A frustrated IT manager who spent seven years making 12,000 calls to automated phone centres has launched a website listing 'short cut' codes which can shave vital minutes off tortuous calls to company call centers.
Nigel Clarke, 53, has painstakingly catalogued the intricate phone menus of hundreds of leading multi-national companies - some of which have up to 80 options.
He has now formulated his results into the website www.pleasepress1.com, which lists which number options to press to reach the desired department.
Mr Clarke reckons the free service can save consumers more than eight minutes by cutting out up to seven menu options.
For example, a Lloyds TSB home insurance customer who wishes to report a water leak would normally have to wade through 78 menu options over seven levels to get through to the correct department.
But the new service informs callers that the combination 1-3-2-1-1-5-4 will get them straight through - saving over four minutes of waiting.
Mr Clarke reckons the service could save consumers up to 1 billion minutes a year.
He said: 'Everyone knows that calling your insurance or gas company is a pain but for most, it’s not an everyday problem.
'However, the cumulative effect of these calls is really quite devastating when you’re moving house or having an issue.
'I’ve been working in IT for over 30 years and nothing gets me riled up like having my time wasted through inefficient design.
'This is why I’ve devoted the best part of seven years to solving this issue.'
Mr Clarke, a separated father-of-one, describes call centre menu options as the 'modern equivalent of Dante’s circles of hell'.
He sites the HMRC as one of the worst offenders, where callers can take up to six minutes to reach the correct department.
As one of the UK’s busiest call centres, the Revenue receives 79 million calls per year, or a potential 4.3 million working hours just navigating menus.
Mr Clarke believes that with better menu design, at least three million caller hours could be saved here alone.
He began his quest seven years ago as a self-confessed 'call centre menu enthusiast'.
'The idea began with the frustration of being met with a seemingly endless list of menu options,' he said.
'Whether calling my phone, insurance or energy company, they each had a different and often worse way of trying to 'help' me.
'I could sit there for minutes that seemed like hours, trying to get through their phone menus only to end up at the wrong place and having to redial and start again.'
He began noting down the menu options and soon realised he could shave several minutes off the waiting time.
Mr Clarke, of Kent, added: 'When I called numbers regularly, I started keeping notes of the options to press. The numbers didn't change very often and then it hit me.
'I thought to myself 'Why don't companies make life easy for their customers and simply show me the menu options before I call so I know what numbers to press to get through much more quickly?'.
'I realised I could often save a minute or two at least per call. That soon adds up in time and money with all the calls I make each year.'
During his research Mr Clarke also discovered that two thirds of call centres (68%) use introductions or additional advertising between options.
He has now quit his job as a contract project manager for the UK Power Network and turned his 'small personal frustration hobby' into a 'passionate personal campaign'.
An HMRC spokesperson told Yahoo!: 'HMRC is looking at ways to improve its IVRs (interactive voice response) and is getting ready for the introduction of new speech recognition technology.
'This technology will react to what the caller says instead of asking them to select an option by pushing a button on their phone. HMRC plan to introduce these improvements later this year.'