This post has two audiences: those interested in usability of and access to local government services, and people specifically trying to contact Southampton City Council by phone. For the former, here’s a brief case study. For the latter, I have information that will help you!

I needed to get in touch with the Council, but was routed through seemingly endless menu options when I rang. Inevitably, whatever option I chose, I was given a message about accessing services online, before my call was dropped. Ouch.

I understand the Council are coping in a time of cuts and want to shunt customers to web-based services wherever possible, but I can’t imagine it’s that uncommon to have a query that just needs a human being. Mine did!

Stumped by the phone menus, I sent an email, but the turnaround time that was too long for my needs (in the order of weeks, not days). In the end, I had a very helpful exchange with the Council via their Twitter account, They told me that the best way to reach an advisor is:

  1. Call 023 8083 3009.
  2. Select Option 3 from the menu.
  3. You will hear another range of options. Let these play through a couple of times and don’t press anything.
  4. You will eventually hear another menu, which offers you the option to press 9 to speak to someone.

So the magical step, step 3, is knowing to do nothing and wait for the Secret Extra Option to appear. This worked for me.

I checked with the Council that it was okay to release this publicly and was given a positive response, along with information I had already inferred:

We are just currently trying to strike a balance between driving people to our online services whilst ensuring people have a route to speak to someone if our online offer doesn’t solve their issue.

I understand that tricksy issue, but do suspect the Council is pushing too hard against the phone option. I was able to get in touch, but only with persistence, technological literacy and a Twitter account. How might someone less advantaged fare?