Call Centre Hold Times in Australia and industries with poor customer service

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Worst Call Centre Hold Times in Australia

You’ve probably already heard the saying there are two things in life can’t be avoided, death and taxes.

And it seems that saying may need to be updated to include a third, being stuck on hold in a call centre!

If you’ve been trying to get through to the Centrelink call centre recently, on average, you can expect to be on hold for around 30 minutes, and that’s if you are ‘lucky’ enough to get through, with 2.8m customers receiving a ‘congestion’ message in July and August 2023, meaning they are unable even to join the queue.

But it’s not just Government departments.

Each month, we publish Mystery Shopping data on the worst Call Centre Hold Times in Australia and the results aren’t good.

Banks, Telcos, utilities and the Travel sector consistently appear as the worst offenders when it comes to complaints about call centre wait times, but is it justified, or is it all hot air driven by disgruntled customers?

In this article, we look at the worst call centre hold times in Australia, along with the worst performing industries in relation to customer service and reveal some tips on how companies can get it right.

The truth about call centre wait times

Looking at complaints specifically about call centre hold times, it’s important to put a little bit of call centre management logic into the equation.

According to the last census, there were just over 100k people nationally who identified as working in a contact centre so for the best part, I’m going to assume that you have limited knowledge of the intricacies of contact centre management and share some inside information with you.

A key metric for contact centres is what’s known as Service Levels. The simplest definition is the percentage of calls answered within a given timeframe. So an example would be 80/20 meaning the target for the call centre is to answer 80% of calls within 20 seconds.

Why am I telling you this?

Because sometimes, the details matter.

Assuming the contact centre is meeting its target, that means 80% of people who ring the contact centre will get their call answered within 20 seconds.

But 20% of the people who call will wait longer than 20 seconds.

If you happen to be one of the people in the 20%, your experience will be very different than the 80% who had their call answered within 20 seconds.

As you can see by the Call Distribution report below, if your call was answered in the red section, your wait time could have been anything from 20 seconds to 240 seconds.

Naturally, as a customer, the only wait time you care about is yours.

But as you can see, even if the call centre gets it right for most people, there will always be some calls where the experience isn’t going to be perfect.

An example of a Call Distribution Report that shows the expected wait times for customers.

Why Service Levels Matter

Deciding the right Service Levels for a contact centre is a decision that influences the expected wait times for customers and it is a conscious decision that senior executives have made within a business.

If a business wants to have low wait times for their call centre, they set high Service Level targets like 80% of calls to be answered within 20 seconds.

If they are happy for their customer to wait a long time, then they set low Service Level targets like 70% of calls to be answered within 10 minutes.

The call centre’s job is to meet the targets they have been set.

Now there is a direct correlation between Service Levels and cost and call centres can model the various scenarios using an Erlang Calculator (there is a lot of science behind contact centre management).

So what’s all this mean?

It means somewhere along the line, decisions have been made within a business about the level of service they want the call centre to provide.

If the company is trying to save costs, or doesn’t care about the wait times for their customers, then it’s a conscious decision that has been made.

So it’s a deliberate choice that businesses have made that is the cause of your long wait times.

Waiting for customer service support is even worse

Whilst waiting on hold to a call centre can be an often frustrating experience, it seems waiting for a response to a customer service enquiry is even worse!

A recent report released by software company ServiceNow revealed that throughout 2023, Australians spent 107 million hours waiting for customer service departments to resolve issues, an 11% increase from last year.

Unlike our Call Centre Rankings, which are based on real calls made to call centres, the ServiceNow report takes a different approach.

The 107 million hours figure is determined by a survey sent to 1,037 Australians, and the data is weighted to the latest population data sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Their report also revealed that:

  • 4 in 5 customers are losing patience with bad service.
  • 1 in 3 customers are losing trust in customer service.
  • The cost to the economy is estimated to be more than $1.28 billion.
  • Common frustrations include having to repeat information and waiting on hold.

So, whichever way you look at it, the trends for customer service all seem to be trending in the wrong direction.

The Worst Customer Service in Australia by Industry 

Each quarter, we publish the Australian Call Centre Rankings, assessing call centres across 48 different metrics including wait times, the quality of the agent when you do get through to someone, how long it took to navigate the menu and much more!

Top 6 Ranked Contact Centres
Q4 2023 (Australia)
1. Holmesglen TAFE (Vic)81.8%
2. Youi (Car Insurance)80.4%
3. Onkaparinga Council (SA)79.6%
4. Brisbane City Council (QLD)78.0%
5. Energy Australia73.4%
6. Simply Energy70.3%
Industry Average57.3%
Industry Sector Leaderboard
Q4 2023 Australia
1. Councils65.2%
2. Energy Providers61.0%
3. TAFEs58.6%
4. Internet Providers57.5%
5. Car Insurance52.5%
6. Banks40.1%
Industry Average55.8%

For the most up-to-date data on call centre wait times in Australia, please refer to our Australian Call Centre Rankings Report – new data published every month!

Centrelink Call Centre Wait Times

They’ve never been too far from the news, with regular complaints from Australians about the difficulties in getting through to a live person at the Centrelink call centre.

It seems like a fair criticism, given that 9 million calls in the 2022-23 financial year received a congestion message, and in the most recent date for July/August 2023 just published, Centrelink handled 8 million calls with 2.8 million receiving the congested message.

If you do manage to get through, the target for Services Australia is to answer 70% of calls within 15 minutes.

So even that tells you that they are happy for you to wait an average of 15 minutes.

And if you are in the 30% of calls that are not answered within 15 minutes (which is still within the KPIs), you could be in for a long wait.

The longest time (reported by Services Australia) that a customer had to wait last financial year was 2 hours and 54 minutes.

The latest data revealed at Senate Estimates in February 2024 revealed:

  • The average wait time to Centrelink from July 2023 to August 2023 has increased from 18 minutes to 32 minutes from the previous year.
  • Employment Services hold times were the longest at 48 minutes.
  • While the target is to answer 70% of calls within 15 minutes, in October last year at the Senate Estimates, it was revealed they only achieved about 60% of calls answered within 15 minutes.

And if you thought the call wait times were bad, claims are another thing altogether.

In December 2023, 1.1 million claims remain outstanding.

The federal government confirmed Services Australia has now reached its recruitment target of 3000 extra staff members for the department, which was announced in 2023 and Services Australia’s new chief executive, David Hazlehurst, said he was optimistic the department would be able to get the number of claims down in coming months.

“Some of our most expert and most experienced staff are spending time training the new staff. That, of course, has an implication in the short term for our performance as well because they’re not answering calls or processing claims,” he said.

“We do anticipate things starting to accelerate once the staff that have been on-boarded come out the other side of their training, but in the meantime, things will be a little uneven across any week, or any month.”

So perhaps long-suffering Australians who need to communicate with Centrelink might finally start to notice a change – fingers crossed for all involved.

Industry Data on the Worst Call Centre Hold Times in Australia

I know you are probably looking for a top ten worst companies in Australia for the call centre wait times but as you can probably imagine, most businesses are not too keen on sharing the wait times in their contact centre.

The good news is that we now publish each month, the latest performance results on a cross-section of Australia Call Centres across a range of different metrics including call centre wait times, the quality of the interactions, time spent navigation menus and lots more!

View the latest call centre wait times by industry in Australia >

Outside of that, the most reliable (self-reported) industry data we have relates to what’s known as Average Speed of Answer data.

Whilst the metric itself has some flaws, it does provide some insights into the wait times for customers.

The latest industry data revealed that the Average Speed of Answer decreased from 132 seconds in 2022 down to 101 seconds in 2023, a decrease of 23%.

So from an industry perspective, wait times are decreasing when trying to get through to a contact centre which is good news for consumers, however, our Mystery Shopping Insights seems to reveal a much different picture…

Customer Experience expectations are on the rise

A recent State of CX report (Customer Experience) revealed that the cost of providing a poor customer experience is on the rise with over one third of consumers no longer purchasing from a company after a bad customer experience.

And whilst companies are strongly pushing the move to digital customer service with an increase in AI-powered chatbots, when it comes to needing support for complex enquiries, consumer preferences were clear:

  • 80% of consumers prefer to speak to a live human on the phone.
  • 50% of consumers prefer to speak to a live human via live chat.

For simple enquires, the most popular preference for consumers is enabling them to self-serve via the companies website/FAQ page followed by live chat with a real person.

View over 120 of the latest CX statistics >

The drivers of Customer Satisfaction

When it comes to the ‘secrets’ to delivering an improved customer experience, not much has changed over the years, yet companies still seem to be unable to execute their strategy correctly.

1. Have knowledgeable and empathetic employees

The helpfulness of the customer service employee, along with their ability to convey empathy, is one of the best ways to ensure your customers remain satisfied, even when things go wrong.

Providing your employees with the tools to do their job correctly (i.e. Knowledge Management Systems, CRM tools etc), proper training in customer service and complaints resolution skills are easily obtainable and affordable.

2. Make the process easy

Self-service via your FAQ page on the website is often the first point of call for most customers so make sure you invest the time and resources into making sure your page contains helpful information for customers and this will go a long way to reducing the number of enquiries coming through to the next level.

If customers are still unable to find the answers they need, make it easy for them to contact you. This can include a number of factors including:

  • Enable the option up front to talk to a real human either via phone or live chat as this is the biggest driver in customer satisfaction.
  • If you are pushing a digital channel such as AI-Assisted chatbots, make it easy for customers to connect to a real human at any point.
  • Provide adequate resources in your contact centre to minimise delays. Offer call-back services during peak demand to avoid your customers having to be stuck on hold for long periods.

3. Ask for, and respond to customer feedback 

There are lots of tools and methodologies for capturing customer feedback and most companies these days have some sort of customer feedback/customer survey tool in place.

But a very small percentage of companies ever do anything with the data.

The feedback from your customers should be treated like a magic potion.

It has the power to transform your business.

So make sure you have processes in place to review all customer feedback, act on it, and close the loop with the customer on how their feedback has helped your business make changes.

Tips for consumers for faster enquiry resolution

Whilst you can sometimes feel helpless when it comes to getting a quick resolution to an enquiry or complaint, these tips can help.

1. Check the FAQ/Customer Support page first

Businesses are increasingly trying to help customers self-serve by providing them with common FAQs, tips, how-to videos etc, so checking the FAQ/Support page on their website can save you valuable time.

2. Selecting the right menu option

If you do need to ring the call centre, yes, the “press 1 for this, 2 for that” thing known as an IVR can be annoying.

But behind the scenes, your selection really does help you get to the most qualified customer service employee, which will save you time and make for a better experience (and you are much less likely to have to get your call transferred to another department).

3. Be nice to the customer service employee

99% of the time, it is not their fault you are experiencing difficulties or have been waiting a long time – that is usually the failure of other areas of the business.

Yelling or being angry with the customer service employee isn’t going to achieve anything and will only ensure they do the absolute bare minimum for you.

Rather, being nice to them will ensure they also do everything they can to assist you.

4. Use available escalation methods

Most industries in Australia have either an Ombudsman, industry body etc that you can escalate your concerns to so if you can’t get satisfaction by dealing directly with the business, reach out to the relevant authority to voice your concerns.

It’s also not hard to find the names of the CEO or senior executives, so contacting them directly may also expedite getting a resolution to your enquiry.

5. Don’t be afraid to leave

As I mentioned earlier in this article, providing fast, efficient customer service from a technical perspective is not difficult.

If a company doesn’t care enough about the customer experience they are providing, then they don’t deserve your business, so don’t be afraid to vote with your feet and take your business elsewhere.

Summary

The level of customer service that companies deliver is not by accident; it’s a deliberate choice about whether they want to invest suitable resources into their employee training, the contact centre resources and the technology to ensure a seamless customer experience.

Now, of course, it’s not easy to get right 100% of the time and there will always be times when either technology, processes, systems etc, fail or there are circumstances beyond the control of any organisation that can impact their ability to provide the level of customer service they would like to provide for their customers no matter how much they have invested in it.

But for some industries and for particular companies, it seems to be a case of delivering consistently poor customer experiences, which can be avoided.

What’s your experience been?

Who have you found to be the worst offenders?

Leave your comments below!

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IVR Best Practice

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Of the five quality competencies we assess as part of the Australian Call Centre Rankings, the 'ENGAGE' competency from the Australian Contact Centre Quality Standards has consistently been at the bottom of the rankings throughout 2023 and into 2024.

In this session, Simon will provide some tips that can be shared with agents on how to increase engagement with customers at the start of calls.

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2 Comments
  1. Daniel Harding 10 months ago

    Great article, Justin. Will we ever live in a world where the phones is answered when we need it? 🙂

  2. Author
    Justin Tippett 9 months ago

    Thanks Daniel, I’d like to think so!

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