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Independent tests done by Customer Benchmarking Australia have shown which bank, telco, energy provider, insurer and government department costs you the most time and money.
Customer Benchmarking Australia’s managing director Paul Van Veenendaal led the tests.
"We measured the time from when we first rang to when we spoke to a human being," Van Veenendaal explained.
Over two weeks they called 25 different organizations, and each one was contacted ten times at different points in the day, 250 calls altogether. The ‘on hold’ times were then averaged for the final result.
"Research has found that anything up to four minutes is acceptable, but anything after that people start to get annoyed," Van Veenendaal said.
Lorraine Burgess believes Centrelink is the worst ‘on hold’ offender. The 66-year-old suffers from MS and is on a disability pension. The last time she called them it took 35 minutes just to get through.
"I thought if a Centrelink person walked through the door at that moment I personally would've strangled them," Burgess said.
Many won't be surprised that out of all the industries we tested, Government agencies are the lowest performers.
"The Government needs to take a look and see who their market is, and think about talking to people as human beings," Van Veenendaal said.
Queensland's Transport and Main Roads - just over 1 minute, 30 seconds.
Medicare - almost three minutes.
Vicroads - five minutes, eighteen seconds.
New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services (formerly RTA) - almost seven minutes.
Centrelink (the worst performer out of all the sectors tested) - an average wait time of 26 minutes, 50 seconds.
"We're very disappointed by this result," Centrelink manager Hank Jongen said.
He admits their services aren't up to par, but promises to do better.
"I can understand customers’ frustration, and I'm very disappointed that we're not able to better deal with the heavy workloads that we face right now. I can only apologise," he said.
The telecommunications industry has been plagued by problems over the years, so how did they fare in our tests?
TPG - just over one minute.
Dodo - just over two minutes.
Vodafone - nearly three minutes.
Telstra - four minutes, 22 seconds.
Optus - more than four minutes, 40 seconds.
"With Optus I think they've been around long enough to understand the actual volume of staff they need to cope with the volume of calls. It could be the cost pressures on the organization," Van Veenendaal said.
It seems energy companies are improving, and all of the five tested (Tru Energy, Synergy, Australian Power and Gas, AGL and Origin) picked up the phone in under four minutes.
Tru Energy took just one minute and six seconds, while Origin took three minutes, 54 seconds.
"We’re seeing the energy companies, a couple of the big ones like AGL, improving their performance quite a lot," Van Veenendaal said.
ANZ - one minute, 39.
NAB and Commonwealth – just under two minutes.
Westpac - four minutes, 23 seconds.
St George - more than six minutes.
Van Veenendaal says "they could well be going through some technology upgrade to make it easier for their agents to provide a better service. It takes time to train the agents."
AAMI - blitzed the test, with a person answering in just ten seconds.
Suncorp -one minute, 49 seconds
NRMA and GIO - around two minutes, fifteen seconds.
RACV - more than six minutes.
"When you call the AAMI switchboard number first up you speak to a real person," AAMI’s Ruben Aitchison said.
He isn't surprised they came first. "We then transfer the call to the appropriate area, whether it's a sales or service area or to a claims area," he explained.
However that means you're put into another queue, and could be on hold for who knows how long.
It's not just consumers who feel the brunt of ridiculous wait times. There are more than 250,000 call centre operators across Australia, and time and time again, many of them have to remain calm in the face of frustration, anger and abuse.
"We're working hard. We take as many calls as we can," call centre employee Ann Statham said.
"At times we've had customers raise their voice or swear. They're usually frustrated for a reason, and you've just got to remember that and not take it personally," she added.
So is there any way to avoid the cues and short circuit the wait?
Van Veenendaal advice is "don't call on a Monday morning or after a public holiday, because that's when everyone calls. Make sure you've got your account or your bill in front of you, and you have your numbers.
"And treat that person on the phone like a human being - if you treat them well, you'll be surprised by the sort of things they can do for you," he concluded.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
Today's Tip of the Day - Customer Satisfaction
Published: Monday, February 13, 2012