Call centre waiting times…Back to Forum
Anonymous11 Aug 2014
Over the weekend I had reasons to call both British Airways and Virgin whilst I was in Germany.
One, I simply couldn’t get through to, after holding for over 40 minutes and the other, I did get through to after a 25 minute hold.
When I was connected, I was simply told, “we are very busy” – didn’t bother with my usual answer “well get more staff”!
Did make me think though, why does this continually happen, why can it take up to 45 minutes or longer to get through.
I know some multi nationals will switch you from one call centre to another, but would love to get an understanding why call centres can no longer cope. Surely spikes and busy times can be anticipated and surely a 45 minute wait is beyond “acceptable” !!
I know some of you have experience in call centres. would love to hear the theory behind why wait times can be so severe. Surely its NOT just down to staffing levels…..???11 Aug 2014
I’m afraid it is Martyn. I don’t know how BA run their call centre, but some will handle more than one client. Depending on their training individuals will also handle multiple clients so while this call may be signing someone up for the RAC, the next one could be booking a holiday for Cosmos. If the call levels are high amongst all the clients then you’ll just have to wait. It comes down to averages, the number of calls and the average length of a call and staff are hired accordingly, after all, their income per call is fixed and the centres don’t want staff drinking tea and chatting while they wait for a call to come in.
No company wants their clients to hang on longer than necessary, but if you’re calling via a premium number you do wonder?11 Aug 2014
Having worked at Amex for several years in both Platinum and the Centurion teams (when they were separate offices – they are now the same one in Brighton) then it does come down to staffing levels and budget for staff. There is a team of people dedicated to analyzing data (often looking at call rates for the same day the year before) and then working there staff numbers and holidays around expected demand. They then allow extra staff off at certain times of year – or offered overtime (subject to budget) when they felt they were short staffed.
As for on the day – we could all see the call boards stating how many people were either available to take calls – or how many people were waiting and how long the longest person had been waiting. If calls had got up to a minute (SLA was 80/85% of calls answered within 20 seconds) then team managers would shout asking people to “step” in and take calls. The nature of the role meant that dealing with enquiries meant you might have to research, investigate, contact airlines and so forth, or call clients back and not be available to take calls. The efficient ones could do almost all admin on a call within the call and keep pickling up calls (these were all performance metrics when you did your annual and 6 monthly reviews). However some people would come off a call and then take forever to step back in.
It wasn’t fun working and being on the phone and seeing calls holding for long periods of time (when it did happen from time to time), knowing you had colleagues who whilst not being idle were not working effectively. Over time they managed to divert calls between different departments and people who were multi-skilled but it didn’t solve the problem as you can never anticipate a big event / problem.
In the case of continually being on hold for 20/30/45 minutes then this is just poor management, being cheap and having poorly trained staff (and possibly low staff morale with high staff turnover as pay if often poor – lots of staff don’t care about the job they do – just making money to pay there rent) – it really is down to service levels and airlines tend to have there own dedicated teams – so it isn’t 1 call centre managing various clients. BA or whoever when this happens are just keeping costs down – trying to drive people online as well – which is a real pain when online doesn’t work. It is unacceptable to make people go this way and not deliver the technology to make it work and then fail to deliver acceptable service over the phone.11 Aug 2014
I think TimFitzgerald hits on the head about staff, pay and morale. I manage a small in house call centre as a part of my management responsibility’s. When I say small, tiny actually, around twenty operators at peak times. A few years ago I looked at contracting this part out. I visited one of the major UK ones, it had over a 1000 staff answering calls for tv services, mobile phone services, and a well known credit card company an airline (not BA, a Loco) as well as a number of smaller contracts. It was clear to me the staff were young, poorly paid, measured on pure numbers and not customer satisfaction.
I chatted to a few staff outside after my meeting with the management, they were out the back having a smoking break (unpaid) , hated the job, hated the hours, hated the company, and interestingly hated the company’s they were contracted to serve. That told me all I needed to know.
I did not sign up with them and kept it in house, I believe if you concentrate too much on the savings you lose sight of the customer…..literally. I was not risking that scenario. I do not know the arrangements BA have, and it sounds like AMEX have kept it in house as I did. End of the day a business gets what it pays for, so if your regularly holding for long periods, I will let you consider why that may be. I and I believe AMEX have high levels of customer satisfaction, partly because we speak to our customers when they want to engage with us, knowing when they do, they probably want to buy.
Edit. I forgot to mention, the saving would have been about 16% on my call handling operation.11 Aug 2014
So exactly how many staff are we talking about with the large multi national call centres?
I still don’t see why companies can’t manage more effectively a 50 minute call waiting period. It really is shocking…11 Aug 2014
In the case of Amex (Centurion / Platinum) travel you are talking about 100-150 staff who can take calls (Guestimate since I haven’t been there a long time so not sure now how many people make up the team). In terms of other departments call centre staff number several hundred, though the pay / morale of people who work in the normal customer service centre for card / billing queries is much lower and the staff turnover is much higher.
I don’t know how many people BA employ in the various teams – but obviously not enough.11 Aug 2014
A recent change in the law, stops companies from using premium rate numbers for calls into customer service call centres
Apparently, the perfect productivity in a call centre environment is something called the 80/20 rule. In other words 80% of calls are answered within 20 seconds.
A few years ago I was asked to analyse why calls started to queue unexpectedly in our Sales Centre… It didn’t take too long for me to realize that, in order to make the customer feel special, quite a few agents were adopting the “let me just go and speak to my manger” tactic..
It just took 10 advisors to do this for 30 seconds, and suddenly there became a 5 minute holding time. All done for the best intentions, but the consequence was keeping customers waiting, and it’s not so easy to converse to someone who’s been waiting for a while.11 Aug 2014
Numbers are hard to fathom, what I would say is that a well known Loco that does most of its business on the net has 80 lines in to the centre. That does not mean they are taking eighty calls or have eighty staff, it means they can handle a maximum of eighty calls at a time if eighty staff are answering those calls. Any more and you will get a heavy use message and told to wait or call back later. We have forty lines with twenty operators, giving people waiting more than 3 minutes the option to leave a message and we will call back (target within one hour).
So the answer Martin is I have no idea how many operators BA have, if they are actually BA staff, or how they go about reducing call waiting problems when they arise. Next time you call, ask!11 Aug 2014
Under normal circumstances, I could be described as “a miserable old git” when flying. I have no desire to engage the person sitting next to me and no desire to repeat the same story (yes, I’ve been on this flight before…yes I’m a regular traveller. ..actually I fly every week etc).
Last year however, the chap seated next to me announced he was the Manager of a call centre in India (Pune, I think)…… my first rather obvious comment was how annoying I found it to have to speak to a person in India who’s first language was not English and had real problems understanding what it was that I was asking for. I told him that I found myself getting irritated/annoyed/frustrated with the person in a way that I don’t, when you are face to face with someone in a business meeting (in India for example).
In short, he described the operation and I was shocked to learn that call centre’s can handle 20 or more clients (in my case a recently demised British airline) and that they use a series of flow charts to attempt to answer your query…..if you ask a question not on their computer, they are lost OR they then need to call the (airline in this case) in the UK and ask them for help.
I suddenly had a better understanding of the set up and no longer get annoyed with the person at the other end however, it begs the question why certain companies think it’s acceptable to use (in an English speaking country) native English speakers at the front end, and poorly paid, poorly trained, Young Indian folks at the back end, usually when something has gone wrong!
It’s as though we are setting these young people up to fail.
PS. As many of us on this forum don’t know each other, I want to add that this is not a dig at those people who work in these call centers more about the principle of the front end/back end mentality.11 Aug 2014
Working in an Indian call centre is considered a career, and in comparison is better paid in India than the UK. Indian call centres invest a lot in their staff, and some of the better ones have a half day per week UK familiarisation day. This includes the latest sports news, Eastenders plot, royal family comings and goings, main news stories etc etc. this then allows the call centre employee to engage with the UK customer in idle chat about current things in the UK and engender empathy on both sides.11 Aug 2014
Appreciate the extra info. Thanks.
Unfortunate for me, as I try to be more tolerant as I grow older, I often find the opposite to be true…..
I hate rudeness and poor manners in all walks of life and yet I see it dwindling day by day….11 Aug 2014
I am responsible for the provision of telecommunication services to a number of public bodies several of which have large call centres; if any of them took 45 minutes to answer a call heads would roll. Is it a case that BA are simply relying on most of their business being done on line and that their call centres are only dealing with “minor” changes and enquiries so these calls have no priority? I cannot reacll the last time I needed to call BA but I do remember i was answered in a matter of minutes and they were very helpful. BT how about a survey of major carrier call centres response times in a forthcoming issue?12 Aug 2014
It would also be interesting to know how airlines run their call centres, how many staff they employ and how they cope with the unexpected high call volumes caused by for example bad weather leading to flight cancellations?12 Aug 2014
Hi LP / Derek
I agree – that could be an interesting article to research and write. It isn’t just BA – it can be public sector bodies who make you hold a long time (30 minutes recently for me for corporation tax). The worst I have had in the voice automated options when calling the Inland Revenue recently. My father passed away a few weeks ago and I had to call the tax office to inform them and I phones the bereavement number that they give to you when you get the death certificate. Considering to most people this is a very sensitive time you would think the number would go straight to a bereavement team. But no – it just goes to general inland revenue machine which asks what you are calling for. I clearly stated “bereavement” but got put through to some random department (Benefits or Refunds – can’t remember which now) and had to be transferred through. I have to say one of the most appalling experiences ever. I found it rather funny – but I would think most people would have expected something much better and many people may have found it quite upsetting.12 Aug 2014