Pack a lunch: It will be a long wait before Qantas answers the phone

World News

Qantas has apologised to its customers and begun to hire 750 additional call centre operators to manage a customer service nightmare that has left travellers waiting on the end of the phone line for several hours.

Attempting to get an accurate reading on Qantas customer call service wait times is akin to a game of pin the tail on the kangaroo – double blindfolded.

The brand damage Qantas has sustained because it has allowed this issue to fester is impossible to measure. It is made all the worst because Qantas markets credentials on service.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is hearing calls from shareholders and customers.Credit:AFR

Qantas boss Alan Joyce admitted to an audience of business leaders this week that call wait times had blown out to more than an hour.

The automated message that kicked in when I called on Thursday said “more than two hours” and that was only for those travelling over the next 24 hours. Those who are not about to step on a plane are told to hang up.

The Australian Services Union which represents the clearly overworked Qantas phone operators said customers will need to wait between four and five hours. If the frustrated social media customers (including those on the airline’s own Facebook page) are any indication, it’s up to eight hours.

On Thursday Qantas publicly owned up to its failings on this issue by writing to frequent flyer members and apologising for the wait times and acknowledging it was “unacceptable”.

It doused the speculation that it had cut call centre staff numbers in order to save costs and told its loyalty customers that the call centre bottleneck was the result of an increased number of callers that were asking more complicated questions. From an average of 7500 calls per day the current volume is around 14,000 and each call is 50 per cent longer than average.

It’s also worth noting that in the month of February Qantas’ cancellation rate was more than 6 per cent – this is more than three times the long-term cancellation rate across the industry in Australia. Often these cancellations happen with little notice, so it’s understandable that these passengers would try to contact Qantas via phone.

Sure, Qantas is suffering a COVID hangover as customers who had cancelled bookings over the past couple of years were attempting to reactivate them. It is also dealing with spikes in bookings as various international or even state destinations can change entry conditions.

Often airlines are given little or no notice of governments changing plans on borders. West Australia and New Zealand are two cases in point.

Qantas says that by the middle of the year it will have increased the number of call centre operators by 200 per cent in 12 months. While most of the reasons are legitimate, nothing damages a brand like poor after-sales service. Booking online is the easy part.

And thanks to social media, unhappy customers can vent with like-minded disgruntled flyers and feel justified in their anger. If this can become an issue over the past couple of weeks, it would be understandable that Qantas was blindsided. But it’s a problem that has been fermenting for many months.

It looks like Qantas’ response on Thursday to acknowledge the long wait times had been prompted by talkback radio making it a cause célèbre and opening up their calls lines to angry Qantas customers.

The news also made it offshore when a customer complained she had been put on hold for eight hours. Now at least the kangaroo in the room has been acknowledged.

The more immediate answer to the problem can be resolved by customers using the airline’s website rather than the phone, so Qantas is planning to improve the information on how to use the website where it says 60 per cent of the queries can be resolved.

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