Unplugging the phone tree

Marketplace Staff Jan 19, 2007

TESS VIGELAND:
Flying these days isn’t what you call fun. There’s the whole taking off your shoes thing at security. But even before that, waiting through an airline’s automated phone tree.

Well, this week, we heard about an online tool that can help. It’s free from a site called NoPhoneTrees.com. We’re taking it for a spin on our studio computer here, and what we see is a list of companies, not just airlines either, but I’m going to go ahead and click on Delta Airlines. And now it’s prompting me to type in my phone number, and I’ve done that. It says it’s navigating Delta’s phone tree for me. All right, there’s my phone.

OPERATOR:
Press pound to be connected and you’ll be in the phone que at Delta Airlines. We appreciate your call. One of our representatives will be with you…
VIGELAND:
So I am now in the que to speak to a real live human being. Ultimately, I must say this is pretty freaking magical.

Mark Graysman is co-founder of Bringo, the company behind the site. And he says it is not magic; just some proprietary technology and old-fashioned manual labor.

MARK GRAYSMAN:
We had a bunch of folks calling up all the corporations around the US, and figuring out when to press 1, when to press pound, how many seconds to wait between commands; all the things that drive the average person like, oh me crazy, when I’m trying to get through a phone tree.

VIGELAND:
Of course, those companies whose phone tree codes have been cracked are not exactly overjoyed.

GRAYSMAN: One day after we launched, I think some of the larger companies started to notice that they were getting calls from a certain Web site, so we got a very pleasant call from Dell that made us chuckle, because in their words, we had, “disrupted their phone tree.”

VIGELAND:
Graysman says that’s led to an ongoing game of catch up.

GRAYSMAN: What we see happening is companies are changing their phone trees, so we lean on our users after they try a number, to let us know if it’s not working. Then it allows us to keep one step ahead of the companies.

VIGELAND:
And by the way, Graysman insists his company does not share your phone number with anyone.

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