Central Bank requires improvements to retail banks’ customer support phone lines

18 February 2022 Press Release

Central Bank of Ireland

Press Release update – 16th March 2023

Customer Support Phone Lines

  • Last year we published the findings of our review on customer support phone lines, which required the retail banks to put new measures and resources in place to address the need for improvements on their customer support phone lines. 
  • This was particularly important work in the context of planning for the significant numbers of customers that had to switch banking services as a result of the withdrawal of KBC Bank Ireland and Ulster Bank.
  • Since that exercise we have continued to monitor and challenge the banks to deliver improvements for both existing and new customers. This has included reviewing:

           - Resources assigned to phone lines;

           - Volume of calls, average call wait times and abandoned calls;

           - Banks’ adherence to their service level standards.

  • As a result of this work, we have seen improvements by the banks on the performance of their customer support phone lines. This has included a range of measures such as: 

         - Increasing the resources assigned to answering customer calls; 

         - A significant reduction in the number of calls that are abandoned (representing 5% of the most recent month).

 - Significant reduction in cases where people are waiting unacceptably high lengths of time to get through. For   example, we found for the last month of the most recent targeted review, just one institution with incidences of call wait times in excess of 60 minutes which represented less than 1% of total calls in the sample reviewed and primarily related to two specific spike events. 

- Demonstrating considerable improvement in meeting their service level standards (e.g. ranging from 30-120 seconds across the firms and phone lines reviewed,  and where in a one month sample showed adherence rates in compliance with target rates of 70-80%);

  • We have also been tracking social media where we have seen a significant reduction in the number of complaints since the first review of Customer Support Phone Lines. For example, for one week in November 2021, there were 78 complaints logged on social media relating to call waiting times, in contrast to the most recent week in March 2023 when there were only 6 such complaints.

Press Release - 18 February 2022 

  • Central Bank review found areas for improvement in advance of increased demand for services
  • Retail banks are taking action to ensure they have the customer service capacity and structures in place to meet expected demand
  • Banks to report on progress on these actions to the Central Bank throughout the year

A review by the Central Bank of Ireland of call waiting times on the customer support phone lines in the main retail banks has highlighted areas for improvement. The review assessed call wait times, call abandonment rates and resourcing levels across the retail banks. It was completed by the Central Bank in anticipation of an increase in customer engagement levels following the decision by KBC Bank Ireland and Ulster Bank to withdraw from the market. It is expected that demand for customer services will increase over the coming months, as significant numbers of customers will have to switch banking services.

The review found that:

  • Average call wait times on some customer support phone lines were excessive and exceeded the internal Service Level Agreements of the banks concerned.
  • Some banks experienced unexpected spikes/demand on customer support phone lines that contributed to some of the excess call wait times.
  • The longest call wait times in some of the retail banks was unacceptably high, with customers waiting over two hours in some cases.
  •  Resourcing levels varied considerably across the retail banks and it is clear in some cases that resourcing for customer support phone lines was insufficient.
  •  The number of customers abandoning calls was high – one phone line had an abandonment rate over 50%.

We have engaged directly with the retail banks to implement robust action plans to ensure the level of customer service provided on support phone lines is sufficient to manage both normal call volumes and to deal with surge events. The banks have provided details of measures they are taking to address the issues highlighted by our review, including increased capacity and staffing levels. The Central Bank will expect firms to report to it on the implementation of these measures over the course of the year.

The review follows a letter from the Central Bank to the retail banks in June 2021 setting out our consumer protection expectations during this time of unprecedented change in the retail banking sector in Ireland. The letter outlined a series of supervisory expectations, including that the retail banks take proactive action to manage customer service operations and resources to meet both current levels of engagement and anticipated growth in demand for services.

Director of Consumer Protection, Colm Kincaid, said: “Given the importance of banking to our day to day lives, when we pick up the phone to a bank we need to get a prompt response and a good service. From our own review and the clear concerns expressed on social and other media it is clear that banks need to improve their performance in this area, so we have intervened to require this improvement to take place.

This is even more important given the planned departure of two banks from the Irish market. With these planned departures it is expected that the demand for customer services will increase across the banking sector as customers look to move accounts, access new services and seek information. It is the responsibility of banks to ensure that they have sufficient resources in place to help consumers navigate this significant change in our banking market, including meeting demand from both existing and new customers.”