A recent study commissioned by Microsoft has revealed that UK customers are waiting upwards of 85 minutes to speak to a representative at some of the country’s largest providers of consumer goods and services.

The study – in which 140 calls were made to large UK organisations across various sectors – looked to shed new insight on current waiting times and potential frustrations that UK customers are facing.[1] It found that the Energy sector has the greatest challenges, with customers having an average hold time of 35 minutes; 133 times slower than the optimal industry standard (20 seconds, according to additional reports).

Rob Smithson, Microsoft UK’s Business Applications Lead, commented:

“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. 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.”

Telco – cited as the best-performing sector – had an average wait time of just over two minutes. Just over half (53%) of organisations offered an alternative means of communication or call back service, rather than leaving callers waiting. 18% of organisations – primarily in Finance and Retail sectors – took the opportunity to market a new service or product before even allowing customers to reach the navigation menu.

The study also found that 13% of organisations required callers to be current customers to speak with an agent, which meant that lines were often at risk of being jammed by prospective customers, impacting the time it could take to resolve urgent customer queries or provide timely support.

The study assessed wait times across Finance, Insurance, Retail, Utilities, Energy, Telco and Local Government. Finance and Retail organisations were found to be the most likely to state they were experiencing delays due to ‘circumstances beyond their control’.

To compound matters, the latest July 2023 UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) reports that customer satisfaction is collapsing at the fastest pace on record, hitting the lowest level in eight years – with stubborn inflation and staff shortages triggering the sharpest year-on-year drop since 2008.

From the perspective of customers, the UKCSI key findings concluded that there were three key areas that organisations needed to improve:

  • Make it easy to contact the right person to help and resolve queries and issues.
  • Focus on employee behaviours and competence.
  • Improve website navigation.

Mr Smithson concluded:

“The findings underscore the challenges facing consumers and companies alike in the current economic climate, and the need for innovative solutions to ensure a better customer experience. Firms must endeavour to value their customers’ time. 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.”

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[1] The research, commissioned by Microsoft, was conducted between December 2022 and May 2023 among seven key sectors in the UK, including Finance, Insurance, Retail, Utilities, Energy, Telco and Local Government. Five large organisations were called in each industry across different times of day, with four calls made to each organisation. 140 calls were made in total, measuring aspects such as routing time, automated holding message, and length of wait given versus actual total wait time.

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