Automatic phone menus are the worst. You dial the number, listen to pre-recorded prompts, press the button, listen, press the button, listen, press the button, listen, until you are forwarded or connected to the correct extension, directory, menu, person or whatever then. But you can bypass these automated attendants to get exactly where you need to go by setting up a simple shortcut on your iPhone.
Automated Call Menus Suck
According to a survey, 52% of people who call auto attendants or more advanced interactive voice response (IVR) systems become frustrated and 1
There have even been songs highlighting the frustrating aspects of automated servants. If you’ve never listened to Tool’s “LAMC,” it’s a seven-minute parody song ridiculing the Los Angeles Municipal Court auto attendant. It’s the only time I don’t mind holding down those DTMF tones continuously.
How your iPhone can help
For example, let’s say I regularly call my local healthcare facility to make, change, or cancel appointments. The medical center begins with a welcome message and emergency and suicide information, and the automated calling system takes two full minutes.
- 0: 00–0: 12 (welcome message, call 911 for emergencies)
- 0: 12–0: 19 (press 7 for suicide crisis line)
- 0: 19-0: 26 (phone number for suicide crisis)
- 0: 26–0: 32 (information about COVID vaccine)
- 0: 32–0: 40 (fever, cold, flu-like systems, press 3 for nurse)
- 0: 40-0: 46 (press 2 for appointment information)
- 0: 46–1: 04 (notification of screening for COVID at the facility)
- 1: 04–1: 15 (recommends a flu shot if not already done)
- 1: 15–1: 25 (press 6 for general questions)
- 1: 25–1: 28 (press an extension at any time)
- 1: 28–1: 31 (press 1 for pharmacy)
- 1: 31-1: 40 (press 2 for appointment information / reach primary care)
- 1: 40–1: 45 (press 3 for nurse)
- 1: 45–1: 50 (press 4 for benefits)
- 1: 50-1: 53 (press 5 for billing)
- 1: 53-2: 00 (press 0 for operator)
At 0:40 seconds it says to press 2 for appointment information, and if I missed that prompt it will show again at 1:31. Rather than having to wait for one of those prompts to be heard, I could press 2 immediately once my call is connected. However, I have a terrible memory so I won’t remember that number, but I can save it as a shortcut on my iPhone so I don’t have to.
This only makes sense if it is a number that you call often, perhaps even occasionally. If it is your first time choosing an automated call routing system, you are unfamiliar with the menus and prompts. But if you call it more than once, your iPhone can help you jump straight to the part of the call you want every time.
How to set your shortcut
It’s easy to create a shortcut that will call for you and navigate through an automatic call attendant. And while I keep referring to these “shortcuts,” you don’t have to use the Shortcuts app for the magic to work.
First open the Contacts app or “Contacts” via the Phone app and then add a new contact or edit the current contact if you have already saved the headphone line. Make sure that the full number with the area code and immediately after the number is in the phone field:
- Use a, (comma) to set a two-second pause.
- Use a ; (semicolon) to set a delay before you tap.
- Use a number (0–9) to automate button presses.
To use commas and semicolons in number schemes, press the + * # button at the bottom left of the keyboard. You will then see two buttons for “pause” and “wait” where the 4 and 6 keys were. Pause adds the comma and wait adds the semicolon.
Back to my medical center example, if I wanted to talk about appointments, I could use the following numbering scheme to dial the number, wait two seconds, and then have it press “2” for me:
However, this doesn’t always work in my case. The auto attendant must begin speaking before a DTMF tone is heard, and it sometimes takes more than two seconds to begin. More than one comma can be added to the schedule to create more pauses, and a second pause is all I need to make it work.
That number connects me directly to the appointment line, but after that there’s another auto pop-up menu that says I can press 1 for prescription refills, 8 for a mental health rep, or wait for any other needs. I would just wait for appointments, but if I wanted to talk to a GGZ employee I could add that with a break and 8 to the phone schedule.
Now what about semicolons? I want to call the medical center number and most likely want to discuss appointments, but I want to leave it blank in case I change my mind. I could add a semicolon and then the number 2 so that the iPhone shows when the call is first connected Choose “2” on the calling screen, and I can just press that to go to appointments. But I couldn’t press that either and choose another option from the menu.
You can also combine commas (pauses) and semicolons (wait) if needed. Let’s just say that I often want to talk to a GGZ employee, but not always. I may want to talk to the nurse from time to time or check my billing and payment information from time to time.
I could use a semicolon followed by “2”, which adds the screen Choose “2” choice. If I don’t press that button I can choose another option like 3 for Nurse or 5 for Billing. When I press that button, it waits for four seconds (two commas) and then automatically emits the 8 DTMF tone to select that menu item.
You can also apply the same concept to extensions. If you know the party’s extension, add it after the comma or semicolon or whatever you have set in your configuration.
Save the contact if you’ve come up with the phone number scheme.
How to call your shortcut
Just call them as you normally would – from the Contacts app, the “Contacts” menu in the Phone app, using Siri – whatever.
Whenever you start dialing the number, it will automatically dial, connect, pause and automatically press numbers based on your configuration to get you exactly where you want. For pauses and digit presses, nothing will be displayed on the call screen as shown in the first image below, but you can hear the DTMF tones.
If you chose something with a semicolon, it will call, connect, and wait for further interaction from you before moving on to another automation, if the semicolon is the first in the schema. In the second image below I have it 818-555-0110; Called 2 ,, 8 schedule, so Choose “2” appears next to the End call button. If I know I want to talk to a GGZ employee, I would tap that on the screen, then it waits for four seconds and press 8 to connect.
Access your shortcut faster
You can add the contact as a favorite in Phone if you call the number all the time. On the contact page for the number, click “Add to Favorites” and find and select the number under the “Call” menu. It will then be displayed in the “Favorites” tab in Phone. You can also add a Favorites widget created by shortcuts to your home screen for even faster access.
Create a shortcut to the home screen
If you want to create an app icon on your home screen for the contact instead of a widget, you can do that in Shortcuts too. I won’t explain that process here as I covered it extensively in my guide on how to create contacts home screen shortcuts, so check that out if you want to learn more.
Finally, if you follow the URL scheme route for the bookmark on your contact’s home screen, the scheme will look like one of the following. Commas and semicolons also work in these schemes.
Speed up interactions with your automated calls!
Although I used a local medical center above as an example, you could create a shortcut for calling and bypassing automated prompts for your bank, utility, favorite shopping center, or any other place with an automated operator.
If you are having trouble with your cable box, you may need to call your cable company regularly to reset it. But you can create a call shortcut to jump through the menus until you get to the option to reset your cable box. For example, with 818-555-0194 ,, 2, 3.1, 3.7 you could land directly on the gold.
The options are endless, but companies can change their automated calling systems at any time. So keep that in mind. If your phone number scheme has stopped working then that could be the reason so you will have to rebuild it using the new call menus.
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