back to article Airline leaves customer on hold for 15 hours

Australian airline Qantas has denied claims it left a customer on hold … for 15 hours 40 minutes and one second. The claims were made by a customer who has told Fairfax media and that he called to confirm a flight and, upon hearing the usual canned messages about what a valued and deeply-loved customer he is, …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Trying to contact Barclaycard over a period of 5 working days I was kept on hold for a total of 9 and a half hours.

    I wrote to complain and they replied 3 weeks later.

    1. Dave 8

      Stop bragging

      I dream of having them ONLY keeping me on hold for 9½ hours.

      1. Anonymous Coward 15

        When I were a lad


    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      MOOO Gold Medal

      Vodafone Australia puts QANTAS in the shade, being the world record holder in the Maximum Offshore Outsourcing Off-pissing category hands down!

  2. Grendel

    The really don't "get it"

    Forget the 11+ hours hold time, why do Quantas think that 17 minutes is acceptable as a hold time?

    Its utter clap-trap to tell customers that they are "valued and respected" and then treat them with contempt by under manning call centres, rationing resources and making people wait.

    If Quantas think that 17 minutes is acceptable then they won't be getting ANY of my business.

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      What's a Quantus?

      Seventeen minutes was their claimed maximum hold time. There's no statement regarding what they consider to be acceptable in the article.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The really don't "get it"

      17 minutes of premium line waiting equates to around £8.50 on your phone bill in the UK.

      Why do you think they keep you on hold?

      1. Daniel Hall

        Re: The really don't "get it"

        If its 0844 or 0845 its about 10p a minute, or completely free on some phone operators

        Talk talk, free 0844 0845 as standard with my package

        Where did you get your figure from, stop calling up them chat up lines.

      2. Chad H.

        Re: The really don't "get it"

        @ AC ; Qantas' no is a 13 number. Roughly equivalent to the UKs 03 numbers. Each call costs Qantas money, and the caller next to nothing, no matter the length.

    3. Annwyn

      Re: The really don't "get it"

      There's no u in Qantas.

      Oh, and you've made a small spelling error there too.

      1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

        Re: The really don't "get it"

        Ah, Qantas. This is the airline who's booking site crashed just as I was confirming the tickets, I received no confirmation email so booked again, only to receive two e-tickets back to back 2 hours later.

        A half hour on the phone explaining the situation and repeatedly and carefully - oh, so carefully - pointing out I wanted to cancel JUST THE ONE. Just the one. Got that? Yes sir, I've got that, just this one, not that one, no problem. Inevitably, 6 weeks before Christmas I was frantically calling airlines after they cancelled both. Thanks, Qantas.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The really don't "get it"

        I was going to say they are badly mis-spelled themselves, but I discovered that is actually because QANTAS is an acronym, and not a normal English word.

        "Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services"


        1. Mark 65

          Re: The really don't "get it"

          Fixing TV antennas is about all they're good for.

        2. Anonymous John

          Re: The really don't "get it"

          Quaint Antipodean Network Taking Aussies Somewhere.

        3. cortland

          Re: The really don't "get it"

          Reading the article, I wondered if the acronym had two "S's".

      3. electricmonk
        Thumb Up

        Re: no u in Qantas

        7 downvotes? Somebody didn't get the joke...

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The really don't "get it"

        They don't get any degree of subtlety, do they, downvoters. Christ zipping round a velodrome!

        1. jukejoint

          Re: The really don't "get it"

          "Christ zipping 'round a velodrome" !

          Thank you! Phrase collection is my specialty, and I applaud the above as an alluring alternative to "Jesus jumped-up Christ" & "Christ on a cracker".

          A little known fact: after Jesus jumped up, he jumped down, turned around, picked a bale of cotton.

    4. DrXym

      Re: The really don't "get it"

      Most businesses don't want to pay for call centre staff so they'll shove you in a queue. I would not be surprised if business / first class bookings and people with a gold / platinum reward card get another number to call which is answered almost immediately. So you wait because the airline is tight and because you are scum cattle in their eyes.

      Be glad that Quantas probably hasn't stooped as low as to charge you for assistance with even a "priority" number that costs more. Ryanair has.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        I'd rather travel as cargo in a slave ship.

      2. markoer

        Re: The really don't "get it"

        That's the case with Lufthansa. Frequent Travellers get a different number to call altogether.

  3. Joe Montana

    Premium rate numbers

    What i find most insulting of all, is when companies use kickback numbers like the 084/087 ones, and then put you on hold...

    I don't mind so much being put on hold via an 0800 or normal 01/02 number, but the idea that a company is benefitting from keeping me on hold for hours is just pure evil and simply shouldn't be allowed.

    Because of this i generally avoid companies which only publish 084/087 numbers, and will look for competitors willing to give out normal numbers.

    1. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: Premium rate numbers is your friend - look up corresponding 01/02 numbers

      1. Richard 81

        Re: Premium rate numbers

        saynoto0870 is good, but not you can't get alternative numbers for everyone and a fair few are out of date.

    2. Annihilator

      Re: Premium rate numbers

      I agree with you on 087 numbers, but 084 are generally "local" numbers that the mobile companies decide not to treat as such and thus screw you over. 084x aren't kick-back numbers, in fact some cost the company who use them.

      1. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Premium rate numbers

        0845 numbers have not been "local" numbers for some time now. There is a small kickback for them which is how the dial-up ISPs funded their service back in the day.

        1. Benchops
          Black Helicopters

          Re: Premium rate numbers

          There are "new" 03* numbers which I've only just started seeing used (depite being announced in 2007)! They're quite good in that they're non-geographical and so allow the load-balancing and routing that most companies will claim is their reason for using 08* but the regulator says they must be treated as geographical numbers in terms of billing (so they'll be counted as credited minutes or free call time etc as if you'd called an 01/2 number). Revenue sharing is also banned. Of course we all trust the regulator to be able to enforce this ;)

        2. Annihilator

          Re: Premium rate numbers

          @jonathanb - 0845 are charged as local by BT and as such count as your "free" local calls. The mobile telco's deliberately exclude them from your free minutes, and charge you more than a local call for it.

          Similarly with 0800 calls. I understand why mobile telco's can't really give them for free, but to not loop them into inclusive minutes is crazier still.

          1. MrT

            Re: Premium rate numbers - 0800

            Back in the dim and distant when I was on BT Cellnet, they used to allow 0800 numbers as free if they were dialled as "800" - i.e. drop the first '0'. They even had a recorded message to tell anyone dialling 0800 that they should redial as 800 and use their free contract minutes instead. Shame that doesn't apply these days.

            Currently, some telecos allow selected charity helplines on 0808 numbers as free calls - not sure how they are differentiated but you can find one list here

            1. Benchops

              Re: Premium rate numbers - 0800

              On Giffgaff 0800, 0808 & 0500 are all free calls.

              You won't get a connection to the network, but that's a different issue!

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Mobile 0800

              Try 0800 buster - 01243 590 800

              Free 0800 calls from mobile.

              1. Tapeador

                Re: Mobile 0800

                Or try - which makes 0845 calls from your mobile cost between 1p and 3p per minute plus a 6p connection charge (uses your mobile's landline-calling allowance to call a landline with the calling card's message on which asks you to dial the number you want, followed by hash. Doesn't work for 0871 and a couple of other things like that though.

        3. MrT

          Re: Premium rate numbers - 0845

          Try calling 0845 from a mobile then - NHS Direct, for example (not uncommon with small children doing crazy things out in the middle of nowhere). Typically all 08 numbers are bundled together at 40p/minute by mobile telecos and are classed as 'out of contract' calls. 25 minutes whilst the staff do their checks and explain any advice can cost a tenner, of which the NHS might see 50p and the rest is trousered by the mobile provider.

          There was a push a few years back to have the special shortened NHS Direct 0845 4647 number replaced by 0345 4647, but it didn't stick.

        4. An0n C0w4rd

          Re: Premium rate numbers

          "0845 numbers have not been "local" numbers for some time now. "

          I believe they're called lowcall numbers, to imply that they are related to local numbers when in fact they're not and never have been.

          1. Vic

            Re: Premium rate numbers

            > to imply that they are related to local numbers when in fact they're not and never have been.

            Well - they were originally. The purpose of an 0845 number was to supply a national number at the same rate as a local call.

            But then the local rate dropped dramatically. And the 0845 tariff didn't.


            [Who has an 0845 numnber on the business cards - because it keeps the cheapskates away. Important customers get the 023 number...]

      2. WaveyDavey

        Re: Premium rate numbers

        Working for a middling Telco providing 084x NGN's I can assure you that if you move enough minutes per month through us, there *will* be a rebate on them. Maybe small, but a few pence times 15,000 minutes per month is still better than a poke in the eye with a pointed stick.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Premium rate numbers

      "What i find most insulting of all, is when companies use kickback numbers like the 084/087 ones, and then put you on hold..."

      First up, most 0845's don't make a penny for the receiving company, and if as we do, we send them to Europe for out of ours coverage, they actually COST us money

      Now as for 09's 0870's & 070's (the biggest con), these can make money. But ask yourself this.

      If Company X does NOT use an expensive line for support, how do they fund these very expensive call centres, you know the ones you call up on Christmas day because iPlayer is running slow.

      1. Reduce cover to 9 - 5 M- F

      2. Charge for the service directly

      3. Charge for the service by bumping up the cost of the items you buy.

      The money has to come from somewhere, it's just a case of where.

      However, all that said, I'd be more concerned about being on hold for 20 minutes, than paying 50p extra and getting dealt with in seconds.

      I personally try to email or use live chat wherever possible.

      Customer service as a whole, the UK is shit at, but I think we are getting a little better.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Premium rate numbers

        "First up, most 0845's don't make a penny for the receiving company, and if as we do, we send them to Europe for out of ours coverage, they actually COST us money [....]"

        Now what rhetorically speaking I would like to know, is what cunt has downvoted the chap who wrote the above. He's presenting the arguments that some companies use for having premium rate customer support numbers.

        You may of course disagree with those reasons, but what fucking good is shooting the messenger going to do to you?

        Sometimes it does make you wonder.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Premium rate numbers

          He's down voted because his "facts" are wrong.

          As another poster pointed out.

          Companies using 0845 numbers with reasonable number of calls DO get kickback from telecos.


          Deal with it.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Premium rate numbers

          OPs Reasoning was flawed by their examples.

          They are quite correct in their determination that 0845 / 0800 numbers are paid for by the service provider (Be it NHS, BBC etc etc) and that a not inconsiderable sum is creamed off the top of various 0870, 0898 and certain 03nn numbers (around 3-5p a minute, from previous experience).

          For national services such as NHS direct, it's actually ludicrous that there's no normal landline number for mobile users or people with bundled minutes. Hell, I'd call that number from my home if I needed to, just to stop the NHS having to pay for my call. That's their decision though and the rationale / target is "provide an inexpensive service for everyone" and they've succeeded, but a poor business decision in some respects and the result could have been better.

          However OP supported their argument with an "idiots who can't operate iplayer" comment, kneecapping their argument in the. Which is unfortunate, as the points were largely accurate. The register isn't read (generally) by people who find iplayer a service that warrants a phone call when there are issues so the point has no place here.

          Software, hardware and service providers / suppliers all use 0844 or 0870 numbers for client support and customer services. Why should I pay to resolve their screw ups ? Broken connectivity, failed number ports, faulty line installations, missing components in a delivery, missing delivery(!) - all these are things I have had to pay to resolve because of the incompetencies and inadequacies of the companies concerned.

          If you assumed a customer service desk of five people at a small firm taking calls and 30 channels of ISDN or VOIP at 80% utilisation that would bring around £430 per day. Certainly enough to pay five staff and cover the line costs. Making fixing screw-ups pretty much nil-cost aside from the office space required and heating etc. needed.

          So, tell me again how it's justifiable for the end user to end up paying the cunts who screwed up to tell them they've screwed up and ask them to fix it ? That's how all the downvoters feel and also, how I feel.

          AC, because it's all the rage these days...

      2. Archivist

        Re: Premium rate numbers

        "If Company X does NOT use an expensive line for support, how do they fund these very expensive call centres,.."

        If company X needs to give that much support it suggests the product is shite, inadequately described, or not fit for purpose.

        I produce some products. They're hardware, but run by software, and they "just work". Perhaps they're not clever enough....

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Difference between consumer and business.

    Our SLA's typically range from 20 seconds to 1 mins for Average Speed to Answer.

    If you here the "All agents are busy...." it a good sign we've missed the target.

    However the best is when you phone up at 3am and got the stock "we are currently experiencing a high volume of calls please hold".

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Difference between consumer and business.

      _missed_ the target?

      That's how call centres *meet* their targets. If the rules say "no-one must be on hold for more than 5 minutes", they just configure the systems to send busy tone/message to anyone who calls in when the queues are going over 4m30s. Hey presto, target met.

      BT used to do that for directory enquiries (back in the 192 days). They reckoned that the way it was set up, they would only miss about 5% of the callers. One of the local areas decided to check, and put a counter on the numbers of calls that weren't queued. Turned out that 90% of calls were getting the "f-off" tone...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: you phone at 3am and get "we are experiencing a high volume of calls please hold".

      doesn't that mean the person on duty fell asleep? Try hanging up after a couple minutes and ringing in again - you get answered!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Air Asia

    If you want a real test of patience call AirAsia. The most incompetent bunch of *bleeps* on the planet.

    When you finally get through to one of them they ask you to go through the online help and hang up !

  6. Jim Lewis

    KLM much worse since Air France tie-in, I wonder why?

    Since KLM and Air France 'merged' the customer service line for frequent flyers has begun to automatically cut people off after a certain amount of waiting time.

    I find this incredible, the message 'we value your loyalty...', is eventually followed by 'there's no one here to take your call, goodbye!'.

    I don't like to stereotype too much, but this does seem to be the result of adopting a French attitude to customer service!

    1. Code Monkey

      Re: KLM much worse since Air France tie-in, I wonder why?

      Meanwhile Air France have adopted the Dutch approach to food. Truly a marriage made in hell.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Meanwhile Air France have adopted the Dutch approach to food."

        Have a smoke and get the munchies?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: KLM much worse since Air France tie-in, I wonder why?

      Actually this is not uncommon in France. We run a multinational call centre. For UK and most of the world you are put on hold until answered, some will offer the option to leave a message or do call back. The French arm has a habit of saying all are agents are busy, call back later, hang up. Something we would never dare do to other customers.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: KLM much worse since Air France tie-in, I wonder why?

        Personally, I'd much rather get the busy tone and call back latter than spend money listening to those hideous "all our agents are busy..." canned voices.

        It just seems less of a disfavour to me. If you really care about your customers, then ensure you have enough people to answer calls most of the time (better yet, have a good enough product that people do not need to seek assistance in the first place). Putting them on hold, while likely making them spend money does not strike me as a particularly customer-friendly thing to do.

        1. 4.1.3_U1

          Busy Tone - Re: KLM much worse since Air France tie-in, I wonder why?

          I wish more organizations used a busy tone to deflect callers when their queues were above a certain wait time. They could always publish another number for those that really want to queue.

          1. Charles 9

            Re: Busy Tone - KLM much worse since Air France tie-in, I wonder why?

            The trouble is that many people don't take kindly to busy tones: they tend to hate busy tones more than they hate holding queues. People who hate busy signals will usually resort to the tried-and-tested tactic of "hammering" the line--hanging up and then redialing the number until they get through. This is actually encouraged by the phone companies since hammering affects THEM as well (it increases exchange traffic) and makes them run the risk of going from the common "long" busy tone ("beeeep----beeeeep---") to the dreaded "short" busy tone ("beep---beep---beep---") that happens when the telephone exchange gets swamped.

    3. Alain

      Re: KLM much worse since Air France tie-in, I wonder why?

      Although I would tend to agree that the AF-KLM merger has taken the worst of both sides, this exact same story happened to me when calling Etihad's Guest (frequent flyer) phone number. They kept me on hold for about 5 minutes before telling me to try again later and they hung up.

      You know, these middle-east airlines so much praised for offering much better service than our european legacy companies...

      And when I eventually make it through, the person picking up is in the Emirates, so nothing to do with a French call centre.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      KLM was always horrible

      Before the merger I needed to get a refund for the taxes on a long-haul flight I had to cancel and they told me I needed to go to their counter at Manchester airport. Since I had just moved to London this was quite an inconvenience but I went anyway, only to be told that they couldn't give me the refund I had to call the customer service number. You can imagine how angry I was. In the end the police had to be called. There's no other word but contempt for the customer to describe it.

  7. LinkOfHyrule

    I think after 5 minuets of being on hold to any company, a message should kick in offering you the chance to press 1 and hear some free recorded phone sex stories to help relieve the stress while you're waiting! Then again, customers would start moaning, and possibly groaning too, when they're taken off hold, especially at the crucial moment!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You like to dance while you wait? Good thinking. That would certainly help pass the time.

    2. Fred Flintstone Gold badge


      So what you're basically saying is that customers will simply hear the aural equivalent of "what other customers said before you"..

    3. Don Bannister

      Music on hold !

      .... 5 minuets - a bit of relaxing music - nice idea !

      Further - I know of a certain accounts software company in the North East whose helpline gives you the option of selecting the genre of hold music you'd like :-)

  8. Valerion

    Scottish Power

    I sent an email to Scottish Power and got a response saying it had been passed to the relevant department and would be answered in approximately 86 days.

    It's probably due any day now actually.

  9. Lee Dowling Silver badge

    At least he got to hold.

    My brother and I once phoned a company that supplied us with a PC (you won't have heard of them, and they are now bust). They had large adverts in PC Pro, a professional website, etc. and sold us a (admittedly very good) PC. We had a slight problem with the delivery and needed to get through to them. Their phone line seemed to have no call management at all, just the BT "we're busy" tone. We realised that a busy tone didn't cost us anything, because the call hadn't completed, so we redialled. Still busy tone.

    So we sat, redialling and redialling and redialling. In the end we worked shifts of 10+ minutes each, just hitting redial, waiting for the busy tone, hanging up, hitting redial, etc. Our phone bill was hilarious. We had hundreds of calls to their number, all priced at 0p. But we got through in the end (I think it took about an hour or more, I can't remember), got our delivery sorted, got the PC and shortly after they went bankrupt (which is probably why we couldn't get through!).

    It was a relief when we next ordered a PC to be put into a numbered queue (why doesn't EVERYONE have one of those now?) where you're told how many people are in front of you, how long they expect it to take to answer, and can HEAR it tick down every time they reannounce it to you. But, to be honest, for anything other than an awful lot of money at risk, I wouldn't bother with anything over 10 minutes. If they keep you that long, they obviously don't give a damn. In that case, if necessary, redial, sort out the problem some other way and when you do NEVER use that company again. Seriously. Why would you ever wait that long unless you were already committed to using them, and why would you use a company that can't work out that it should call you back (I have yet to have a major company EVER call me back when it said it would, but that's not the point).

    Support Customer Service, people! If a company doesn't offer it, don't use them, no matter how great their products are. If they can't be bothered to keep you as a customer, don't give them your money. Support companies that have a "we'll call you back" on their website where it texts you and a rep rings you back within seconds (Thinking specifically my Kindle return on insurance the other month where they were FABULOUS). Support companies that you get through to someone who knows what they are talking about. Support companies that have call centres with PEOPLE YOU CAN UNDERSTAND (it's not racist to suggest that they should be able to speak clear English on an English support line).

    To quote Only Fools and Horses: "They might be a bit dearer, but at least they smile when they take your money"

    1. Charles 9

      The trouble is that customer support is one of the most irksome costs in a business, as that's one of the aspects that requires real people (and plenty of them) and sophisticated equipment to handle properly. Those costs eat into the bottom line, allowing other competitors (with lower priorities to support) to squeeze you out of the market. So the end result is that you're gonna have a hard time finding a firm with good customer support since those firms' products will be so much more expensive that no one wants to buy them. IOW, everyone wants good support but no one is willing to pay up for it.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Charles 9

          Re: "IOW, everyone wants good support but no one is willing to pay up for it."

          But it's still a cost--and a controllable cost at that. And any business will be striving to minimize a controllable cost (otherwise, they're not really operating a business). Now, some of this cost-control can be done elsewhere by making sure more is done right the first time, but as the world isn't perfect (ex. a package with two packet A's and no packet B's--oops) and you can't please everyone (just as you can have BOFH, so too can you have BCFH--Bastard Callers From Hell--and the totally clueless--people who couldn't follow instructions from start to step 2). Part of the challenge of call centers is filtering out genuine requests from help from BCFH's who are pretty much there just to give you a hard time and the clueless who you probably couldn't help even in person.

      2. Lee Dowling Silver badge

        I beg to differ. I get some of the best customer service from companies that are keeping costs low, because they know that time on the service line is precious and they don't want to be tied up arguing. Customer service isn't about fending off those customers who dare to call you, it's about handling problems that YOU'VE created. If you don't create the problems, you won't get swamped in calls or the calls you get swamped with will be easily dealt with. If you have a system, have good, trained personnel instead of thousands of phone monkeys with "Sorry, sir, I can't do that", etc. then you will end up costing yourself more than you save.

        Case in point - I had an argument with "Benson's For Beds" (part of the Harvey's Furniture group, which is now sitting permanently on my blacklist). They sent me two beds, each several hundred pounds, and one with *39* missing pieces (out of 314 if you count ALL the screws, etc.). So I call up. And waste literally 30 minutes because, despite the fact that they were quite happy to confirm all kinds of details and talk to me, because it wasn't MY name on the invoice (but was phoning from the property they delivered to, after signing for the thing they just delivered, and was in the process of building those items), they wouldn't send out a replacement pack of missing parts. They tried to claim it was because of the Data Protection Act (How? I just gave YOU all the details of the buyer, invoice numbers, delivery dockets, address, phone number etc. to let you talk to me in the first place! And how does that stop you sending a FREE packet of missing spare parts to the address - and even name - on the invoice, which I happened to be holding in my hand)?

        The time spent dealing with me, the time spent quoting (completely falsely) the Data Protection Act as a reason (I offered to recite it to them, if necessary, but they weren't interested and just stuck to their script - even the "most senior" manager on their Customer Service department), the hassle spent not handling other people's calls, disturbing managers, tying up support lines, etc. WAS NOT WORTH the cost of a pack of screws that you KNEW you would have to send out anyway. In the end, they phoned (at their cost) the person named on the invoice, and then we had YET ANOTHER lengthy conversation (because only I knew what parts were missing so they had to phone ME back - I took a little pleasure, when they asked if that was Mr Dowling, in telling them that I couldn't tell them that because the Data Protection Act required that I didn't give out personal details. Technically incorrect, but funny and the guy on the other end - yet ANOTHER guy who was less senior than the person I had spoken to 30 minutes earlier - took it with good humour and just said "Ah, yes, I have the right person, then."), and then after I started listing off the bed model numbers, parts missing, etc. and wasted ANOTHER 10 minutes, the guy just sent me out a complete kit of parts because it wasn't worth the hassle to identify so many different screws etc.

        Just how much money was wasted there compared to just doing what a customer service line is supposed to do? Send a £5 pack of screws and plastic bits on the HUNDREDS of pounds worth of beds that you KNOW I bought from you (so I wasn't exactly "scamming" you out of random plastic connectors and some wooden dowels) that same day with a few quid for delivery (it came back on the same van that delivered the beds a few days later as part of their normal delivery rounds). Send them to the delivery address on the invoice if you get a lot of "fake" callups requesting spares. Do it without arguing and you could have got rid of me in 5 minutes, not nearly 2 hours of multiple phone calls and disturbing just about EVERYONE in the call center. Or just make sure your damn beds have all the parts in them before you send them out!

        Customer service is an expense, of course it is, but it's like product quality. You can only skimp so far before it costs more than it would just to do a decent job. Some of the best companies in the world are small, independent companies that have trained people on the end of the phone and can handle anything you throw at them in a handful of minutes. If your customer service department spends half its life fending off angry customers trying to do something in particular, work out a way for those customers to do that, or make it so they NEVER have to do it, and then you don't HAVE to fend them off.

        I've had technical support departments for dedicated server hosting REFUSE to tell me what they can actually do. All I needed was a query about installing a Linux update (which said it specifically COULD NOT be installed remotely, yet the server hosting company wanted to make me install it and then refused to install it for me). They actually REFUSED to say if they could reboot my server, or change my password, or anything else. What sort of service or support is that? None, because I cancelled my account (against their minimum days notice period) the same day and let them sort it out by letter at great expense to themselves. Just what exactly did all the costs they poured into support get them for that? Angry customers, a cancelled account and a lot of paperwork and hassle.

        Or the phone company that INSISTED it must charge me every month for the next 2 years for a phone that NEVER arrived and a contract I never had the opportunity to sign because it was presumably in the same box as the phone, on an SIM that I had phoned up to BLOCK because it had never arrived. Their customer service was completely, 100% useless but my bank's - on the other hand - was fabulous and forcibly cancelled the Direct Debit within seconds.

        "Three" spent nearly a month harassing me by phone and post before they sent a letter deciding that they would graciously "waive" those charges on that account - the account for a phone that never arrived, on a SIM I didn't have and had deliberately phoned up to block because it was suspected stolen, send second-class parcel post with no proof of receipt, on a contract I hadn't yet signed, via a Direct Debit that wasn't correctly authorised but had already taken three payments (which were instantaneously refunded by the bank and the only thing that really kicked their customer service department into action). I even offered to initiate their threatened lawsuit for them. They didn't like that, apparently. And for what? A £10 a month contract with a cheapy non-smart Nokia phone that cost about £50 in the shops. Really worth all that hassle. All I really wanted them to do was send me another SIM / phone. As it was, they'd already lost one because of being cheapskates and not sending it recorded delivery, so what exactly did they expect to gain by trying to fraudulently charge me for the next two years and argue with me about it to the extent that I got 28 phone calls in one day from them (the last 26 of which were "I'm recording this call, because I've informed your colleagues that I consider this harassment and you're unwilling to make any progress. I suggest you hang up and contact your legal department who have a nice letter winging its way to them").

        Or the ISP (VNetworks) that supplied the school I work for and when we went over their "limit" (which was about 10Gb a month, I think) REFUSED to provide any better package whatsoever. They knew we were a business - they installed the damn phone lines and broadband themselves. They knew we were a school, but because we "used more data than the average home user" (their words), they cut us off. My boss tried to get on a higher package or a better deal - anything, because the school was cut off without it - and literally said to them at one point "How much do I have to pay you to put it back on?" and they couldn't do anything. They literally DID NOT HAVE any better packages or any way to deal with someone who went over their pathetically low limit except to cut them off. So we severed the contract "early", let them try to chase us for a year, when they then conveniently decided it wasn't worth chasing, and phoned up BT who within the week supplied us with 2 business lines, and T-Mobile supplied us with a couple of 3G dongles to run the network in the meantime.

        Customer service is an expense for the same reason that "buying stock" is an expense, or "handling returns" is an expense. You need to do it. If you do it well, it doesn't cost much at all. If you do it BADLY, it can cost you so much that you'll never make profit. Outsourcing to India - costs less, but bad for business. Having only email support - costs less, but bad for business. Untrained staff on phone line - costs less, but bad for business.

        The companies I make SURE I do business with again are those that go above-and-beyond. Squaretrade, when I broke my Kindle, offered not only to replace it under the insurance I bought (which cost £26 for 3 years!) but to instead push it through Amazon's returns department for me (and thus save me one "claim" on the insurance). Within a minute, on the same phone call, I had an Amazon rep on the phone arranging the return and the replacement was sent out THAT SECOND (it arrived before I could box up the broken one!). They also offered to replace a previous one that was also broken (i.e. YEARS before I bought one with the Squaretrade insurance!) for just £40 if I wanted to do that at the same time.

        It's got nothing to do with the size of the business (small or large), or the money they make, it's to do with whether customers are seen as the enemy, or someone you can get more money from if you're nice to them. You're a fool to annoy your customers. It's like being a rude hotelier, or a lazy waitress. All that will happen is you will end up with no repeat custom and people only spending money with you reluctantly when they ABSOLUTELY have to.

        1. I'm Brian and so's my wife

          ... and breathe!

          I imagine you feel a lot better having got that lot off your chest!

          <---- Welcome to Friday: I'm prescribing you one of these.

        2. cordwainer 1
          Thumb Up

          excellent synopsis, and question

          I've been writing a number of articles on customer service, and the concept it's not actually that expensive or problematic to do it right. Is there any possibility I could use your comment in one of the articles? I'm not sure how Reg readers go about contacting one another, but if you might be amenable, I'm sure we could figure it out.

          It is amazing how "penny wise and pound foolish" companies are; also how they don't get it's far LESS expensive to adopt the concept of the customer being always right. Obviously the customer isn't, but the expense of proving it is senseless.

          Regardless enjoyed your summary of ridiculous, unprofessional events, cheers,


          1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

            Re: excellent synopsis, and question

            cordwainer1: if you mean my comment - help yourself.

   should provide you with enough to contact me.

        3. Hieronymus Howerd

          Go on...

        4. Robert Harrison


          Lee I just want to say - long post and yet you had me hooked and reading from start to finish.

          I couldn't agree with you more. Have you considered writing a customer service horror stories and "how not to do it book" ? :)

    2. Tom 38

      This sounds like ringing my local GP for an appointment. Ring, enganged, hang up, press redial. One time I had flu (and was convinced I was about to die), I really wanted to see a doctor. Started at 8:30 in the morning, I got through to the receptionist at 12:30 - 4 straight hours of calling, to be told that there were no appointments available today and that "I should have called earlier".

      <<-- Nuke, because that was the moment I achieved supercriticality.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Calls to engaged numbers don't appear on itemised bills because they didn't complete. There's no call record generated for a bill to be produced from. Also, why not simply use the RIng Back When Free facility?

      1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

        "Calls to engaged numbers don't appear on itemised bills because they didn't complete. There's no call record generated for a bill to be produced from. Also, why not simply use the RIng Back When Free facility?"

        1) They did. I still have the bill somewhere to prove it.

        2) That facility didn't exist at the time and doesn't work when lines are just that busy anyway.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Call costs

          You've got to be careful nowadays about what counts as a connected call, and who generates the engaged tone.

          It is now quite easy for a large company telephone exchange to take the call, and then forward it to an engaged phone within their system. Thus what you might hear as an engaged line may count as a connected call as far as your telco is concerned.

          In addition, if you have an inclusive calls deal on your landline, what you will probably find is that the time you are on the 'phone talking to the other party is not charged minute-by-minute (as long as you keep it to less than 60 minutes), but there is a per-call connection charge, often around 12p. So don't believe the telco when they talk about free calls. I've actually noticed that some now don't call them 'free calls' but 'free minutes'.

          The combination of forwarded engaged tone and per-call charge may end up costing you quite a bit of money.

          I actually got a bit huffy with BT once when they started giving free virtual answering machines which took messages when the line was engaged. I got a bill where one of my kids had repeatedly called a friend who's phone was engaged (probably because they were using a dial-up modem for internet access - it was some time ago). They got through to the answer service (a connected call) and hung up immediately. They then tried again 2 minutes later, and again two minutes after that. At the time BT was charging a minimum 5p call charge, and on the bill there was a few weeks worth of this which actually clocked up about £20 of costs once VAT had been added. I realised that BT had produced a way of generating revenue from engaged phone lines!

          Although this would not change my charges, I immediately asked to have call-minder turned off on my phone, so others would not suffer the same problem. I still do not use the virtual answer phone to this day.

  10. Fihart

    EDF Suck

    Electrocity de France which (inexplicably) serves London. Latest estimated bill suggests I call and give them my own reading.

    At least 15 mins on hold with "We are experiencing particularly heavy call traffic" (at 8.00 PM ! -- and, if so, why haven't you planned for that ?). Ring back later and the call centre has closed for the night.

    Go online, only to struggle to register because (unnoticed by me) they've managed to subtly misspell my surname on the bill and on their system. Registration also demands D.O.B. (why ?) and another "memorable date" -- and that password is spelled with a capital letter.

    Jeez, I'm just trying to give them a meter reading that they've been too hopeless to to take themselves -- clearly no-one is going to be at home in singles flats in London on a weekday afternoon.

    Most annoyingly EDF have recently ceased showing what their estimated readings are. No meter figure, just the money. In the past I could check my meter and, if the figure was close enough, just pay up without all this crap.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: EDF Suck

      send it to them via their website, like i do ?

      1. kevjs

        Re: EDF Suck

        Which he just pointed out is a pain in the arse, and if you have used lead than the estimate it rejects the revised reading anyway....

        1. JaimieV
          Thumb Up

          Re: EDF Suck

          EDF now accepts real readings that are lower than the estimates - I did that a couple of weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised, after getting irate at them about it somewhere around the start of the year.

    2. Test Man

      Re: EDF Suck

      Strange. When I last phoned them up, it was all automated. Then I used the website - works quickly. Now I just use the iOS app, even quicker.

  11. Scott 19
    IT Angle


    Shoulda booked on line then or taken your buisness else where.

    Why do I get the feeling this guy is loking for some free-bees.

    buzz, buzz.

  12. Richard 81

    Canned apologies

    Being told by a recording that "your call is important to us" and that "we apologies for the continued wait" is only slightly less infuriating than being informed by a recording that "on behalf of TransPennine Express, we apologies for the delay to this service".

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Canned apologies

      I did hear of second hand from a colleague, that an announcement at London Bridge went something like 'We are sorry the train has been delayed, this was entirely due to Management Incompetence' .

      Possibly if Carlsberg did train announcements ........ well anyways it does have a ring of truth

      1. Hieronymus Howerd

        Re: Canned apologies

        If they did decent lager, that would be a good start.

  13. Jay 2

    I recall a hold message from Dilbert...

    It goes something like "Your call is important to us, please hold while we ignore you"

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. FartingHippo

        Re: I recall a hold message from Dilbert...

        I used to like Dilbert 'till I found our Scott Adams is a complete fuckwit. A quote of his from here:

        Women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It’s just easier this way for everyone. You don’t argue with a four-year old about why he shouldn’t eat candy for dinner.

        Plus, pretending he's his own biggest fan on message boards. Plus, denying evolution by claiming fossils are bullshit.

        So I don't read Dilbert any more.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I recall a hold message from Dilbert...

          "I used to like Dilbert 'till I found our Scott Adams is a complete fuckwit"

          ...and I always thought the thing to be so entirely unfunny. I could never suffer those comics--straight from the "everyone else except me are idiots and I make fun of them" school of "humour". Great example of American marketing expertise though.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If they could just either give me an 0800 or an 01/02 number I don't mind sitting on hold, I just hate PAYING to sit on hold like I do on 0845 and 0870 numbers...

    But really 10 minutes should be the maximum hold time allowed, but if its a small company (i.e. less than 20 people, with likely 2 maybe 3 in the office) I actually prefer to get a busy signal or answer machine as I know someone is there answering calls or no one is there and they will get back to me..

  15. Martin H Watson

    they can call you back

    I think after 5 minuets of being on hold to any company, a message should kick in offering you the chance to leave your details so that they can call you back.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: they can call you back

      Had that with a call to Cheltenham & Gloucester mortgage centre .... automated system said they were very busy but by pressing a button and hanging up they'd note my place in the queue and give me a call when it got to the front. I did this and about 30 mins later got a call from their call centre - only problem was that in that time I'd worked out what the letter they'd sent me meant and no longer needed to call them!

      N.b. Ikea used to have a very "useful" scheme ... after 6 minutes on hold they'd say that they didn't want you to run up big bill by waiting on hold any longer so they were going to close the call!

  16. Andrew Jones 2
    Thumb Up

    On the other hand though - when you receive junk/spam phone calls - this "on hold" message works wonders at getting them to stop phoning.....

  17. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    Charge rate number holds must be reported to the OFT

    Principle 1: you are calling for a service or contact

    Principle 2: the companies advertising such contact number mention the costs (because they have to) - but NEVER mention you have to wait.

    Ergo, when you call them and they do NOT provide the service you could say they are breaching fair trading standards - you have been misled in believing you end up contacting the company, but instead you provide revenue by listening to hold music. Personally, I think those companies should be forced to pay you back double the cost of waiting, and BT (et al) should be made to develop a waiting service which is free until an agent actually answers.

    Only when waiting is no longer profitable will this stop, and if the OFT really had balls it would go after the long waiting times offenders.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    On the plus side..

    .. those companies are at least not so big that they slope-shoulder all support of to "forums" and support sites that only occasionally someone from the company visits. Want names? Google, Facebook, Skype - only the latter you can occasionally get hold of via the phone or Skype. And why don't companies use Skype or SIP more that *do* talk to customers?

    1. Alain

      Re: On the plus side..

      Some companies use online chats. I like this. Here in France Sosh (the low-cost mobile phone subsidiary of Orange) do almost all their customer support on forums and online chats. I've never waited more than a couple of minutes before having someone online, and the wait is free. Having written interaction also helps a lot having clear information passed back and forth and allows one to keep a record too (I certainly wish I'd recorded some phone conversations I've had with various customer support lines).

      Of course there are situations where you can't use Internet, so they still have a regular customer service phone number, the same as Orange's so it sucks. I suspect Sosh's customers get a lower priority too. But they strongly push their customers to use their company-sponsored forums and live chats. That's part of the deal for having bargain prices on their monthly plans.

  19. ukgnome

    Sea life centre

    That's what happens when you spend your time monitoring and training porpoises.

  20. Martin Lyne


  21. s. pam Silver badge

    Thick as shit?

    Is he related to Kenny the Port-a-Loo cleaner?

  22. weevil

    Anyone remember when the comments of an article were supposed to be about the article? This article just reminds me of that Friends episode when Phoebe was left on hold all night

  23. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Excess hold times

    There are regulations in place about this for 087* numbers - currently enforced by PhonePayPlus.

    They DO NOT (yet) have a regulation about 084* numbers but may change that if they get enough complaints.

    It's illegal to revenue-share 084 or 087 numbers with customers, although telcos offering "volume discounts" may be exploiting a loophole to make this work.

  24. Ray 8

    get revenge..

    Best way is to mess with their metrics. Call them and hang up after a few seconds. Having too many dropped calls doesn't look good for them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: get revenge..

      Nice try, but there's this thing called short call duration, it's designed to deal with that exact scenario..

  25. Tank boy

    I call bullshit

    Why on earth would anyone stay on hold for that long? Further, what phone has that kind of battery life? On the other hand, perhaps they were preparing him for the shit service he can expect on the flight.

    1. ChrisC Silver badge

      Re: I call bullshit

      Why would...? Because, as the article says right at the start, he "decided to put that statement to the test".

      What phone...? Any phone which is plugged into its charger.

  26. Allonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    I once spent an hour on hold to Ansett

    Some people might remember them; used to be a Qantas competitor. They went out of business a couple of months later, which in hindsight is maybe why their call centre was so understaffed.

    Less charitably, perhaps airlines Down Under are just bad at this sort of thing. Though things are hardly any better here in Blighty - my all-time on-hold record is something over an hour for BT. Then they cut me off.

  27. PBelc

    Virgin media kept me on for 6 hours

    It would have been longer had I not redialled and found out the call centre closed 40 minutes after I had been put on hold.... I was not amused, how easy would it have been to drop all the queued calls when they left the office!!!

    Epson had me on hold for over 9 hours on their printer support line to which I wasn't best pleased about.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sorry, but what idiot STAYS on hold for that long?

    Derpy derp.

  29. Kubla Cant

    Revert to snail-mail

    One of the things that companies like about call centres and email correspondence is that it's so much cheaper for them than handling paper correspondence.

    So whenever an organisation proves hard to deal with on the phone, I resurrect my inner Luddite and start to send them letters. Obviously it's not suitable for anything time-critical, and there's a cost penalty, but in these days of electronic computing equipment it's wonderfully easy to send the same letter, with minor variations such as "I am disappointed not to have received a reply to my letter of the 3rd inst, of which a copy is enclosed...", and to address it to the Managing Director. Even if it doesn't get a result, it's nice to imagine the trouble and inconvenience caused to a company that thinks it runs a paperless office.

    It's also fun to be able to say to somebody on the phone "If you read the letter I sent you last May..." in the hope of sending them scurrying round looking for it. A letter is a ball in the opposition's court.

  30. G Murphy


    Once put me through to a department that had closed. But I was still listening to their hold music and canned messages. Eventually used the mobile to call another BT number who confirmed that indeed the department I was on hold to had closed. That was after 45 minutes. At my expense.

  31. Kapt Roger


    I once had the misfortune to have to call Sky, after an hour of being in the "queue", I rang them from our second line (this was before we had mobiles), I was lucky to get straight through to someone, I then asked them how I had managed to get through to them when I was still in a queue from an hour before on my other line - the reply was it was a different queue.......I never really understood that one.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    That makes my personal record of 4 hours 7 minutes on hold (in a single call) with BT Total Broadband look positively speedy.

    I didn't waste the time, I built four bookcases and a cupboard whilst waiting, then used the hour or so left over to find another ISP.

  33. Lockwood

    TRWTF is not getting bored and hanging up

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Useless public sector ...

    privatize them and let them work to the demanding standards of the private sector.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OK that is excess

    Way longer than I had with local health center that has one hour calling time for appointment reservations at noon. Called a bit advance in order to be one of 1st ones in the queue (it was flu season). I ended the call 2 hours later.

    Later I made a complaitn and according to city it never happened. Right.

  36. Kubla Cant

    Music for sore ears

    Once upon a time, it used to be possible to ring Microsoft for Windows support. Naturally, this involved hold times of geological proportions.

    Unfortunately their hold music was a Jean-Michel Jarre track that consisted mostly of breathy whistlings and rushing-air sounds. It sounded pretty much the same as noise on a disconnected line, with the result that I'd jam the phone harder against my ear to try to tell if I was still on hold. I blame Microsoft for the big red ears I have these days.

  37. tin 2

    @Lee Dowling - totally spot on!

    I have no idea why it hasn't clicked with any of these companies that having someone on the end of the phone fully trained, bothered what people are phoning for, and having all the possible systems at their disposal for getting a result is much cheaper than filling call centres full of clueless, powerless morons, and pissing the customers off both waiting for them and dealing with the buffoonery once they get through.

    I've had experiences much the same as yours with BT, Sky, O2, Orange (who unbelievably told me they "didn't have the time" to deal with an overcharge!), Talkmobile, Fujifilm (who's callcentre closed while I was holding) and loads more that I probably should be glad I forgot about.

    To go on another slant, I have worked closely with callcentre "system admins" on a number of occasions (but never as one). The lack of thought into the design never ceases to amaze. It seems the simplicity of administration of such systems - or should I say the perceived simplicity - fosters the idea that anyone can write a callhandling script. They actually get really complicated really fast - particularly in a multiskill environment. Try telling a caller to one line what caller number they are when there could be a call to a higher priority line any second. That's probably the main reason why most callcentres don't do it. People get told they're called number 2, then suddenly they're caller number 5.

    The main problems I keep coming across are (1 - mentioned several times above) what happens when a call centre closes while you're in the queue. The easy answer is that the lines close but the agents don't go home until all the calls are answered. Of course all the agents are on strict fixed hours and are treated like disposable shit, so go home immediately. and (2) Monitoring. Nobody usually has a clue what's going on in the callcentre, wallboards if they're present are usually based on the known, rather than the exception - e.g. some caller being punted off to some unmanned queue somewhere for 16 hours, and reporting tools are pretty much universally a work of fiction, even in the rare cases they are configured correctly. Tiger billing, Cisco webview for examples just punt out a load of stats that really do mean sod all. Management love them though...

  38. Antony King

    fear factor

    I must say that my one and only Qantas was also the one and only flight that I've been truly scared on - and I've been up in a 6 seat single engined cessna in the southern alps during 'interesting' weather.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    - 40 C

    There was a short movie that apeared on TV here in Canada of a lady calling a govermant office.

    Freezing cold , Phone booth on side of road, running out of change, getting told to call anouther time,

    I personaly spent 2 hours on hold to talk to Govermant person. Luckaly I was at home so when I had to use the shitter there was one near by. The sound of the flush seemed to get them to respond to the call right smartley..

    It apeares the monitoring there holds lines. :)

This topic is closed for new posts.