/ 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?


John Lewis the best? Not their Financial Services who, following installation of a disastrous new website were not only impossible to reach by phone (compounded by a voice message every 10 seconds) but whose secure messages have not been answered after 14 days.

I have experienced the worst call centre treatment at the hands of BT. After having no problems for a year suddenly we have had one or all appliances in the house unable to connect to Broadband. I have phoned 7 times and each time you wait anything up to half an hour for a reply .. usually from a distant call centre. I have been told it is …. too many appliances/faulty appliances (all of them????)/router in the wrong position/your contract has finished/broadband is slow today/a difference wi-fi interfering/nothing is wrong/you need to buy a new router….. After a month of limited or no Broadband, we have pulled the plug on simply the worst customer care I have ever come across – and they wont accept responsibility or a refund (£60 per month for rubbish broadband).

I have been with TalkTalk for about 8 years. I contacted them three times over the last week concerning a broadband problem that had arisen recently. Each time, I have got through to a technical support person within 2-3 minutes, and have had very good service. The staff were helpful and polite, discussed the issue, and on the first two calls made changes which needed to be monitored for 24-48 hours. The final call got me a new router, delivered within 48 hours, and my broadband connection is now great, averaging 16.27Mbps.
I know TalkTalk regularly comes low on customer service ratings, but my experience with them has been very positive.

I believe that users – you and me – should not start paying for a call centre call until business is being done. By that I mean talking to an operator or giving and receiving useful information from an automated system. Telling me that I am valued, or that I can visit their website is not useful. All charges up to this point should be born by the operating company, and if I’m using my mobile this should not eat up my free minutes. If I have to carry out a process such as power-cycling my router, I should also not have to ring off and lose my place. After all, when I’m waiting for a bus or taxi I am not charged for the time. Neither am I charged in a restaurant for just being there; gratuity aside, I am only charged for what I consume.

Perhaps you would ask OFCOM to consider this becoming mandatory, to encouage call centre manning levels to become approriate.

My worst experience was with Vodafone, normally I can settle in for a wait but on this occasion it got ridiculous. I was holding on the tech help option as my phone was not working, in regards to incoming calls and messages, I had already tried a reset to no effect and my mums identical phone just down the street was working fine, with Vodafone too. I was holding for 55 minutes, refusing to hang up at this point only to be cut off and then the lines be closed for the night. Putting up with music and messages, the next day when I tried again I got a 35 minute hold and cut off followed by a 15 minute and cut off. Never got through to complain either. Thankfully my phone self sorted after that. Though to be fair normally I’m ok with Vodafone but havn’t contacted them since.

Almost the most annoying thing about the recorded messages is when (as often) the message says “We are experiencing an exceptionally high volume of calls….” This message is played whenever one calls the organisation, no matter what day, or time of day, it is. In fact, it’s a pre-planned LIE!

Divonnais says:
6 November 2016

Spent 8 minutes trying to call “Which” two days ago. Wait included voice reminding me about the Which website. Hmmmm.

Hello Divonnais, sorry to hear this. Is there something we can help you with? You can either comment here or email us at conversation.comments@which.co.uk

And yet another poorly performing broadband provider: PlusNet. Used to be good, but in my interactions since Sept 2016 they have failed miserably. They haven’t fixed the broadband speed, but in the context of this conversation, their answer times have been awful, 20-45 minutes effectively, though at least they warn you. They recomment their online ‘chat’ service, which I have successfully used a couple of times, but other times it has been out of action as well. An assistant did explain once that they are ‘recruiting hard to provide more staff’, so it seems like the usual problem of too few staff/too much demand, but without even the excuse of a poorly implemented billing or other system implementation creating a spike in calls – just poor management of demand/supply. I’ve checked with other customers and they have similarly seen a massive decline in quality of customer service at PlusNet, which is a shame as it used to be their point of difference.

During the last six months I had to give part of my life away waiting for PlusNet to answer my calls.
On average I had to wait 45 minutes listening to awful music with poor quality.
What amaze me is that PlusNet has an High user satisfaction rating. Does it imply that most callers love waiting and have nothing else to do other than listening to an awful noise for such a long time?

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I would like to add my comment to those saying nice things about Hargreaves Lansdown Customer Service. They usually answer calls within a reasonable time of seconds not minutes. When your call is answered I almost always find that the person talking to you is able to answer your question without needing to pass you on. This applies even though the question might be quite “specialist”.

With investment managers like Hargreaves Lansdown, the cost of providing an efficient customer service operation is covered by the ongoing management fee. Other types of company do not have the same incentive to be responsive.

I suggest the following strategy when phoning a call centre. Go through any menu selection and get yourself into a queue awaiting an answer. At this point press the button on your phone to put it into “Loudspeaker” mode. You can then listen to the music while doing other tasks around the house such as writing an email, peeling potatoes doing the washing up etc. This can be a bit embarassing should they actually answer your call as you have to dry your hands, refocus brain and find your paperwork. This is a minor nuisance compared to the problems the company has given you. I recommend this strategy as arranging a call back is ofter not convenient. Also, most companies log the times taken to answer calls so your call waiting time creates pressure on the company as it inflates this parameter. I find that it is much gentler on my blood pressure.

Dick Jenks says:
8 August 2020

HSBC Bank 4 months after lockdown takes the prize for me. Their main number 404404 does not pickup after 32 mins of musak. Trying to setup internet banking on another number gets 20 mins musak, then a ‘deer in the headlights’ assistant who just wanted to pass me on with a promise of ‘an immediate answer’ on the business line; result 20 more mins of musak before I give up. Going in to the local branch no better, they say they cannot help although the website says they can. Obviously using coronavirus as an excuse for rubbish service. 4 months on guys, home phones and VPN connections work as well as call centre devices. Make it happen please.

David Payne says:
24 September 2020

I have tried to call John Lewis technical support twice, once around 8 pm and again the next day at 5 pm with little success – 30 minutes waiting with no knowledge of when they might answer. Just gave up, its so bad.

Graham Vyse says:
24 February 2021

Hargreaves Lansdown?? I’m currently on 42 minutes holding and still trying to even get through to their pension line with an urgent matter!