Businesses love phone menus. People hate them

It is increasingly rare for a customer service line to be answered, at least initially, by a human.

Businesses use automated communication to save time and money. Phone menus are intended to improve the customer service experience by making it more efficient.

That’s not always the case.

Eighty-eight percent of consumers prefer speaking to a live customer service agent instead of navigating a phone menu, according to a survey conducted by D.C.-based B2B research firm Clutch. And the more menu options there are, the more frustrating it can be.

“A business may design a phone menu with 10 or 12 options thinking that the more options there are, the more answers a customer will find in that phone menu. But in actuality, it is probably just going to annoy them,” Clutch’s Riley Panko told WTOP.

“One of our experts recommends keeping it at three or fewer options.”

It is common for consumers to try to game the menu, trying ways to bypass it.

“Consumers most frequently have tried actions such as pressing zero and saying words such as ‘operator’ to try to reach a human. Those actions aren’t proven to work every time, but the frequency just shows that people really want to speak to an actual person,” Panko said.

An interactive voice response menu can still be helpful.

“If a phone menu is going to more quickly result a customer’s issue and better route them to the right person they need to talk to, it is definitely beneficial,” said Tania Kefs, at phone system company Aircall.

The top complaint by consumers about phone menus is listening to a string of menu options that have nothing to do with why they are calling.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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