Phone Calls

Reporter: Helen Wellings

They really put customers off - interactive voice response systems that make you select from a raft of options, then keep you waiting on the phone. Paul van Veenendaal runs Customer Service Benchmarking, which analyses telephone services of companies around Australia. His mystery callers ring each organisation 150 times - 15 times over 10 weeks - to test their phone skills and how long they keep us waiting.

His latest 2007 survey shows - ISPs and telcos are slowest by far, they take over 2 and a half minutes on average .. that's just to pick up the phone, a huge expense for 40% of people ringing from mobile phones. Banks and airlines take 2 and a quarter minutes, gas companies, managed funds, electricity and insurance companies one and a half to almost 2 minutes to pick up. Fastest, under a minute, are water companies, local councils and universities.

"What we are noticing with banks is some are trying and actually improve their service to their customers, but overall the banks are still not improving and not doing enough to give customers the service they require" says Paul.

So here are the shortcuts to save you lots of time and money. After you've dialed the company's customer service number, as soon as the voice prompts start, ring these numbers to get a real person. ANZ Bank 00000, Bank West 00000#, Suncorp 0000, Commonwealth Bank and RAMS Home Loans 000, Citybank and Esanda 00, Bendigo Bank, ING Direct, Westpac and Woolworths Ezy Banking, National Australia Bank ###, and St George Bank - just say the department and you're through to a real person. Paul says this also works.