As I type this question I've been on hold with Bank of America for over a half an hour. I'm looking for a way to make my wait time shorter in the future by either:

  1. Changing my own behavior within the current system to wait less on customer service calls in the near term
  2. Incentivizing large companies and/or call centers to provide better service in the long term
  • 1. Any trick you use to shorten your wait lengthens somebody else's. Your service issue is of equal -- not higher -- urgency and importance as all the other callers you are waiting for. 2. Large companies already know what matters for their bottom lines in the long run, a single or small handful of customer complaints will never be an incentive. If it's truly a problem then they'll naturally build up a bad reputation, and even then only if the bad service reputation is affecting their profit margins will they invest in customer support improvements. – Captain Obvious May 15 '15 at 2:40

Yes, I've had similar issues! One thing you might try: How to Talk to a Live Person: Every Customer Support Number You'll Ever Need, though I don't see a number for BoA and the list is two years old. Would someone please update and maintain it?

You might also try hitting the # or 0 key repeatedly, which sometimes will get a human being on the line, but sometimes just gets you disconnected.

Forbes has a list of suggestions for better customer service. If it's any consolation, Business Insider has ranked BoA as one of The 8 Worst Companies For Customer Service.

  • This is a great list! Sadly, I've had to contact Charter Communications frequently, and am happy to report that this works! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL May 12 '15 at 2:01

One thing you can try — but with no guarantee of success, it depends on the company and of the luck of the draw — is to call their commercial line rather than their support line. That is, call someone whose job it is to sell you something, rather than someone whose job it is to fix something. It can be a line for new customers or for existing customers who want to buy additional services. Sales lines are generally well-staffed, because sales is considered a revenue center, unlike support which is a cost center and therefore pretty much always underfunded. Companies hate losing a sale, so they arrange for their salespeople to be easy to reach; support, on the other hand, generally means trouble for the company, so if you hang up in disgust, it saves the company trouble. Another advantage of reaching a salesperson is that their job is to keep you happy, unlike support people whose job it is to get rid of you.

Never let on that you're trying to bypass the support queue. Just say that this is the number you found and you wanted something, and slowly disclose what it was that you wanted.

Some salespeople will quickly detect that you aren't going to earn them a commission and will bounce you to the support queue. If that happens, you've only wasted a minute. Don't fail to mention your unhappiness with the current service though. Hint that you might be leaving for a competitor. But you can be lucky and reach a salesperson who can get you directly to level-2 support, saving you a good deal of waiting.

Will this train the company to be less cavalier with support? Maybe, maybe not. Don't expect miracles. If they get their sales line bogged down with support calls, they'll have to do something about it. But companies can be slow to detect such problems, especially large ones where departments don't talk to each other. Still, in doing this, you'll make the sales department realize that they have a support problem and they can't skimp on it too much and remain competitive.


With some companies, including online retailers and my mail away pharmacy, if I say "agent," "representative," and "customer service" repeatedly, I'll reach a live person. The automated system may ask me to describe my issue; choose a department; give my account number; or any of a number of things beginning with, "I'll be happy to get you to the right department if," but repeating those words will eventually trigger a connection to someone. Even if I have reached the wrong department, when they say they'll transfer me, I ask them to stay on the line with me while they contact the correct person, rather than putting me back on hold. A number of reputable companies will do that.

Also, as @Gilles suggested, if I feel it's warranted, I'll complain or ask to speak with a supervisor. On the other hand, if someone is kind and helpful, I sincerely thank them, and, if service has been exceptional, I ask to be connected to a supervisor to report how well I was treated. This sometimes results in a representative giving me a direct number if I have further issues, and it also makes me feel good to reward people who are in a difficult line of work!


I'm willing to bet you don't hate queueing on the phone more than I do.

Any trick for advancing you to the head of the queue doesn't do anything to encourage the company to improve their Customer service - it just means someone else has to wait longer. My method makes MORE work for the company so they do at least have an incentive to improve.

I can't pretend I always do this but I've done it a number of times. If you don't get someone owning your problem within, say, 10 minutes, hangup and write them a letter. Include all the information they need to fix the problem. Stress that you had to resort to mail because they would not deal with your problem on the phone. Give them your phone number. Tell them you will be cancelling your direct debit on x date if they do not contact you. Obviously you don't have a DD to the bank but whatever financial penalty you can impose on them - maybe move your account elsewhere. This usually prompts some action. Send the letter recorded.

When they finally deal with your complaint they may threaten to come after you for their losses (if any) but they won't - they'll lose if they try because you have it in writing that you had to resort to writing a letter due to their appalling service.

Indeed, I often state in my complaint letter(s) that I will be charging them for my time at some rate per hour for every hour I have to help them solve their problem.

I don't think you have this in the US but in the UK we have a concept called Small Claims Court (EDIT: just seen on another SE site that the US DOES have a small claims system). An individual can lodge a claim against ANYONE for a financial loss. I have used it a couple of times and I've threatened companies with it too. They will definitely bend over backwards to solve your problem rather than get involved in a court case, it costs you virtually nothing so there's no real loss if it all goes wrong for you.

If the company don't solve the problem within a reasonable time, file a claim against them for your losses and your time.

Another answerer here has suggested that poor service is the price we have to pay for cheap services. Wrong. The organisation has chosen to pitch their services cheaper than the competition to gain business. If they can't afford to provide the service they have taken on, they should do their sums properly just like we have to when we decide if we can afford to buy a new car or new house. In the meantime, they should bite the bullet and provide the service they have voluntarily entered into a contract to supply - even if it means making a loss to do so.


Log in first.

You're writing about a bank, so if you're already a client you should have an access code and numeric password (PIN) to log in into their phone system. If you chose an option to log in first and THEN select "talk to our consultant" you're put into high-priority queue for clients, because they're sure it's a client calling. If you dial the number and try to reach a human right away, you're often put into low-priority queue, because they don't know who you are, so they assume you're nobody. If all consultants are occupied with clients, it may happen that low-priority queue won't get any service at all.

Plus, it's also beneficial for the whole process, as your identity is already confirmed so both you and a consultant can proceed solving your issue without wasting time for identity confirmation.


I hate talking to computers on the phone. I use the trick mentioned in the previous answer... I button mash (That IS the technical term, yes) until I overload the system and it boots me out to a human being.

However, I have found, once you are within the appropriate queue (redirected into the right department), if you try this trick again the systems are smarter and this doesn't help at all. This trick possibly even pulls you out of line to talk to a person, and then places you back in at the end of the line restarting your wait time.

If a computer or voice/touch menu is the gatekeeper when you call in, you can hit the #, *, or even the 0 key to bump you out of the system. This allows you to avoid talking to a machine and allowing a human to point you in the right direction. Sometimes that person can solve the issue, but other times you get a general operator that simply shuffles you to the next location.

  • here where I live, IVR systems disconnect you after 3 consecutive wrong button presses. – Agent_L May 11 '15 at 14:54

Stop hoping you can have both cheap services, and quick ones.

  • 4
    We could make services cheaper and quicker by sacrificing quality... oh wait... – user12341234 May 11 '15 at 13:37

The best thing you can do is find something else interesting to do while you wait on hold. Perhaps go outside and enjoy the weather with a cup of tea, or read the paper while you wait to pass the time, or get some work done. At the end of the day, if you stay productive while on hold, then it's effectively the same as you never having been on hold at all.

Wait to call them until it is convenient for you. If you are, for example, about to enter an important business meeting in 5 minutes, don't call them. If you are about to hop in the shower in the morning, then call them and leave the speaker phone on hold in the bathroom or something. Voila, no time lost.

That said, if you're speaking about being on hold before you speak to anybody at all then there's not much you can do aside from using a different support option if available (such as email or chat).

  1. Any trick you use (like pressing 0 a lot to try to inappropriately bother an operator) to shorten your wait lengthens somebody else's (potentially causing them to find your question on Lifehacks while searching for a solution). Your service issue is of equal urgency and importance as all the other callers you are waiting for. Also remember that "large companies" employ real people just like you, with human limitations who wake up and go to work answering phone calls every day.

  2. Successful large companies already know what matters for their bottom lines in the long run, a single or small handful of customer complaints will never be an incentive. If it's truly a problem then they'll naturally build up a bad reputation without you having to take active steps, and even then only if the bad service reputation is affecting their profit margins will they invest in customer support improvements. Sometimes you simply have to accept that for certain companies, poor customer service isn't hurting them, even if it irritates customers sometimes.

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