Australian call centres longest wait times 

Australian call centres longest wait times

The list of Australian call centres longest wait times

Way back in 2017 (don’t worry there is updated information below), Channel 9 reporter Nat Wallace produced a report that conducted a hard-hitting investigation into Australian call centres longest wait times.

But Nat didn’t take on this challenge by himself.

After all, it’s not an easy task.

Nat was supported by retiree Fred Travis who gave us this pearl of wisdom: “if companies can’t employ enough phone operators, they should have to pay for wasting our time”.

Fair call Mr Travis.

There were also vox pops of ‘everyday people’ while Ben went on the attack conducting his exhaustive tests over one whole lunch period,  with one call (yes, one call) to each organisation to test the wait time.

I know, he really got stuck into it hey.

The ‘results’

Anyway, I bet you are dying to know the outcome from this fine piece of journalistic investigation?

There’s a link to the video below but the key ‘results’ revealed were:

  • The ATO had a wait time of 8 minutes (against an average wait time of 84 seconds)
  • Transport and Main Roads – 2 minutes (on target)
  • Medicare – 8 Minutes (Nat didn’t quite reveal their target but it was lunchtime and a man has to eat)
  • Centrelink – 1 hour 5 minutes (claiming an average wait time of 15 minutes).

How to cheat the call centre system

In special effects to rival The Matrix, Nat (whose talents are clearly being wasted at Nine) delved into the phone systems themselves (it’s worth watching the video for this alone) to reveal some Hacks to bypass the call centres IVR menu’s and get straight through to a real person.

Ben claims to have cracked the code for three companies:

  • ING – press ### to get through to a Live Operator
  • Virgin Money – *01
  • Qantas ######

Can’t pull one over Nat either with his revelation that “the companies will eventually find out what they are up to, and they’re blocked”.

Bugger.

He’s good.

 

So which button should you press to get through quicker?

Ever just pressed #1 or any button just to get through to someone?

Come on, be honest…

Well, I’ve got some bad news.

It’s really not going to help you.

The reason call centres put the annoying ‘Press 1 for this, 2 for that’ system in (known as an IVR in the call centre industry so you can talk the lingo) is to try and get customers to talk directly to the agents that have the best skills to help them.

Think of emergency services – they literally have staff who are only trained to take police calls, or ambulance calls, or fire calls.

But not all three.

Why? Because those call types are completely different and require completely different skill sets.

Well that logic is also used in most call centres – some agents are better at sales or service, some can handle the more complex calls etc.

So pressing the right button will actually result in a better experience for you despite it being a painful experience.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some call centres who have WAY too many options – it’s poor form and they should be given the good heave-ho.

Why long call centre wait times are actually your fault

The ‘main offenders’ of these long call centre wait times mentioned Nat’s article seized the opportunity to remind the general public that there are some preferred times they should call to avoid the rush.

That’s right.

At the time of this original article, Channel 9 literally had the business representatives of the companies featured suggest it’s actually your fault there are long wait times because too many customers are calling at the same time and that is what is causing the problems.

Just rude I tell you.

I won’t give them the satisfaction of revealing the times they’d prefer you call because quite frankly that’s something you never should have to worry about.

Rather, I’m going to hope that the key stakeholders of those government agencies actually get their finger out of their arse and start delivering the level of service that we as taxpayers deserve.

We’re calling because we need some assistance, not wanting to sit on hold for endless hours.

There are enough contact centre technology vendors and workforce management experts around that would seize the opportunity to deliver some serious change.

Or maybe, and I know it’s a small outside chance, that the extensive sample size of one call that Nat Wallace conducted may not have done justice to the actual average performance of the government agencies mentioned and they aren’t really that bad?

Anyone with a basic knowledge of contact centre management will tell you that even with really high Service Levels (a target to answer calls really quickly) there will also be the exception as calls arrive at random times which whilst there is some science we use to predict call volumes, it will never be 100% accurate.

So maybe Nat just happened to be that one outlier call that happened to just ring at the wrong time?

I suspect the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

 

 

How about some hard evidence?

I must admit that on the balance of evidence, it would be fair to say that Centrelink as an example, was not a finely tuned oiled machine.

The Centrelink call centre has been in the news on many occasions and despite the millions of dollars being invested over the years, it seems like things were just never going to improve.

Data revealed that in 2018, 36 million calls were met with a busy signal and over 4 million callers who managed to still get through hung up.

Ouch.

That said, in April 2021, Services Australia (who are responsible for the Centrelink call centre) advised us that NO customers have not received a busy signal since 2020.

In fact last financial year, the average call wait time across Services Australia’s phone lines reached a record low of under 5 minutes.

What about call centre wait times in Australia for 2021?

When Nat first covered his story back in 2017,  Australian call centres longest wait times wasn’t a pretty picture.

So have things improved since?

Well for some Australian Government Contact Centres the data seems to suggest that yes, there has been some improvement.

But for other contact centres, the situation may have actually gotten worse 😱

With COVID forcing many offshore call centres to close, a number of companies that relied heavily on offshore call centres were caught out (Telstra as one example).

As they scramble to ramp up call centres again back in Australia, it takes time to recruit and train agents so for many of the larger call centres, they are under all sorts of pressure to handle the call volumes.

And of course, we have our own COVID issues here as well and many call centres have been forced to move to a work from home model that has had an impact on being able to handle the same number of calls, or for some industries, handle a large increase in calls.

There’s also a shortage of call centre staff – recruitment agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to find employees who want to work in an Australian call centre so that also doesn’t bode well for call centre wait times here in Australia.

When the ATO has a page on their website with the message “Find answers to top call centre questions here and save time. High call volumes may result in long wait times” it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence does it?

Skynews also reported on 20th July 2021 that on the COVID hotline in Victoria, there was a call centre wait time announcement advising customers that there was a 17-hour wait time.

Not surprisingly, the Victorian Premier subsequently advised that the recording “had conveyed the wrong message and the actual wait time was closer to 20 minutes”.

The following day that wait time announcement was turned off…

Isn’t technology helping though?

Sort of.

It’s true that more and more of us and seeking to find answers to our enquiries online and avoid having to ring a call centre at all.

But…

The calls that are then coming through are a lot more complex and taking a lot longer to resolve.

That drives what we call Average Handle Time up, and ultimately, that has an impact on how quickly we can answer calls.

So despite the lower call volumes, many contact centres find they still need more call centre agents to handle the number of phone calls coming through.

In conclusion… 

I personally think it’s about time all Government agencies were held accountable for their call centre performance with the average wait times, abandonment rate and their Service Level targets all made publicly available.

And if you run a private call centre, it’s ultimately a decision that you (or your management team need to make) on how long you want customers to wait.

Why? Because it’s completely controllable and comes down to how much you/they want to invest in the customer experience.

And if you aren’t sure how to, read more about an Erlang Calculator or come and do one of our call centre courses.

Ultimately though it doesn’t matter what the stats say, all customers ever care about it what happens to them.

So is it true?

Are call centre wait times improving?

What are some of your call centre hold time in Australia horror stories?

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About Justin Tippett 74 Articles

Justin is the founder of CX Central and one of the leading authorities on Contact Centres and Customer Experience in Australia.


As well as CX Central, Justin manages CX Skills, the leading source of specialist customer experience and contact centre courses in Asia Pacific. He was named as one of the Top 25 Global CX Influencers in 2019.


Justin also provides consulting services for call centres and CX through his CX Consult business including call centre health checks/audits.


He is also responsible for the memes on the Call Centre Legends page followed by over 30k people 😮


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2 Comments

  1. Regarding the instructions from the departments as to “when are the best times to call” – it would seem they are aware of when they are staffed adequately and when they are not – so the real question is why are they not looking for some creative scheduling solutions to balance their wait times across the day?

  2. The real problem with the “tricks” is that they may get you to a real person marginally more quickly – but most likely not the real person you need.
    The IVR is there for a reason: it helps to triage calls and direct them to the employees with the knowledge, tools and authority to help you. Yes IVRs can be annoying, and in many circumstances are badly designed, but they do serve a purpose.
    Bypassing the IVR may make Nat feel he is clever and has beaten the system, but it will just result in his call being routed to a General Enquiries or default queue. It is doubtful he will spend less time waiting, and it is unlikely that the employee he winds up with will be able to solve his problem. Rather his call will probably be transferred to the correct queue, where he will begin the wait he would have had, had he just followed the prompts instead of smashing the # key.

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