December 27, 2007

Idea: The Gethuman Dialer Application

The website has created a database of phone numbers for every major company in 15 different categories (such as insurance, phone companies, banks, etc) with instructions on exactly what you need to do in order to navigate your way to a real live human. For example, if you need to talk to a live person at Priceline, the instructions say, “At prompt press 1; at prompt press 1; at prompt enter phone number #; at prompt enter phone number #; at prompt enter phone number #.”

But that still seems like an awful lot of work to get a human. Why doesn’t someone create an application that does all the work for me? Let me select what company I need to call, and then use my modem to call them and do all that number-pressing automatically. At the last step, play a sound so I know to pick up my phone. Or just turn up the speaker on my computer so I can hear when a human picks up. Of course, not everyone has a modem any more, so the program could also come as a Skype plug-in and in cell phone versions for different mobile operating systems.

The program doesn’t need any sophisticated voice-recognition technology to know when it can press the next number. It can just be programmed to pause an appropriate length in between number-presses. And by letting me set my default services, I don’t need to see the huge list of companies all the time unless I want to. I could just press the “electric company” button and be talking to a person at ConEd a few minutes later. The program would need to come with some actual spoken words pre-recorded for those phone systems that require you to say “yes” or “operator,” etc. And it could store my account numbers so it can enter them where needed.

This shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Old BBS dialer software might even be usable by loading it with Gethuman info instead of BBS phone numbers, and using Hayes Commands to handle the pauses and subsequent number presses. But that method has limitations, and isn’t as complete or elegant a solution as a dedicated Gethuman Dialer.

[This idea came about during a conversation with my friend Jay, who deserves a share of the credit on this one. Thanks, Jay!]

Update: Well that was fast. A reader named Scott points out that such a service already exists through a web-based interface called Bringo at I suppose a desktop app would calm any concerns about divulging your phone number or other personal information to any third parties, although it should be noted that Bringo’s privacy policy looks pretty good. So until such a thing exists, I’ll definitely bookmark Bringo.


Try Bringo at - it does automated dialing and phone tree traversing, and the one time I tried it (for DirecTV) it worked…

Thanks, Scott. I’m glad it turned out to be an idea so good someone has already done it! I still wonder if there is a benefit to a desktop-based application instead of web-based. In the meantime, I’m definitely bookmarking Bringo.

This seems like a natural fit for an iPhone app, too.

My first thought is I want this software. My second thought is, if people begin using such software in great numbers it will become an excuse for vendors to begin charging for access to human operators the way some banks do. The justification being that it costs them money when customers circumvent the phone tree.