Get Human and 800 open doors for you

You want to call a big company, but you can’t reach a real person who can resolve your problem. Welcome to the modern world.

It’s a common dilemma in an age of automated phones with multiple menu options. Most of the time, you get a recording and a long wait on hold, accompanied by messages to use the company’s website to get better service.

Going online is not always a solution. Sometimes, you really want to speak to someone and tell your story, rather than using a live chat at a website.

If you find it impossible to get through to some firms, you can try a website called Get Human. When calling Apple, for example, you can find the quickest way to reach a real person.

This U.S. site lists many Canadian companies, as you can see from my Star column about it in 2013. A useful page tells you how to get through to Bell Canada.

Now I’ve learned of another website, 800, which has a few Canadian toll-free numbers. Here is how to get through to Air Canada— a company whose phone numbers are always a challenge for customers to find — and TD Bank.

“The numbers are accompanied by written transcriptions of the company phone menus, so that users can get what the help they need quickly,” says Webmaster Melissa Clark.

It is great to know that such services exist. They are breaking through the deep, dark channels of corporate communication and making it easy for customers to talk to their suppliers.

A consumer’s guide to stock market volatility

Another day of stock market losses around the world. Every commentator has a list of reasons why it’s happening. Can you believe them?

On The Media is one of my favourite podcasts. It enlisted Felix Salmon, a blogger with Fusion, to explain why journalists are wrong to cover falling stock prices so intensely. Here are some excerpts:

One day’s activity — up or down — may seem dramatic, but has little significance and foretells nothing.

Billions of shares of stocks are traded every day. Attributing the day’s results to any single factor is ridiculous. In fact, there are millions of factors and, therefore, no explanation.

The media treat the market going down like a passenger plane going down. A plunging stock market is not a tragedy. For the vast majority of investors, it’s an opportunity to buy stocks more cheaply.

Though “stocks going down” makes news, that doesn’t reflect broader reality. Look at historical trends. Over time, the equities market steadily goes up.

Felix Salmon’s articles at Fusion continue on a contrarian track. In a Aug. 24 piece, “Three cheers for the plunging stock market,” he emphasized that the economy is going to be fine even if the market goes down.

The stock market is NOT the economy. Instead, it’s a measure of wealth, showing how rich rich people are.

“If the rich are getting a little bit poorer, that’s fine. It means reduced inequality and an ever so slightly more level playing field for everybody else.”

Do you want to learn about investing? My nine-week course at University of Toronto starts Sept. 10. To sign up for the Thursday night sessions, go to Continuing Studies and search for Investing for Beginners.