UK customers seeking assistance from customer service representatives are facing remarkably long wait times, according to a study conducted by Microsoft.
The study involved placing 140 calls to large UK organisations across various sectors, aiming to shed light on current wait times and the challenges faced by customers.
Findings from the study expose the energy sector as the most daunting, with customers enduring an average hold time of 35 minutes and 34 seconds. Microsoft said the staggering figure is 133 times slower than the industry’s optimal standard of 20 seconds, as reported by industry media. The study even documented an excruciatingly long wait time of 85 minutes.
Rob Smithson, Microsoft UK’s Business Applications Lead, emphasises that the pandemic can no longer be used as an excuse for poor service, claiming that cost-effective digital solutions are available to optimise and streamline customer calls and live chat interactions.
“Calling your energy provider and waiting over one hour 25 minutes to speak to a human is equivalent to reading 255 emails, watering 85 plants, or listening to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody 14 times,” he said.
“The pandemic can no longer be used as a scapegoat for delivering poor service.
“There are many cost-effective digital solutions to ensure that customer calls and live chat are optimised and efficient. There is a real gap emerging between where businesses see themselves as agents of customer excellence and the reality of their consumers’ experience.”
The study’s results indicate that the Telco sector has the shortest wait times, with an average wait time of 2 minutes and 3 seconds.
One concerning finding is that only around 53% of the organisations surveyed provide alternative communication options or call-back services, leaving customers stuck to their phones in a frustrating limbo.
Furthermore, approximately 18% of the organisations took advantage of the hold time to market new services to callers even before reaching the main menu. Microsoft said this practice was particularly noticeable in the Finance and Retail sectors.
A mere 13% of the organisations required callers to be existing customers to engage with an agent, slowing down the service for people needing urgent assistance.
The average wait times by vertical were:
- Energy: 35 minutes and 34 seconds
- Finance: 8 minutes and 27 seconds
- Insurance: 7 minutes and 49 seconds
- Local government: 4 minutes and 8 seconds
- Retail: 12 minutes and 50 seconds
- Telco: 2 minutes and 3 seconds
- Utilities: 8 minutes and 51 seconds
The picture is considerably worse when looking at the maximum wait times that came out of the study. One energy firm had a maximum call wait time of one hour and 25 minutes.
A Confusing Path
Navigating phone menus also proved challenging, with Local Government and Utilities exhibiting the most complex routing menus, resulting in longer waiting times to connect with agents.
The study suggests that the morning offers the shortest average wait time for contacting customer service, at 10 minutes and 7 seconds. Conversely, lunchtime emerges as the busiest period, with average wait times escalating to 14 minutes and 17 seconds.
Smithson emphasised the need for innovative solutions to enhance the customer experience and reduce delays.
“Firms must endeavour to value their customers’ time,” he said.
“Using tools that simplify operations and get customers to the answers they are seeking in the fastest time fosters positive customer sentiment and loyalty and builds valuable brand differentiation.”
The research, commissioned by Microsoft, spanned from December 2022 to May 2023. It encompassed seven critical sectors in the UK: Finance, Insurance, Retail, Utilities, Energy, Telco, and Local Government. The study involved making 140 calls to five large organisations within each sector, at various times of the day, with four calls placed to each organisation. Metrics evaluated included routing time, automated holding messages, and the given wait time compared to the actual total wait time.