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Please hold the line …

Please hold the line

Keeping in mind that customers who have good experiences don’t necessarily mention them online, 5W’s work helps bring to surface the issues faced by the customers who report problems – quicker. By seeing potential problems early, regulators and customer service managers can investigate and prevent large scale issues in advance. In this case, is there an issue in long wait times on the phone? Failed calls? Large phone bills because of the support calls?

2013-09-18 15_05_09-ForSight __ Put on hold calling the bank - Epic

Total volume of conversations around phone calls to UK retail banks

5W, using in-house expertise and Crimson Hexagon’s ForSight platform, conducted an exploratory investigation analysing online conversations, taking place in the UK between 1 September 2012 and 1 September 2013, about people’s experiences calling their banks. We categorised the conversations (2,991 comments) based on the most recurring themes:

Categories of conversation around phone calls to UK retail banks

Categories of conversation around phone calls to UK retail banks


• “Waiting on hold”: for people who mention they have been or are on hold for more than a couple of minutes.

• “Dropped call after waiting on hold”: comments mentioning that after a long hold the phone call was dropped or the call was dropped before a resolution is reached.

• “Long call to the bank”: comments which mention that the callers have had a very long active call with the bank.

• “Not satisfied with phone service”: comments mentioning that the phone call did not result in a satisfying resolution.

• “Satisfied with phone service”: comments mentioning that the phone call was satisfactory.

The two categories to be considered in future articles

The two categories to be considered in future articles


Two categories caught our attention despite being outside the scope of this work.  People reporting problems with long queues in banks and more frequent calls with fraud departments. A separate analysis of each group will be part of future articles.

The reported issues

Topics around "waiting on hold" and dropped calls

Topics around “waiting on hold” and dropped calls


These categories represent the common themes contained in the comments people made online. Keeping in mind the previously mentioned bias in the data, we will not judge the quality of the phone banking service in general.

Nonetheless, almost half of the conversation (41%) is about being put on hold for a long time or about calls being dropped after being on hold for more than 10 minutes and up to 60 minutes or even longer. Some are even paying for these calls either from the UK (for example using a mobile phone) or having to call from abroad.

Out of the more expected reasons for people feeling the phone service not being helpful (37% of conversation), language barrier is an interesting problem. Part of the comments (from people of British white ethnicity – North Britain) even state that they had to call the support line a second time or get someone else to call on their behalf because the support personnel claimed they couldn’t understand their accent. Similarly, other stated they couldn’t understand the support person on the call. Both cases are barriers to effective support.

Combining the long wait times, call drops, and the general perception of long phone calls to solve issues, a common theme of dreading to call the bank emerged.

A high level look at the plot for occurrences of call wait and call drop comments didn’t show identifiable trends. Further analysis of posts’ meta data can test for a relationship between the time of call and the tendency to be put on hold or for calls to be dropped – an important detail when some customers think that whenever they call the support line they hear the message that the service is “extremely busy at the moment”.

Two major UK banks have been consistently named within the comments of people waiting on hold. This does not prove that the two banks are worse than their competitors. Case in point, one of the two banks is consistently mentioned in the positive user experiences too. However, this does beg the question: is there something different in what they do?

Are all experiences gauged with the same measure?

The details of the conversations show that people reported a pleasant vs unpleasant experience for different reasons.

People reporting a pleasant experience associated their experience with their interaction with the person at the other end of the line – not emphasising the service itself. Some going to the extent of liking the person and flirting with them.

People reporting unpleasant experiences did so for more varied reasons such as their problem not being solved, rudeness from the staff or inability to communicate.

Whether this is due to personal attitude, the quality of service or some other reason is hard to judge but this might show advantages of choices of certain call centres vs. others.

 Example comments from the conversations

2013-09-12 09_16_46-ForSight __ Put on hold calling the bank

2013-09-12 09_21_12-ForSight __ Put on hold calling the bank 2013-09-12 08_20_08-ForSight __ Put on hold calling the bank 2013-09-12 09_11_02-ForSight __ Put on hold calling the bank

2013-09-12 09_21_12-ForSight __ Put on hold calling the bank     Example comments from the conversations

2013-09-12 09_21_12-ForSight __ Put on hold calling the bank
Example comments from the conversations


So is there an issue?

Reiterating the limitations of the data, we cannot assess how major or minor the problem of banking phone support is. However, the data does show that, potentially, a problem exists and provides the main issues people report to have.

To a regulator, the value of this work and further research is to focus part of the resources to assess how meaningful this problem is; and possibly push for regulation. Should a limit of how long customers have to wait be enforced? More stringent controls on phone service outsourcing?  Whichever it is, the reported problems indicate that a discussion is needed to further improve the experience of banking customers.

To customer service departments, this work presents an opportunity to further assess the effectiveness of their customer service operations and any changes they might need to implement to improve overall customer satisfaction.


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