January 10, 2013, 10:46 AM — "Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold." Have ten more aggravating words ever been uttered? If you're fed up with doing time in customer-service limbo, take heart: Some startups are trying to take the cuss out of customer support by providing free online workarounds.
Fast Customer: This sparsely designed, straightforward site could not be simpler to use. Find a company in the list of more than 3000, click 'Have them call me', enter your phone number, and go about your business. A representative will call you back. You won't get a call until an actual conversant human being is on the phone, so no more navigating time-consuming phone trees or entering account numbers only to be shuffled back into a queue. The site lists a wait-time estimate before you send your request, so you have an idea of when to expect a call.
Fast Customer's company list breaks out subcategories, such as "Dell: Tech Support" and "Dell: Customer Service," so you can direct your call appropriately. It has a forum for user comments and feedback, as well, plus apps for iOS and Android. You can also use the service via text.
In addition, Fast Customer provides feedback on how customers feel about each company--when I checked, for example, 35% of Dell customers reported that they were "happy" with the company, 38% said "meh," and 27% reported "bad" feelings. (Are you listening, Dell?)
LucyPhone: Can you guess how this site got its name? Think acronyms: Let Us Call You. It works in much the same way as Fast Customer. Select a number from the list or enter a toll-free number if you have it, and click Start; Lucy will call you back and patch you through.
You'll probably still need to navigate the phone-tree jungle; if you are put on hold, however, you can press "**" ("##" on Google Voice) to leave a message for the agent who takes your call, or you can leave a call-back number. Once an agent is on the line, Lucy will call you back. A mobile version is available for iOS and Android.
GetHuman: Although GetHuman can connect you to the appropriate customer service department (courtesy of LucyPhone), it also offers an extensive collection of all the methods to contact a company, including phone numbers and email addresses for various departments.