Call centre menu options catalogued by frustrated man


The BBC's Mark Norman meets Nigel Clarke to find out about his one-man mission against call centre menus

Related Stories

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 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.

Start Quote

I'm not against the system, but I am against bad design”

End Quote Nigel 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.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    One of the things the designers of these systems fail to take into account is handset design. If you have an all-in-one handset that has both the speaker & the buttons on it (or are calling from a mobile), taking the handset away from your head to press the button suggested by the menu you have been listening often causes the system to time out... Grrr

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    I work on a help desk for a rather small company (4 of us on the Support/Remote Help desk) and it only takes 1 button press to get through to us, it really does make a difference as neither the Support person/Customer are pre "Stressed" out which allows for quick and easy help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    In my opinion I'd rather spend an extra 30 seconds or minute navigating menus then holding for an advisor in the wrong 'queue'. For example, If I need to return something to store and there is a problem with the website the 'online' queries will have a significantly larger queue then 'returns'. Better to have to press a few buttons then wait right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    I wouldn't mind these menu systems if there was any suggestion that they actually got you to the right person quickly. All that happens is that you have to repeat ALL your details and the reason to the person anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Going through any more than 3 phone sub-menus irritates me.
    But do you know what 'really' grinds my gears? With some companies the first thing the automated menu 'advises' you to do is use their website for the answer to any queries before contacting via phone.
    They think they are going to save you time but in reality it's dismissive and insulting, like you aren't worth their time to talk to.


Comments 5 of 7


More Technology stories


Features & Analysis

  • Cartoon of women chatting on the metroChat wagon

    The interesting things you hear in a women-only carriage

  • Replica of a cargo boxSpecial delivery

    The man who posted himself to the other side of the world

  • Music scoreFinal score Watch

    Goodbye to NYC's last classical sheet music shop

  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton checks her Blackberry from a desk inside a C-17 military plane upon her departure from Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, bound for Tripoli, Libya'Emailgate'

    Hillary gets a taste of scrutiny that lies ahead

BBC Future


The future of CGI... from 1982

How we forecast computer animation back then


  • A cyborg cockroachClick Watch

    The cyborg cockroach – why has a computer been attached to this insect’s nervous system?

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.