Phone-tree navigator waits on hold for you

Fonolo automates navigating stupid, complex corporate phone menus: browse through its maps of large companies' menu-systems, decide which department you want to speak to, and give it your phone number. It calls the company, navigates to the appropriate spot, and waits on the hold queue until it reaches a human, then calls you and bridges you in. They use online forms to gather the information the person on the phone is going to ask you and transmit it to her/him. I don't know how secure or private the system is, but it's basically what I've wanted since the first time I encountered a hold-queue (if it works, I'll even forgive them "cloud-based" and "voice 2.0" buzzword-compliance). (via /.)


  1. This sounds great, but NB: This application and site is being aimed at corporations, not consumers. They are suggesting that corporations use their system on their own sites to make it easier for customers to call them.

    I do think it will be great if companies started using this system, but this isn’t a consumer-oriented application that will work on any company’s phone tree, this requires the company to have bought into it and submitted the tree.

    I don’t see companies that use the phone tree as a way of deterring customers buying into this.

  2. Much better strategy: just keep hitting the zero on the phone until the phone menu system gives up and connects you with someone. Usually, the person you get is far more competent that the usual call centre lackeys (probably because they need to be able to handle a much wider range of queries; I prefer to think it’s because the call centres have realised that people who can subvert the system need special handling).

  3. …as an example of “companies that use the phone tree as a way of deterring customers,” I’ve recently spent several hours on the phone trying to deal with Asurion, the wretched phone insurance company that Verizon and others use.

    When you first dial into the phone tree, you are warned that they are “experiencing long wait times, why don’t you try the website?”

    You are repeatedly told to speed things up by using the website, while they play hold music for you — while moving to different parts of the phone tree. Yes, they put you on hold to wait for the computer to move on to it’s next menu section.

    When you finally get to select the option to talk to a human, a human picks up within one minute.

    I have called Asurion many times over the past two weeks and this never fails: you are warned about long wait times, but all the wait time is entirely artificial, and generated to try to convince you to use the website instead.

    Asurion will not be buying this application, let me tell you.

  4. Psssh. I just press numbers until i get a person, then they can connect me to the right person.

    People need jobs. Answering the phone is a job.

  5. Hi there, CEO of Fonolo here.

    > This is … aimed at corporations, not consumers.

    We offer a free consumer service, which is the topic of this post. You can access it at or via our iphone app.

    We make money through our enterprise product which you can read about here:

    Both have the same technology at the core: an intelligent dialing engine that can interacts with automated phone systems on the caller’s behalf.

    > Much better strategy: just keep hitting the zero on the phone until the phone menu system gives up

    That may work with a few companies, but in general, that is NOT a good strategy. Odds are you will not end up with the right agent for your needs and you will be placed back in the hold queue.

    You would be amazed, though, how often people “zero-out”. 30% is typical. We’ve spoken to call centers where it is as high as 50%. This phenomenon is the most obvious sign that IVRs (phone menus) are not good at their job (which is to connect callers to the right agents).

    Unfortunately, we’ve been stuck with a keypad spec that was created in the 60’s. A spec that was never designed to be a navigation or data-entry system!

    Don’t want to get to pitchy here, but we think our approach to visual navigation is the best way the forward. See

    – Shai

    1. Hi Shai,

      When I go on the consumer site, I’m told that “hundreds” of companies have been added. So am I right in thinking that this is “opt-in” by companies, who let you map their phone trees (and possibly pay you)?

      If so, this is still a corporation-facing site. That’s totally fine, and will help consumers at the companies that have opted in, but it won’t help us for companies like Asurion (above) who seem to have phone trees designed to keep customers out. They’re not going to opt-in.

  6. Cory, stop stalking me. I was looking for this exact site last night, but couldn’t remember what it was.

  7. Or, hey- why don’t we just go back to PEOPLE answering the phone and transferring you to the correct department? If I ever go back in time, this automated phone answering shite is one invention I WILL undo. I still can’t believe we ever put up with it in the first place, let alone why we don’t boycott the places who use this terrible, terrible device.

    1. I work in a bank and without the automated system your wait would be interminable.

      Roughly 70% of the people calling in just want to check their balance and see what checks have cleared. A fast human, after asking a verification question, can handle that in under 7 minutes depending on the customer. We don’t outsource, it’s all US labor, and there’s thousands of people handling these calls.

      We’d need tens of thousands of people to service this mundane and frankly redundant operation (read as people who can’t be bothered to write down what they spend).

      The automated system at least clears out this overwhelming sea of humanity and passes on people who have actual need of a person to one.

      And those who just jam on zero… that’s like saying “Oh, I have no problems with traffic lights, I just blow through them green, yellow or red”. They’re fucking over OTHER customers by adding to the wait time. They’re also the first ones to get irritated that they had an extremely specific question and attempted to get anyone – “What do you mean you gotta transfer me so someone can give me the 15 day payoff on my business line of credit account???! I pressed 0!”

      If it’s some place you call often, just learn what buttons to press (to check your checking balance press 1 then 1 then 1 – HOLY SHIT THAT WAS HARD). If it’s not a place you call often… then who gives a rats ass if it the whole call takes 10 minutes.

  8. So, the obvious question is “Why isn’t this an app?” There are map applications to guide one down the street, why not an application that lets you select from the corporate phone tree menu and get you to the right place?

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