A truly killer app? Hong Kong-designed ‘hotline killer’ avoids hanging on phone forever

Smartphone app Skipmenu allows callers to bypass robotic recordings and tap their way quickly through the maze of time-confusing and often unnecessary options on phone hotlines

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 12:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 May, 2016, 11:49am

A new Hong Kong smartphone app offers users relief from the tedium of telephone hotlines that steer callers through a labyrinth of recorded messages. Hotlines like HSBC’s – the one most often cited as a source of frustration among people the app’s developers spoke to.

Skipmenu, branded a “hotline killer”, represents hotline messages visually on a smartphone screen, allowing callers to bypass robotic recordings and tap their way rapidly through the maze of options – and even connect to a customer service representative.

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The launch version of the application, which is free to download, is able to read 800 hotlines, including those of banks, telecom companies, airlines and Hong Kong government departments.

WATCH how quickly Skipmenu navigates a hotline

“When calling a faceless entity like the Inland Revenue Department, you can waste 10 minutes on average listening to ‘press one for this’ or ‘press two for that’,” says Gabriel Chan, Skipmenu founder and chief executive. “By seeing all the options on the screen, rather than hearing them, you can connect in seconds.”

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He adds it wasn’t too difficult to make a start with 800 hotlines simply by asking around.

“If you spark a conversation about annoying hotlines, HSBC is the most mentioned one, and then there’s whatever telco they’re using. After that, it’s maybe their insurance company,” Chan says.

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“HSBC and Standard Chartered have about 16 levels. The Inland revenue Department is pretty deep, too. We have to do our own taxes. I’m pretty sure a lot of Hong Kong business users can feel the pain.”

Other hotlines on Skipmenu include Bank of China, DBS, Manulife, AXA, AIA, Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, Octopus, the MTR Corporation, PCCW, ThreeHK, China Mobile, SF Express and the Immigration Department.

Android users of the app can call a hotline from Skipmenu’s phone book, their own phone book or just by tapping in the number, and the visual menu will appear. Users of iOS can connect only through the Skipmenu phone book, due to Apple restrictions, but Chan says they are working with Apple to solve the issue.

“I’d say that in Hong Kong, the levels on hotlines are way deeper than in North America,” says Chloe Chan, Skipmenu’s head of growth. Both Chans are from Canada, where Skipmenu’s engineering lab is based.

“Some people in the industry say they make the maze really bad just to shut people out. There are easier ways to reroute customers without damaging your own image,” she says.

Last year, British consumer group Which? surveyed 3,500 people to find out what most annoyed them when dealing with 100 of the largest British companies, and 36 per cent said automated answering machines. The only thing more annoying was call centres being located outside Britain, which has long been a common gripe in the country.

Large companies have been increasingly directing customers to hotlines, Chloe Chan adds.

“Calling companies is a real problem, but it’s not going away. When they added email support, we still had to call. Then they added live chat, [but] we still had to call. Then they added social media, [and] we still had to call. If you look at the stats, an overwhelming majority are calling more than anything else.”

Skipmenu also features menus of fast-food outlets (and popular cha chaan teng around Quarry Bay, where its offices are located) for users who want to order a food delivery or pick-up.

“We imported some menus so when people call ahead they can know what they want to order. They can call, say what they want, and that they’ll be there in 10 minutes. That’s a future direction for us,” Gabriel Chan says.

He adds they are open to suggestions for other hotlines to be added.