WEB REVIEW: On hold? Try one of these options to get through faster

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Jim Cota

There must be someone out there who loves Muzak or there wouldn’t be a channel for it on Sirius. But if you are like the rest of us—those who, according to research done a few years ago, waste 60 million hours a year on hold—you must wonder if there could be something better to do with that time than listen to instrumental versions of Simon and Garfunkel.

As it turns out, there is.

Get Human (gethuman.com) began in 2005 as a Web-based database of customer service information and phone numbers for companies. The name was derived from the shortcuts that help you cut through the phone tree to talk to a real person. And that’s what Get Human does. Having trouble finding a person to talk to at Facebook or United Airlines or John Deere? Just type in the company and Get Human will try to find it.

Over time, Get Human grew into a company sustained by the businesses that pay to be a part of the directory. It now offers a Web version, mobile apps, and a call-back service. For the end-users, all these options are completely free.

The call-back service happens to be where a Get Human competitor has placed its bets. FastCustomer (fastcustomer.com) has an iPhone app, a browser extension, and a text option built around freeing you from the phone tree for good.

The idea is simple and the app is nearly perfect. All you have to do is find the name of the company you want to call and click the “have someone call me” button. Then, while you’re doing something else, the application calls the company, navigates the phone tree, and finally gets a person on the line. When it does, your phone rings.

While waiting for the app to get someone on the phone, you’re prompted to tell FastCustomer (by tapping little face icons) your mood. They also follow up the call by asking again. Using this information, they are able to relate the success of the experience back to the businesses with recommendations to improve their customer service.

The browser extension is also a nice touch. Once installed, it lights up when you arrive on a website that is listed in its database and has an open call center. Just click the button to get connected. Once someone picks up, the service calls you on your phone.

Or you can simply text the information to FastCustomer. Just send a text message with the name of the company you want to talk with and wait for your phone to ring. If you have a new iPhone 4S with Siri, you can create a contact for FastCustomer and let Siri do the rest. Just say, “Text [company name] to FastCustomer.”

Lucy (lucyphone.com) works in (mostly) the same way. You can use either its website or its app (it also has a version for the Android), or just text the name of the company you want to call. In the case of Lucy, the service will call you first and then connect with the company. If you get put on hold, you enter ** and hang up. Lucy calls you back when a person is on the line.

While all these apps do everything advertised and are completely free, I prefer FastCustomer. Since it’s primarily built around the call-back feature, the application is pared down to the essentials and is drop-dead simple to use. If you opt for the Web interface instead, it also offers an easy menu of phone numbers listed for each company and an instant call option.

Just think: 60 million hours wasted on hold. Imagine the productivity gains we could realize if just a marginal percentage of us switched to one of these time-saving services.

On the other hand, it seems likely those hours would simply be transferred to Facebook or Twitter. But still, that’s got to be better than listening to the pan flute version of “Stairway to Heaven.”•


Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.


  • Awesomely thorough review!
    Thanks for the detailed review of these apps, Jim! As co-founder of FastCustomer, I'm especially excited to read your "drop-dead simple to use" description of us. We're obsessive about removing the friction from calling customer service, so simplicity of user experience is key. Thanks again!

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