would let you request a call from their website though.

    • by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @08:54AM (#36540284)

      Because it costs them money and they don't really want to talk to you?

      Let's be honest here, why would a company want you to call their support line? The only reason the line exists at all is to appease you and keep you from canceling the contract. As far as any company is concerned, whether you can use their product or you cannot does only matter insofar as you don't cancel the contract. So you on hold is you not canceling.

    • by shaiberger (2300162) <(shai) (at) (fonolo.com)> on Thursday June 23, 2011 @10:00AM (#36540908)

      Hi there, CEO of Fonolo here.

      Great to see all the enthusiasm!

      > I can't imagine why more companies don't do this.

      That's actually a really interesting question. The idea of letting the customer hang up and then get a call-back when an agent is ready is called "Virtual Queuing" (VQ), and has been around for a long time. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_queuing [wikipedia.org].

      Why don't we see it more often? It is not for lack of interest, as some of the comments have said. There has been strong interest in VQ for a long time. Waiting on hold is actually lose-lose approach to queuing: Customers get pissed off, and the company wastes money (keeping the lines open). There have been virtual queuing systems available for over a decade. They remain rare, not because companies don't want them but because they require installation at the call center and, in today's call center environment, that's costly and often impossible. Why impossible? Because of the widespread use of outsourced call centers. If you're sending some of your calls to a 3rd party, you can't force them to install any custom equipment. For more on this: http://www.shaiberger.com/2010/10/when-will-we-stop-waiting-on-hold [shaiberger.com]

      Brief plug: Fonolo offers a service that allows companies to add virtual queuing without any changes to their call center. http://fonolo.com/features/virtualqueuing [fonolo.com]

      - Shai

      • by gnick (1211984)

        Waiting on hold is actually lose-lose approach to queuing: Customers get pissed off, and the company wastes money (keeping the lines open).

        I suspect that there's some break even point between cost of keeping the line open, an annoyed customer down-grading or cancelling service due to hold time, and money saved by reducing the size of your operator/service pool and potential savings when an annoyed customer gives up without actually tying up an operator OR down-grading/cancelling (maybe not common among the /. crowd, but likely a realistic option).

      • Can we also get visual maps without actually dialing? Verizon frisbees you all over their phone tree with their legendary "I'll get someone who can help you" (either dumps customer back into one of the queues or gets a department that doesn't actually handle your question.)

        With a visual map it might show you what to say to the next wrong rep in the chain.

      • Thanks for the brief explanation. I want to express my appreciation for a CEO who takes the time to present his/her company to people, even if briefly. Thank you.

      • by torqer (538711)

        As someone who manages Virtual Queuing equipment and other call center equipment, like PBX's and such, as an outsourcer, I've found that the primary use of Virtual queuing and customer call backs isn't for the benefit of customers at all. Most times this technology is deployed is when the company is providing regulated service. Often the regulators require calls to be answered in a certain amount of time (let's say 3 minutes), and if the Virtual Hold system answers the call immediately and places the call

      • I have a small request. In the summary, your company is referred to as a "voice 2.0" company. Could you guys please refrain from using terms like that? It comes across as a little "douchey". Thanks.

    • "I can't imagine why more companies don't do this."
      1. Phone systems are expensive.
      2. Most are not using VOIP yet, so they will have to pay for long distance calls back.
      3. Their current system uses "On Hold" as a performance measure.

      • "I can't imagine why more companies don't do this." 3. Their current system uses "On Hold" as a performance measure.

        Excessive hold times actually count against the call center metrics but this callback program doesn't. If it was used more often by other companies they wouldn' have quite as many pissed off people calling them.

        • True, but with their current systems there isn't a way to measure the time from the call to the response back if it hangs up.

    • Apple does this. You can even schedule a best time to call or ASAP. You fill out all your info. Serial number, description of the problem, etc. And when they call you they've already read it. It's also probably why Apple ranks near the top in terms of customer service.

      If you miss your call more than 2x, they'll let you go log back in and reschedule.

    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

      I wish Travelocity would do this. The last time I was in Europe, and burned through the entire hour of prepaid minutes I'd bought for my disposable phone waiting on hold with the Travelocity "VIP" line. Added two more hours of airtime, than called their normal number and got through in "only" 20 minutes. I wanted to kill the guy on the phone when he finally got to me.

      It also doesn't help that nobody at Travelocity ever has better than a 50/50 grasp of the English language, or that they have static on their

  • Please listen (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Machtyn (759119) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @08:49AM (#36540252) Homepage Journal
    "Please listen to the menu options as they have recently changed."

    Yeah, right! When was the last time you recently changed them? Oh, listen, I haven't called company X in over a year, but their menu system has not recently changed, it's been the same for so many years!
    • by ByOhTek (1181381)

      It was recently changed when they added that message. It was then changed when they removed the message, so they had to add it again for accuracy?

    • by netsharc (195805)

      I've been trying to get DOCSIS (Data over Cable) Internet, and it has been a freaking pain of dealing idiocy (strangely, it's the first time in my life that I've had to deal with something that involves multiple phone calls). Luckily the robo-lady stops talking whenever I've pressed the correct menu button even though she hasn't finished talking, but one question which tickles me is "We will record your call for [standard bla bla] purposes. Say yes if you agree with this.". So far I've been saying "yes" bef

    • Re:Please listen (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Malc (1751) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @09:05AM (#36540382)

      Not as bad as the: "we apologise for the delay but we are experiencing higher than usual call volume." Some companies have that message for years, which just means they haven't bothered hiring enough people to answer the phones.

      • Even worse than that, "higher than usual call volume" is an outright lie. They are experiencing "typical" call volumes, but it still leads to excessive queuing.

      • The worst is. I am sorry all lines are busy... Click... Dial tone.

      • Actually, I call that "lying". And when they lie to me, I feel that lying is expected so I lie to the people I end up talking to, often blatantly. If they call me on it, I mention their lie, and suggest that if they start out by lying that it is only fair that I be allowed to lie back to them.

        • by Malc (1751)

          Most often those people are just call centre employees. Why give them a hard time about a situation they have control over or no say in changing?

          • People who work for liars should know who they work for. And they have a choice, they can quit or request that the message be changed to something more reasonable ...

            We're experiencing a high volume of calls right now, and there is a delay in processing your call. We value your business and if you please hold we will get to your call as soon as possible. You are #3 in the queue. You may want to call back during the hours of 6:30 am and 8:30 am EST or between 8:00 pm and 12:00am EST when call volumes are much lower

            That is not a lie. It presents the more information and allows the customer to call back at a time that doesn't have high volumes.

            These companies have metrics, they know call volumes and times. They should value their customers. When companies stop valuing customers, it is a sign that they don't understand their business.

  • the whole point is to route calls to the right CSR's. not have a direct line to your new best friend who really can't stand you calling because you're always trying to get a deal. same like those annoying people who always call the help desk or IT wanting crap without a trouble ticket

    • by Phleg (523632) <<stephen> <at> <touset.org>> on Thursday June 23, 2011 @08:59AM (#36540332)
      But they don't. I've not once been sent to somebody who can't help me by dialling "0" repeatedly or repeating "operator" to the voice recognition system. Not to mention, it's infinitely frustrating when they make me waste a half hour dialling in identifying numbers, my address, etc., only for the CSR to ask for the exact same information the second they pick up the phone.
      • Phone the sales department. You'll find that they have a very short waiting time, often instant. Get them to transfer you.

        In the UK, try http://www.saynoto0870.com/ [saynoto0870.com] and put in the support number, or company name. Often you can get local call numbers for premium rate lines, or direct office numbers bypassing the switchboard.
      • by Inda (580031)
        I have a colleague who puts these calls on loudspeaker. He happily keys in his credit card number, bank account number, DoB and all the rest. I've even heard him spell out his address to the operator.

        Should I warn him or just kept recording?
        • You should inform him that people who use loudspeakers in that way are douchebags.

          Then you should use his info to buy a boxes of dildoes, live cockroaches, and maybe some other weird things you can order online.

          • by idontgno (624372)

            Cuz nothing says "You're a douchebag" like involuntarily receiving pedo porn in the mail. Lots of it. Ordered on your douchebag credit card.

            Enjoy using the speaker phone while trying to make your one phone call, loser.

    • ...and I'd be perfectly fine with that - *IF* it actually worked that way. See, the voice recognition menu systems I generally deal with have absolutely no AI behind them - they are usually worse than the "Press 1 for billing, 2 for sales, 3 for support..." stuff, because they SAY they can understand you, but invariably point you to the wrong place.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAnB-Xz9J1U [youtube.com] (start at 0:32, then again at 3:20)

      See, a voice driven interface in which a specific set of commands is required is ju

    • As I see it there are two types of IVR systems. Those systems that efficiently route you to a person or an automated task, and there are those systems that hide the CSRs way at the back and force you to wade through endless lists of "is this your issue?" menu options, with the hopes that somewhere buried within there will be an automated answer so they don't have to pay a CSR to handle your call. I hate the later, and I doubt I'm alone.
  • I ran into a new variation on the 'getting you to hang up' theme the other day. The on-hold experience was the typical repetition of the phone tech's message barking, "we're so happy to have you as a customer, please hang on," followed by a period of Muzak. The new wrinkle is the length of the Muzak period decreased over time, until about 16 minutes in, it was a staccato alternation of the "we love you" message with a couple seconds of Muzak, and then back. First time they've gotten me to hang up, I'm us

    • Easy Solution (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Greyfox (87712) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @09:18AM (#36540506) Homepage Journal
      Asterisk Reverse Hold! [voip-info.org] You call them up and then put them on hold through your Asterisk system. It parks the call and plays a loop telling them not to hang up and to dial a number when you come off hold. Then it makes your phone ring and connects the call. Genius! And if they want to leave you on hold for a month, that's fine. At least as long as you come in through their 800 number...
      • by Rennt (582550)
        Yeah right. "Please hold the line for an important call." Really? I'm sure if it was that important an actual human will ring me next time ---call terminated---
      • And having worked in tech. support, answering the phones, with a queue, if somebody tried that crap with me, I would release the call and take somebody else who actually waited to speak to me. When I actually had to worry about call metrics and such, that kind of call was perfect: no human on the other end of the line, 5 second call to lower my average and let me actually take the time to help people.

        • by TheLink (130905)
          Well then the recorded/AI message just has to be a bit more intelligent.

          And I daresay it doesn't have to be very intelligent or coherent given the "minimum grade of caller" that most call centers are not supposed to drop ;).

          e.g. "Hello!, oops, sorry dropped my... *garbled*... OK, now where was ... oh not again... *garbled*... Now as I was saying... " .
      • I will tell you right now that if I get a phone call and get told to hold I will hang up immediately. Yes, it's happened, and yes, that's what I did.

        • by praxis (19962)

          But you expect the customers to hold blocked for 30+ minutes in leiu of yourself waiting 15 seconds? No one is asking you to wait 30 minutes until they have the time, but isn't it just plain nice to give someone a few seconds to pick up the phone the got tired of holding? Whether the system is automated or manual shouldn't matter.

    • Most of the companies (or companies' branches) around here play the local public radio station [mpbonline.org] instead of Muzak, presumably because they can get it for free. Since the station is either news or classical music, I'm pretty sure it's an attempt to drive folks off, but I'm a classically-trained violinist. I've happily listened to three movements of a Mozart symphony while on hold with (at the time) Bellsouth.

  • I hate Shaw.ca (Score:3, Informative)

    by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Thursday June 23, 2011 @08:54AM (#36540286) Homepage Journal

    I called shaw.ca about my business account. After waiting for over 20 minutes a call center drone answered. Gave all my info then he asked for my business PIN. Huh? So he said he'd mail it to me and it would arrive within 5 minutes. "Can you wait for me to get it?" "NO, so, sorry, we're not allowed to wait." "So I have to wait 5 minutes then wait another 20 on hold at Shaw?"

    I guess he didn't like that because the PIN never did arrive. Fuckers, I HATE SHAW.
    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Shaw, Rogers, Telus. What do they have in common? They're all Canuck companies that suck beaver balls.

  • I'm pretty sure that this is, second only to the one where earth is entirely reduced to a sphere of computronium surrounding the NYSE and hosting assorted expert-systems trading ever-more-baroque financial instruments with one another in obedience to the profit maximizing imperatives of programmers long dead, one of the more plausible scenarios for world-destroying-robot-apocalypse.

    Corporate phone-menu-trees already contain a burning hatred for all mankind. Anything that encourages an unbounded increase
  • So how do they make any money off of this? Is it all ads on their website? Or do they throw in a short commercial before they connect your call? I'm pretty sure the companies whose phone "security" they're bypassing aren't paying them for the privilege.
    • I suspect the answer is ... "Fonolo places the call on your behalf, .." and charges at their rate not your normal rate ....

    • Re:For free? (Score:5, Informative)

      by shaiberger (2300162) <(shai) (at) (fonolo.com)> on Thursday June 23, 2011 @10:10AM (#36541020)

      Hi there, CEO of Fonolo here.

      Our consumer service is offered completely for free.

      We make money from our enterprise product which you can read about at http://fonolo.com/ [fonolo.com]

      Why do we offer the free service?
      1) It promotes what we're doing (especially when we get slashdotted!)
      2) It showcases our technology (the engine that runs the consumer service is also at the heart of the enterprise product)
      3) It lets us try new features and learn about the best way to improve the call center experience.
      4) We wanted it for ourselves!

      - Shai

  • Voice 2.0? (Score:5, Funny)

    by cdrudge (68377) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @09:05AM (#36540384) Homepage

    What the hell is a "voice 2.0 company"? Do I need to pay some type of a voice maintenance package to upgrade to voice 2.0? Where there any point releases to patch my voice 1.0 company that fixed bugs or maybe had some trivial new feature?

    With 135 years between releases 1.0 and 2.0, they probably should speed up the release cycle some. Hopefully they don't pull a Mozilla and come out with voice 3.0 in three months and immediately EOL voice 2.0.

    • Paul uses Voice 1.0, but Leto II uses Voice 2.0
    • by jensend (71114)

      Yes, you do need a Voice Maintenance Package to upgrade to Voice 2.0 (tm). Please send in your old larynx packed in ice, $10.99 for shipping and handling, and 13 box tops from specially-marked boxes of Captain Crunch to receive your Voice 2.0 Upgrade.

  • because this is the first time I've heard that term and it sounds like marketing wank, therefore this is a slashvertisement.

    • by immakiku (777365)
      No kidding. The iPhone app the article mentions is rated 2 stars on the app store. Tons of complaints that it doesn't do what it is described to do.
    • by mcvos (645701)

      Voice 2.0 definitely sounds stupid. "Phones may be over a century old, but we need to make it sound hip and edgy, like the Web!"

      Sounds like an awesome service, though. At least if they only call me once BigCompany actually picks up the phone. Because the endless waiting is usually the worst. So in what countries do they offer this? My fear is the US only.

      • by Abstrackt (609015)

        So in what countries do they offer this? My fear is the US only.

        They're a Canadian-based company so at the very least, it's available here as well. Quickly skimming their site, it looks like it is (or will be) available in many countries.

  • Fonolo is providing an interesting service. By why not skip the middleman and make visual directory dialing part of the VOIP standard? Is it not already? It would save so much time and frustration by dialing with any smartphone and instantly be provided with a directory tree, hosted by an IP PBX.

    • by Lifyre (960576)

      The difference here at least is it looks like they navigate the phone system and stay on hold for you as opposed to directly dialing an agent. The visual directory as part of VOIP may be nice especially in an enterprise environment where they're not trying to screen people into hanging up.

  • At least that's what it looks like to me. Of course some companies have a complicated menu and a (long) hold loop on a premium rate number, and that's where any technical solution will fail. $20 just to listen to some hold music? Unfortunately that is no longer inconceivable, it is actually quite common.

  • My local Phone company formerly known as SBC has a system where it answers the phone and asks you to enter your account number, the last 4 of your social, your phone number, the house or street number, then state your last name. After which it gives you a menu, press 1 for etc. etc. However, when it says "Please hold for the next available representative" It clicks a few times then transfers you to a busy signal. You are forced to hang up and call back and answer all the questions again. When I got hold o
    • by TheLink (130905)
      I don't know about other people but I'd prefer a busy signal until something or preferably someone is ready to answer my call.

      I feel more uncomfortable waiting for ages while hearing "your call is important to us", and eventually getting dropped with "sorry all <whatever> are busy".
  • Fonolo's cloud-based visual dialing solutions

    This might be the most egergious use of "cloud" I've seen yet.

  • I've been using lucyphone.com to do this for a couple years, now.

    • by vrmlguy (120854)

      Mod parent up! I downloaded the Lucyphone app on my iPhone, and it's a life saver. Like Fonolo, Lucyphone is free; I suspect they make money by providing some service to the companies you call. As someone one said, if you aren't the person paying for something, then you're the thing someone else *is* paying for.

      One minor quibble: Lucyphone needs you to navigate the phone tree, but once you get the message asking you to wait for the next available operator, you just hit the button and go about your norma

  • You're still using the company's phone time when you're sitting in their menu. Someone should design a system that takes the most obfuscated path through the menu possible, just so that the call costs more money to the company you're calling. Perhaps set it up to spend 5 or more minutes going back and forth needlessly through menus, just to drive up their costs so that they aren't saving money with the menu system anymore?

    It isn't that far from what I've done to some unwelcomed telemarketers. If they l
  • by jimicus (737525) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @11:15AM (#36541766)

    I have discovered a remarkably effective solution to annoying phone menus.

    I can type up a reasonably professional looking letter in about 5-8 minutes. 10 if it's a complicated issue. It takes me another 3-4 minutes to walk to the letterbox and 3-4 minutes to walk back.

    While I am doing this, I do not have to sit listening to Greensleeves played by a six year old with a stylophone.

    IOW, I can get a letter written, printed, stamped and posted in less time than I'm likely to spend on hold with many of these organisations with complicated phone systems. And with considerably fewer grey hairs.

    It's unusual to have to deal with something so urgently that it can't wait a few days, and most companies will put a reasonably smart team on to answering letters - frequently people with more pull, certainly people who are more likely to give you an intelligent answer or route your letter to someone who can. Email doesn't seem to have the same effect.

    I can't quite believe I'm saying this in these days where we can send enormous quantities of information to the other side of the world in a matter of seconds, but letter writing is the way forward.

  • Hopefully it ends with better customer service. If someone is making a solution for crappy voice menu systems, it is because enough people hate them.

    Better ways of dealing with the customer is where it should end.
  • >One company creates a phone system designed to encourage you to hang up to save them money. Another creates a phone system designed to make it easy to stay on hold indefinitely. I wonder where this ends

    Well when I hear that cell phone companies do it on purpose to keep adding just a little more message to someone's voicebox so you can drop a message to your friend, you have to go through all sorts of vocal commands that stop you from leaving a message "very quickly", as everyone would be using this inst

  • by ClickOnThis (137803) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @01:58PM (#36544278) Journal

    From the summary:

    One company creates a phone system designed to encourage you to hang up to save them money. Another creates a phone system designed to make it easy to stay on hold indefinitely. I wonder where this ends.

    Well, I suppose it ends with a company that creates a computer system that actually does the talking for you. Both ends of the conversation hire the company and then ... Skynet?

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