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Dealing With These Robot Call Handling Systems

The Computer Corner

By Charles Miller

For many years I was a regular television viewer of the Sunday morning worship service broadcast from the First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. One morning the Rev. D. L. Dykes explained that the previous week there had been a technical mishap preventing the live broadcast and the engineers at the television station, realizing they could not fix the problem in time, hurriedly grabbed a years-old videotape of an earlier service, then without announcement or explanation they cued the tape and sent it out over the air. Few people watching television that morning had any inkling they were not watching a live broadcast. The following week though there were some repercussions.

Rev. Dykes said that one of his pleasures was receiving a weekly letter from an elderly parishioner who critiqued his sermons. When he opened her letter that next week, her envelope contained only a photocopy of the letter she had sent him years before when the service had been broadcast live.

My point? A few months ago I retold an anecdote that had previously been included in this column ten years ago, and one reader called me on that. For the record, each week for eleven years these columns have been original works, but some stories are good enough to rate retelling.

One of these topics is something I need on a regular basis, and that is manufacturer’s technical support. It used to be easy to go to a web site and look for a link saying “Support,” or “Contact Us.” Today though, more and more companies are making those phone numbers harder to find or are disconnecting their telephones altogether. What is still true as of this writing is that some companies still have phone support; they just make the number harder to find in an apparent move to cut down on the volume of calls they receive.

The Internet comes to my rescue here with some web sites I have bookmarked in my browser so that whenever I need a number I look there. My favorite is (no www) where you can find the most up-to-date listing of company phone numbers. Other sites I consult are and

Also on these web sites you will find some “secret” codes that can help get out of the dreaded voicemail jail. For example if you call eTrade press #### or Expedia press # # # or at Fidelity when asked for your Social Security number press #, or just press # seventeen times to speak to a live human.

Another trick I have learned in dealing with these robot call handling systems is to answer the first prompt Kannst du mir bitte helfen? Then the second prompt Peux-tu m’aider s’il te plait? And when the robot again said it did not understand say Potete per favore aiutarmi? When it fails to identify the language, often the software is programmed to send calls to a live operator who can figure out what language I am speaking. I used to just speak gibberish, but that does not seem to work very often today.

Finally, if I am fortunate enough to get through to a real live human being, one of the first things I try to ask is if they can give me a direct call back number.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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