Bank customers hanging on the line
Banks are beefing up their call centre services as one of the few touchpoints they have to set themselves apart to customers.
Massey University banking expert David Tripe said the developments in computer technology had allowed call centres to access customer information quickly through sophisticated databases.
An unscientific survey conducted by BusinessDay showed an estimated average time it took to get a real human being on the line ranged from under a minute to nine minutes, depending on the time of day and bank.
Most banks claim to have increased the number of call centre staff on the payroll, except Westpac, which has kept its numbers consistent.
Our phone survey suggested Kiwibank customers calling in the morning could expect to wait an average of six minutes to get through.
While mornings seemed to be a busy time for the state-owned bank's 250 call centre staff, the hotline fared better at lunchtimes, with around three minutes' wait before queries were answered.
Westpac took five minutes to answer their hotline in the morning, when the bank's 400 call centre staff appeared to be swamped up with calls.
If the query was not urgent, ringing back in the afternoon could cut the waiting time to an average of three minutes.
The Bank of New Zealand has 478 call centre staff, mostly based in Auckland and Wellington.
BNZ customers should call early, with a good chance of being served within a minute, as opposed to the seven-minute wait at lunchtime.
ASB and ANZ set the gold standard for call waiting times, with an average one minute to wait from picking up the phone in the morning and at lunch.
ASB employs 400 call centre staff, whereas ANZ, the country's biggest bank, employs three times that number.
Both banks varied the number of staff on call to meet anticipated call volumes.
Special mention goes to Westpac and BNZ for the extra cheesy ballads they play to customers on hold.
Bank customers were significantly better off than those trying to contact some other service providers.
PwC banking and capital markets leader Sam Shuttleworth said the environment and services offered by banks were quite homogenous. Therefore, staff service was a key point of differentiation between them.
A negative experience with a staff member could easily cause a customer to switch banks.
"Banks are investing more in their call centres to provide a positive customer experience by making sure queries are answered quickly and accurately," Shuttleworth said.
Customers in the digital age were "always on" and expected to be able to get in touch with their bank any time, he said.
Over time, Shuttleworth expected the customer call service to move away from the traditional phone towards Skype and video conferencing.