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Consumers often experience long wait times and poor customer service when trying to resolve issues with their telcos, but how much time does this take, and at what cost?


To find out, ACCAN commissioned a survey to ask 2994 consumers about their experiences when they contact their telco. Based on the results, we have worked out the cost to consumers in time lost resolving their telco issue, instead of doing something else.

How long did it take to resolve an issue?

We found on average it took consumers between 13 minutes and 65 minutes to resolve their telco issue, depending on how they contacted their provider.

Still Waiting   Average time spent in contact with telco providers to resolve issue

How many times did consumers contact their provider to fix their issue?

40% of consumers said they were able to resolve the issue in the first contact, however on average consumers contacted their provider 2.3 times before their issue was resolved. Again, the number of contacts depends on how you contact your provider with social media coming out worse than other methods on this score.

Concerningly, 18% of consumers reported contacting their provider 5 or more times to resolve an issue.

 

Still Waiting - Average number of times consumers had to contact their telco before the issue was solved

How did consumers contact their provider?

Consumers reported contacting their provider using different methods, with phone by far the most popular, and social media the least.

Still Waiting   Percentage of consumers who used each contact method

The majority of consumers (73%) used only one method of contact to communicate with their providers.

Why did consumers contact their provider?

Mainly consumers contacted their provider about a mobile phone service (34%) or fixed line internet service (32%). Other issues were about fixed wireless internet services (12%), landlines (10%), mobile internet service (10%), fixed satellite internet services (1%) and satellite phones (1%).

Were the results the same for everyone?

There were some noticeable differences in the way younger people and people with disability contacted their providers, and their success in getting their issues fixed.

Younger people (those aged 18-34) were:

  • More likely to have most recently experienced an issue with their mobile service (44%), whilst those over 65 were significantly more likely to have experienced their most recent issue with their fixed line internet service (48%) or their landline (18%).
  • Less inclined to contact their provider by phone (69%) than other respondents and significantly more likely to use online methods, with email being the most popular.
  • More likely to be doing something else while on the phone with their provider (62%), with the most common activity being using social media (47%).
  • More likely to be doing something else while on their live chat (61%) with the most common activity being using social media (54%)

 

 

People with disability or impairment had a more difficult experience, as they had to contact their provider significantly more times (4.1 contacts) compared to other respondents (2.3 contacts). Additionally, respondents with disability or impairment were also significantly less likely to have had their issue resolved (77%) compared to other respondents (83%).

What is the cost of time?

Time spent resolving an issue represents a genuine cost to consumers, as the time could have been spent doing something else.

ACCAN has calculated a dollar amount showing the cost to consumers for the time they’ve spent in contact with customer service trying to resolve an issue. We found the cost varies by contact method from nearly $18.60 down to almost $3.00, with a margin added in for the frustration of having to repeatedly make contact, as shown in the table below.

Contact method
Average cost to a consumer
Phone contact $15.07 - $18.58
Live chat $8.57 - $10.51
In person at a store $7.43 - $8.83
Email $4.43 - $5.46
Webform $4.20 - $4.99
Crowd support/forums $3.51 - $4.38
Social media $3.04 - $3.81

 

Resolving an issue via the phone is the costliest method for two reasons - it takes longer and requires repeated calls before the issue is resolved. The quickest and therefore ‘least costly’ method of contacting providers is via social media.

Case study: Email sent in error

Out of the blue, Kristy (name changed) received an email from Optus saying that ‘her order update had been received’. She had no idea what it was about or why she had received it as she hadn’t changed her service.

Kristy spent 54 minutes across 3 calls to contact Optus to find out what was going on. The first call took her 16 minutes, the second call took 17 minutes and the last took 21 minutes. In the end, Kristy was told that the email was an ‘IT error’, which they had not informed their customers about. By our calculations, the time Kristy had to spend resolving this issue ‘cost’ her $15.84 in time she could have spent doing something else.

This cost could have been avoided if Optus, on realising they had made an error, sent a follow up email to Kristy to explain the situation. If this had happened, Kristy wouldn’t have spent 53 minutes on the phone, costing her $15.84 in time forgone.

What is the total cost to consumers from contacting their provider?

While the value of time lost resolving telco issues may not seem great on an individual level, when we apply our findings to the broader population of over 18’s in Australia who contacted their telco over a 12-month period, it’s a different picture.

By our calculations, 6.9 million consumers contacted their telco about at least one issue during this period, and took an average of between 13 minutes and 65 minutes to resolve it. This amounts to a massive total of 7.6 million hours, costing consumers between $106 - $130.2 million in time forgone. These estimates are conservative given that some consumers likely had to deal with more than one issue with their telco. The table below gives more details.

Contact method
Cost to all consumers
Hours spent
Phone contact $77,053,375.07 - $95,013,080.02 5,547,399.21
Live chat $14,811,741.47 - $18,156,866.67 1,066,360.08
In person at a store $5,133,243.73 - $6,104,808.00 369,563.98
Email $4,285,791.86 - $5,284,730.03 308,522.33
Webform $2,611,154.42 - $3,105,365.19 187,988.08
Crowd support/forums $1,214,645.47 - $1,513,312.24 87,447.48
Social media $840, 518.66 - $1,051,976.24  60,512.50
All $105,950,470.68 - $130,230,138.38 7,627,823.66

 

1 ACCAN has costed the time Kristy spent getting in contact with Optus.

The time spent on the first call is valued at $0.23 per minute:

16 minutes x $0.23 = $3.68

The time spent on the second and third call is valued at $0.32 per minute to factor in the added frustration of having to call repeatedly and explain the situation to the operator again:

17 minutes x $0.32 = $5.44
21 minutes x $0.32 = $6.72

In total the time Kristy spent resolving this issue cost her:

$3.70 + $5.51 + $6.80 = $15.84

So, what is the best way to contact your provider?

While consumers have many reasons for preferring one contact method over another, our results show that generally it takes longer to resolve issues by phone, so if it works for you, it may be worth trying one of the quicker contact methods. For example, if you are able to resolve an issue using social media instead of over the phone, this could save you on average between $12.03 - $14.77 in time.

That being said, we know that some issues can only be resolved through talking to someone on the phone. As the survey results show, over half of the time spent on the phone was spent waiting on hold, so there is clearly room for improvement when it comes to the customer service telcos provide. ACCAN will continue to advocate for better, quicker customer service, as customers should be able to use whichever contact method they prefer, without being penalised.

...and what changes are needed?

Telecommunications are essential services and telecommunications consumer protections must reflect that essentiality. Better and more efficient support is needed to assist consumers when telecommunications problems and issues occur. Our findings show that customers are bearing too much of the cost of poor customer service, and that improvements by telco retailers are badly needed. This is particularly the case for consumers with disability.

ACCAN has been calling for customer service improvements driven by explicit obligations to reduce wait times, increase first contact resolution, and improve customer service staff performance, combined with greater regulatory oversight with appropriate enforcement measures. We will continue calling on telcos to improve the disability awareness and communication access of their customer service staff to better support consumers with disability.

ACCAN is committed in our advocacy for structural reforms to shape the telecommunications environment into one that supports consumers. For more details see our submission to the Federal Government’s consultation on Consumer Safeguards Part C: Choice and Fairness.

To read more on how the costs of customer service has been calculated see:
Download: docxStill waiting analysis report v.1.1.docx138.06 KB
Download: pdfStill waiting analysis report v.1.1.pdf.375.42 KB

Note: V1.1 updates the previous version in which some calculations were incorrect. The figures for time and cost to consumers and other references have been corrected.