/ Technology

Which call centres keep you waiting longest?

What’s the most annoying sound you can think of? A crying baby on a plane? A neighbour with a drill? A car alarm at 3am? For me, it’s bubbly pop music while on hold to call centres.

It seems that many of you agree with me judging by our latest research into the best and worst call centres.

We asked people to rate how long they waited to get through, how complex the phone menu system was and whether the staff’s knowledge was good.

BT, Scottish Power and TalkTalk were the ones you most dreaded ringing. More than one in five of you who phoned Scottish Power waited more than 20 minutes to get through (enough time to listen to half of ABBA’s greatest hits album).

Broadband call centres

Broadband firms attracted the most rancour, with comments for financial institutions positively glowing by comparison.

I wasn’t surprised. Calls to my own broadband supplier are an extreme test of patience – and I don’t mind admitting it’s one I rarely pass.

You know what it’s like. Your internet’s down at home, so you try turning the router off and on several times – delaying ringing the call centre for as long as possible.

Have you tried turning it on and off?

When you do finally pick up the phone, the first thing they suggest you try is… turn the router off and on again.

If you tell them you’ve done that, they won’t believe you. They wait as you try to fill the awkward silence with second-by-second updates on what’s happening to your router.

The lights on the box splutter into life, and the call centre tells you there should be three green lights. You can only see two. They’ll seem surprised, and say, ‘sounds like there’s a problem’. At this point, you stifle a sarcastic response.

They’ll try a few mysterious things at their end (I always imagine they’re checking a cleaner hasn’t ‘unplugged the internet’ to hoover). Only then is an engineer booked. The call takes ages and the call handlers stick rigidly to a script.

How can call centres improve?

If they could pick up the phone quickly that would be a good place to start. If your call could be answered by someone who knows what they’re talking about, that would be a bonus. And if we say we’ve turned the router off and on, trust us. Also, ditch the hold music. Please.

What are your biggest bugbear with call centres? How long have you waited to get through?


I don’t want to speak to call centres when the task could be carried out online. I want to speak to someone only when it requires someone in a position of authority to resolve a problem; most call centre staff don’t have sufficient authority.

Talking of broadband suppliers, current ISP Hyperoptic answers within a few seconds, and I often get through to the same individuals. My previous ISP Be Unlimited used to answer very quickly too. Both ISPs were created by the same entrepreneurs. Go to one of the big six ISPs and you will get bad service with annoying call centres. Go to a smaller niche supplier and you will get better service and a better connection.

AW says:
22 May 2015

Calls to the Tax Office (HM Customs & Excise) require very long waits. The response is that they are experiencing a busy period, but I have needed to phone at different times of the year and the wait is 20 min usually, the same for previous years.
This is not a recent issue and I believe this is unacceptable, especially for a Government department.



thanks for your comment. Yes, we’ve heard from so many people about HMRC that we’ve started a poll so you can tell us how long you’ve waited on the line. You can find it here https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/hmrc-call-helplines-waiting-self-assessment-tax-return/


To be honest my biggest bugbear with call centres is when the calls aren’t free. Everything else is bad enough, but having to pay for the ordeal is worse.


I don’t see why the call should be free, but it should not be charged at above the basic rate (i.e. the cost to call a standard 01 or 02 number which often comes out of inclusive minutes). Regulation 41 of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations 2013 has already banned most call centres from using numbers costing above basic rate. Although the best companies operate on free 0800/0808 numbers, this should not be expected as standard.


I thin when you are a customer and need something sorted out it’s not unreasonable to expect the call to be free of charge, especially if they’re not going to answer the phone for a long time.


A telephone line specifically for complaints should probably be free to call, but where the line is for general customer service queries, for example where customers possibly could have resolved their query on the company’s web site, it’s fair for the call to be charged at basic rate. Otherwise a majority of customers subsidise a minority who communicate with the company in a costly way.


I agree with you on that NFH as a fair basis, but as soon as a company publishes a free call number people will use it whether justified or not. Companies without a costly physical shopfront or completely interactive website should not also expect all customer contact to be paid for by the customer, and certainly should or treat them with contempt by making them hang on the line for ages waiting to connect. Sometimes the engaged signal would be more beneficial.


John, you make an excellent point about companies without a completely interactive web site. I remained puzzled why nearly all mobile phone networks cannot process all tasks online. For example, with giffgaff (a Which best buy), it is possible to do everything online, including ordering a replacement SIM card and porting a number in or out. It is pathetic how most mobile networks make you sit in a call centre queue and speak to a human in order to carry out such simple tasks. A lot of new giffgaff customers complain about the lack of a call centre, but once customers get used to it, they actually prefer it.


I had a seven to eight minute wait for BT today [0800 number] over a billing and direct debit issue, but when the call was answered the adviser was very polite, helpful, and conscientious and the problem was resolved very quickly. I’ve waited longer in banks and at checkouts and for ages in the post office and station ticket offices.


All call centres with a queueing system should tell you where you are in the queue and keep updating you with your position. Callers can then try later if they are at the end of a very long queue.

There would be a lot less irate callers and call centre staff would not have to put up with all the moaning they get and waste their time listening to and calming down irate customers therefore shortening calls and queueing times.

Happier staff and happier customers.


Alfa, you are absolutely right. Without knowing one’s place in the queue, it doesn’t resemble a queuing system but a waiting system. Sometimes I have to wait so long that I start doing other things, which might include other phone calls. Then when they eventually answer, I have to ask the call centre worker to wait a minute or two. I explain that if their system had informed me of my position in the queue, then I would have been ready to speak to them when I reached the front of the queue.


I’ve just had a mixed negative and positive experience with BUPA. I pay my premiums by continuous payment authority to my Amex card; it earns me lots of Avios this way. My previous Amex card expired, but BUPA’s procedures were deficient in that:

1. Whereas most companies would have sent me an e-mail asking me to update my card details before the expiry date, BUPA tried to collect payment on the previous card and failed. They then sent me two letters by post to inform me of this failure. This communication method increases costs for all customers.
2. I then logged into BUPA’s web site but there was no option to update my payment details, so I had to phone their call centre. Employing call centre staff to handle tasks that should be done online increases costs for all customers.

However, when I did phone BUPA, two things were very positive:
1. They operate on an 0800 number.
2. They answered the call immediately with no queuing system and no annoying menu options.

So BUPA uses a call centre for tasks that should be carried out online, but its call centre is better than most companies.