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Helpline hassle drives customers away

Callers on hold for more than six minutes


A row of smiling call centre workers

Fed-up customers have to wait more than six minutes on average to speak to a human operator when they call company helplines, according to a new poll.

Waiting is the biggest consumer gripe and is one of the reasons that thousands of customers ditch companies in favour of their rivals.

Having to repeat the same information to different members of staff came a close second in the list of consumer grumbles, while customer service staff’s inability to answer queries came third.

The survey of 1,000 people, carried out for management consultancy Accenture, found that almost 60 per cent had switched at least one service provider in the last year because of such problems. Banks, utilities, internet providers and telephone firms suffered the highest proportion of defections.

Call queues

Accenture spokesman Robert Wollan said: ‘High-performing companies recognise that customer satisfaction is built or destroyed by how well they co-ordinate every step of each interaction.’

The survey backs Which? research from 2004 which found that significant numbers of customers found it difficult to get past the automated phone systems used by  many large companies.

We found that leading phone companies – including NTL, BT and O2 – particularly had a lot to learn when it came to picking up the phone and talking to customers.

More than four out of ten NTL customers found it difficult to speak to someone in person when they rang up with a query, while more than a third of BT customers told us of problems in getting anyone to answer in person.

Mobile-phone provider O2 also lacked the human touch, as 38 per cent of its customers said they found it difficult to speak to a person there.

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