The BBC’s Mark Norman meets Nigel Clarke to find out about his one-man mission against call centre menus
Retired IT manager Nigel Clarke, from Kent in the UK, has launched a website listing the call centre menu sequences for accessing thousands of services.
He started the project after growing frustrated about the number of options and amount of recorded information on call centre menus.
Mr Clarke discovered that some automated menus have nearly 80 options.
It can take over four minutes to get to the service required if the caller listens to each stage in full, he said.
As an example, speaking to an adviser at HM Revenue and Customs only required pressing four buttons but it could take six minutes to get through each menu level, Mr Clarke said.
HMRC said it was working on improvements to the service.
“HMRC is looking at ways to improve its interactive voice responses and is getting ready for the introduction of new speech recognition technology,” said a spokesman.
“This technology will react to what the caller says instead of asking them to select an option by pushing a button on their phone. HMRC plan to introduce these improvements later this year.”
Labour of love
Mr Clarke said the website pleasepress1.com was a “labour of love” which he built after seven years of creating post-it notes of sequences he used regularly.
He used Skype and recording software to make thousands of calls, with the bulk of the work being carried out in the last six months.
Reporting a water leak to Lloyds TSB’s home insurance department requires dialling a total of seven numbers, one at each stage of the call (1, 3, 2, 1, 1, 5, 4), and it takes more than four minutes to navigate the 78 menu options, according to the website.
“The companies have these systems in place for a reason,” said Mr Clarke.
“I’m not against the system, but I am against bad design.”
In an ideal world, he said, companies should just offer different phone numbers for different services.
“No menu is best – but if it is a necessity then design it properly. I think two levels maximum is ideal. Some stretch to three. You don’t really want much more than that.”
Mr Clarke said he was inspired to build the website after being surprised by the “emotional response” he got from people whenever he mentioned it.
He says he doesn’t intend to devote himself full-time to maintaining it.
“I’d like the companies themselves to say, ‘we care about our customers, we’ll publish our menus’,” he said.
When tested by the BBC, some of the sequences did not seem to result in significant time savings, while others ended with the user being transferred straight to a customer adviser rather than going through each level of the automated system.