Aussies waiting on hold for longer, costing the economy $1.28b, says report

Aussies waiting on hold for longer, costing the economy $1.28b, says report

Photo: Jonas Leupe via Unsplash 

The time spent on hold by Australians increased dramatically over the past year with a new report estimating it cost the economy $1.28 billion in lost productivity amid a warning to businesses that patience is starting to wear thin among its consumer base.

The Customer Experience Intelligence Report, backed by digital workflow company ServiceNow, estimates that Australians spent more than 107 million hours on hold in 2023 to make service complaints or seeking to resolve an issue. That’s up 11 per cent from a year earlier.

In a worrying sign for businesses, the survey also found that cost-of-living pressures are eroding customer loyalty, with bad service a key trigger.

Some 59 per cent of people surveyed plan to take their business elsewhere this year if they have to wait more than two to three days to have their issues resolved.

The three-day patience threshold compares with an average of 5.1 days it currently takes for businesses to satisfy customer complaints.

The study of more than 1,000 Australians, conducted by Lonergan Research, has revealed that regardless of bad service 94 per cent of people expect to change their spending behaviour in 2024 as they juggle cost-of-living pressures.

Four in five Australians, or 82 per cent of the survey sample, say that because costs are going up, they have less patience with bad service. This is up from 72 per cent last year.

Some 60 per cent of people plan to spend less while 55 per cent will look for better offers in response to the combined impact of rising costs and poor service.

Simon Bowker, the Asia-Pacific head of customer workflow solutions at ServiceNow, says higher costs are pushing customers to demand a better service experience.

“They’re frustrated because as a nation we’re stuck on hold,” says Bowker.

“As the cost of living continues to rise in 2024, fed-up Australians are giving brands less leeway when it comes to resolving complaints.”

Victor Dominello, a former NSW MP and founder of ServiceGen which works with governments to enhance digital service delivery, says in the current economic climate ‘the last thing we can afford to give away is our time’.

“Yet businesses continue to steal valuable hours from us every day,” he says.

“What I’ve learnt is that great customer experience is all about respect. If a business respects its customers, they won’t ask you to wait on hold or expect you to navigate through unwieldy processes.

“This is a wake-up call for brands, because that lack of respect translates directly into customer distrust.”

The business sectors swamped with the highest volume of customer complaints in 2023 were retail (62 per cent), utilities (61 per cent) and financial services (60 per cent).

However, retail goods and services were named ‘best for customer service’ while financial services showed the biggest improvement over the year with 31 per cent rating the sector’s customer service as ‘good’ - up from 24 per cent in 2022.

The grocery and supermarket industry has the best average customer service ranking at 6.7 out of 10, with two in five people (41 per cent) ranking it ‘good’.

Government had the lowest average customer service ranking at 5.4 out of 10 with only 18 per cent ranking its customer service ‘good’.

“Businesses know they cannot afford service delays or worse to not deliver on the customer promise,” says Bowker.

“It’s an incredible result for a high-volume service industry like retail to rank best for customer service, while also addressing the highest number of complaints in 2023.”

Bowker notes that investments made by businesses in customer service support via apps and chatbots are among the measures that have improved customer experiences.

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