Chief reporter David Fisher shares an experience every consumer fears - and that every business should learn from.
Slingshot owner Malcolm Dick has labelled a customer's experience when calling its call centre as "ghastly".
I was that customer, and I reckon he described it perfectly.
Our home internet connection stopped working last Sunday. About 8pm, I rang the Slingshot 0800 number for help.
I spent 1hr 42min on hold. The company disconnected my call about 9.45pm, with a recorded message telling me staff were leaving for the day.
Strangely, when I called from my cellphone and chose the option to sign up for the company's plan, the call was answered by a person.
I called back about 5.30pm on Monday. The automated voice told me there was a 9min wait. At 13min I was cut off. I rang back. The voice told me the wait was 6min - and a person answered after 47min.
It turned out our modem was probably broken. I got a new modem, plugged it in and still couldn't connect to the internet. I rang Slingshot again and was kept on hold for 1hr 48min. My call was again cut off. I rang back the next morning, was on hold for about 10min and had the problem solved 5min later.
It left me wondering if I should quit Slingshot, which at $90 a month is cheaper than our previous $140 a month Telecom connection.
I rang Malcolm Dick, who owns CallPlus, the parent company of Slingshot. "That's a ghastly experience," he said. "There must have been something way out of the ordinary that has happened."
He got chief executive Scott Page to call me. "The wait time you experienced was not acceptable by our standards. It is also not typical of the customer service our customers usually enjoy."
Page said too many people called for assistance on Sunday night and not enough staff were on. He said the company had grown so much in the past six months that its ability to cater for customers at its call centre was "stretched".
Slingshot was going to cross-train customer support staff to back up technical support people. In addition, a group of technical support staff were in training and would increase numbers by 10 per cent.
Slingshot claims on its website to be Carrier of the Year at the 2009 Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand (Tuanz) Innovation Awards.
I rang Tuanz; it turned out CallPlus actually won the award, and events manager Sophie Czurajewski was "somewhat surprised" that Slingshot felt it could make the claim.
Tuanz business manager Katherine Hall said she had tried to convince Slingshot to join the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution Scheme. It is a scheme set up to allow the industry to police itself.
Once a company's own complaint system is exhausted and a customer is not satisfied, the scheme is able to investigate. Companies get financial penalties based on the number of complaints.
"Every carrier should belong [to the scheme]," said Hall. It gave consumers protection.
The scheme's annual report states that 11 per cent of complaints it gets are about companies that have not signed up. "We believe their customers deserve better," said scheme chairman David Russell.
Customer service complaints make up 18 per cent of all calls, with faults management close behind at 15 per cent.
Commentator David Farrar said upset customers should email company chief executives. Air New Zealand's Rob Fyfe and Telecom's Paul Reynolds were among those who responded, he said.
Page said Slingshot had belonged to the scheme but pulled out because of "serious flaws". He said his company had a formal complaints process but if I had problems I should call his mobile.
When I said the phone number wasn't much of a gesture unless I could print it for all Slingshot customers, he replied: "You could, but my wife wouldn't be very happy."
I'm sorry, Mrs Page. Scott Page's phone number is 029 912 4464. If you feel you're on hold for too long, ring him.
In the group
The companies covered by the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution Scheme are Vodafone, Telecom, TelstraClear, AspireTel, CommuniTel, Kordia, DigitalIsland, Snap, TNZ Group and Airnet.
Have you had a problem with call centres? Email David Fisher, email@example.comBy David Fisher @DFisherJourno Email David