Australians wasting millions hanging on telephone

According to ACCAN (Australian Communications Consumer Action Network), sorting out phone and Internet issues is costing Australians over AUD150 million per year in lost time.

The consumer pressure group recently released research on the experience of Australian consumers which found that despite all the industry focus on omnichannel, 73% of consumers only use one method to contact their telecoms supplier – with phone (74%) being by far the most common method, followed by live chat (24%) and email (14%).

While the vast majority (84%) of issues were resolved by the industry, 9% were ongoing at the time of the research and 7% were ultimately never resolved. The research showed a frustrating pattern for consumers who often had to contact their supplier multiple times to resolve a problem.

Support by phone

Phone might still be the most common channel for Australian consumers to contact their service provider but it is by far the worst. The ACANN research revealed, for example, that customers calling their CSP by phone had to contact their provider 2.4 times on average to resolve their problem. Thirty-seven percent only needed to phone once, 24% had to phone twice, and the remainder had to phone multiple times.

Not only did the average Australian need to call multiple times to resolve their issue, but Australian CSPs were systematically wasting their time by keeping them on hold for long periods. ACANN’s research showed that the average length of a call was 27 minutes and 7 seconds, with just over half (52%) this time spent on hold (14 minutes and 6 seconds).

ACANN calculated that total time customers are spending to resolve an issue by phone is a staggering 65 minutes and 5 seconds.

Live chat support resolves issues in half the time

Support times via live chat were far better. In this channel customers contacted their provider 2.3 times on average, with 42% only needing to use live chat once. The average length of live chat conversations was 16 minutes and 6 seconds and, in contrast to phone support, 63% of the time was spent chatting with the CSR (for 10 minutes and 1 second). In total, customers using live chat spent an average of 37 minutes and 2 seconds to resolve an issue.

Social media is the fastest channel

Consumers who used other contact methods spent between 13 minutes and 8 seconds (social media) and 32 minutes and 5 seconds (in store) trying to resolve their issues. Even email (19 minutes and 8 seconds) and web form (18 minutes and 8 seconds) wasted less time than using the phone.

ACCAN wants action from the regulator

“Our research shows that consumers spent nearly 9 million hours trying to resolve a phone or internet issue from February 2019 – February 2020,” commented ACCAN’s CEO, Teresa Corbin. “When you contact your telco, you expect to have your issue solved quickly and with as little fuss as possible. Frustratingly, our research shows that consumers are spending over half the time on the phone to their telco simply waiting on hold to speak to a customer service representative.”

As the Australian Federal Government enters the final stages of the Consumer Safeguards Review, ACCAN is calling for reforms that support consumers to make informed and appropriate choices about their phone and Internet services.

“This research is the latest indictor that the current telco consumer protection rules are not working as intended and that communication consumers are not being treated fairly,” says Corbin. “We want to see the ACMA as the industry regulator frequently audit providers’ customer service and complaints handling arrangements and have more powers to enforce higher penalties where telcos are found not to be complying with their obligations.”

Some providers are far better than others

ACCAN noted that some providers were far more responsive than others, singling out Vodafone as having ‘significantly shorter’ phone resolutions times, for example.

Omnisperience’s view

It is ironic that the providers of phone services are so terrible at providing customer support via phone. The waiting times that customers are experiencing in Australia, and elsewhere, is an abject failure by the industry to take customer service seriously. This failure is on several fronts. Firstly, service providers are not hiring sufficient call centre staff for their needs, with some deprioritising phone support even though it is still the preferred channel for many customers. Secondly, CSPs are failing to address the root cause of customer problems – many of which are chronic and well understood, such as bill enquiries, for example. And finally, CSPs are not investing sufficiently in technologies that can help them deliver better service.

While the industry chases after faster and faster network speeds, it is still providing decidedly undigital and frustratingly slow customer service. When things go wrong customers need to know that their service provider will support them. This is a fundamental component of customer loyalty. The one brief light of hope was that at least Vodafone Australia is attempting to provide better service to its customers. Well done to them.

Teresa Cottam
Teresa Cottam

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