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2 December 2022

Why are we waiting? Consumer NZ investigates more call wait times

Consumer NZ has investigated which New Zealand government agencies keep their customers waiting the longest for support via their contact centres.

Some departments, such as Inland Revenue, picked up the phone in less than two minutes. At the other end of the spectrum, Immigration NZ was frustratingly hard to contact, and Work and Income kept Consumer’s caller waiting for over 90 minutes.

This snapshot experiment follows on from our recent investigation into the call centre wait time at 21 New Zealand companies.

“The average wait time for government agencies was about 25 minutes. This is double the average wait time we experienced when we called the businesses.” said Consumer’s head of content, Caitlin Cherry.

The watchdog’s investigation focused on 16 government agencies, with all calls made on a weekday between 9am and 5pm.

“We were surprised that we had to call some government departments multiple times because either the first number we tried wasn’t the right one, or we were hung up on.”

Call waiting times

Immigration NZ was the hardest agency to contact –it took Consumer four attempts to get through to someone.

“Firstly, we had the wrong number for calls from mobile phones,” Cherry said. “On our second attempt our call dropped out after about an hour and a half on hold. On our third attempt the call centre was not accepting calls. Finally, after a fourth attempt, and another hour and 10 minutes on hold, we got through to an operator.”

The total hold time for Immigration NZ was more than two and a half hours.

“Inland Revenue, Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT NZ) and NZ Customs Service deserve honourable mentions for picking up in less than two minutes.

“The Human Rights Commission was the only agency where we couldn’t reach a human. We tried two different menu options in our efforts to speak to someone, but we were advised to leave a voicemail.”

Hanging on the telephone

Some agencies were upfront and transparent on their websites about the wait time a caller was likely to face.

“The accuracy of the estimated call wait times varied, with only one agency overestimating the wait time,” Cherry said.

“Immigration NZ picked up 22 minutes earlier than expected, but it was still an agonisingly long wait to speak to someone.

“NZTA, StudyLink and Work and Income all underestimated their call wait times, with the caller on hold at least 10 minutes longer than anticipated.”

The investigation found that having identifier information at hand, such as a client number, could significantly shorten the time on hold.

“We understand these government contact centres services are in demand, but we don’t think it is acceptable for New Zealanders to have to put their lives on hold to access essential services,” Cherry said. “Our investigation has found, in some cases, that’s precisely what’s happening.”

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