The Checkout

Meet Consumer Champion #1

Boston software entrepreneur Paul English is my kind of hero. And he'll probably be yours as well--as soon as you discover his Web site which helps consumers avoid voice-mail hell. His handy list gives directions on how to quickly find a real live person when calling a company--without having to punch in your account number, Zip code, etc. Need to talk to someone about your Citicard? Just dial the listed number and then punch 0 repeatedly. If it's someone at JC Penney, dial the 800 number, then press zero twice and ignore the error message.

English said he launched the cheat sheet in March 2005, after he got fed up trying to find live customer service agents at several different companies. The list started with tips for 10 companies; today, it has 228, making it clear he was not alone in his annoyance. "I knew others were frustrated, but didn't realize how much," English said in a phone interview. And now English said, he gets help from company insiders; rarely a day goes by when he doesn't get a call from a company employee giving him the secret code for consumers to quickly reach a live operator.

If you've got nominations for other consumer champions, send them my way, to

By  |  January 4, 2006; 10:00 AM ET Consumer Tips
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I think there should at least be an "honorable mention" category for those few companies on his list that connect you immediately to a human being. At least two cheers for ING, Bose, AIG, Barnes & Noble, L.L. Bean, and those few others that still believe in customer contact.

Posted by: Nell | January 4, 2006 1:16 PM

Add Lands End to that list.

Posted by: Holly | January 5, 2006 11:22 AM

When calling both Sears Repair and Verizon, I found that saying angrily "I want to talk to a person" gets me a person immediately.

Posted by: Frank Paterra | January 6, 2006 10:27 PM

You also can reach a live person if the recording says, "If you are not calling from a TouchTone phone, please press 0 or stay on the line."

Posted by: paul | June 1, 2006 11:28 AM

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