U.S. Markets closed

This four-letter word will get you better customer service on the phone

There are certain innate natural responses everyone possesses, honed by millennia of evolution. Babies, for example, hold their breath if they accidentally fall into the deep end before they can walk. A person facing a sudden drop in blood pressure will often faint, following standard doctor’s orders to lay down.

Add one more to the list that you may not know about, but you may have instinctively done and seen results without even realizing. If you angrily swear at the customer service robot, called an interactive voice response (IVR) system by people in the biz, this reflex-like behavior often actually gets you what you want: a human.

I can tell you from experience calling these numbers that Apple, Hyatt and Humana are definitely companies that if you call and get angry with the IVR, your call will be escalated to the front of the line,” says Adam Goldkamp, Director of Operations at GetHuman.com, a site that does exactly what its url says and escorts you from the machines back to the land of the living, and can even call on your behalf for a fee. 

Thanks to similar sites like DialaHuman.com and years of grapevine, many people are already aware of the “dial zero until you get a person” gambit that often works, as does repeating “operator,” “customer service,” or “person.” Or, saying nothing at all—rotary phones are still out there and can’t exactly participate in the grotesque circus of “dial ‘three’ for billing questions” and “marque ‘dos’ para Español.”

Unfortunately, however, too many people are in on that little “dial zero” hack, and some companies have robbed it of its effectiveness. “A lot of companies now will have the IVR hang up on you if you dial 0 too many times,” says Goldkamp. “But in general, getting mad at the IVR (not the rep) is a great way to escalate your call.”

So when you just can’t get a human, follow your gut and start using some magic words.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on personal finance and tech. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

Read more:

Apple is trying to pacify headphone jack loyalists with this $9 dongle

Apple spits on history by removing the headphone jack

Owners of the $10k gold Apple Watch react to news their watches are now obsolete