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Eir apologises over ‘unacceptable’ customer service at Oireachtas committee

The chief executive of the telecoms operator appeared before an Oireachtas committee.

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Eir has apologised for its poor customer service (PA)

Eir has apologised for its poor customer service (PA)

Eir has apologised for its poor customer service (PA)

Eir has apologised “unreservedly” for its poor customer service since the onset of the pandemic.

Carolan Lennon, chief executive of the telecoms operator, told an Oireachtas committee that customers had faced “unacceptable wait times”.

She blamed remote working, a reduction in staff numbers and IT issues for the disruption to Eir’s customer service operations.

The chief executive said the company’s challenge had been providing a quality care service to customers at a time when their retail stores were closed, they had moved hundreds of care agents to remote working, had an effective freeze on new hiring and training because of Covid-19 restrictions and saw a 30% increase in call volume versus the same time last year.

“The result was longer than acceptable wait times for our customers and I apologise unreservedly for that,” she told the Committee on Transport and Communications Networks.

We've hired 120 people. We're not done yet, we continue to hireCarolan Lennon, Eir chief executive

Her comments come after Comreg commissioner Robert Mourik told RTE’s Prime Time that Eir’s problems were “so deep and so problematic” that customers had been “left out in the cold”.

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and communications minister Eamon Ryan met representatives from Eir and Vodafone Ireland last week to express their frustration about the poor customer service.

The committee heard that of the 5,354 complaints between July and September to Comreg, two thirds of those alone related to Eir.

Ms Lennon told the committee she was “surprised” to hear Mr Mourik’s remarks and that she disagreed with the telecom watchdog.

“I don’t believe that Eir customers have been left out of the cold,” she said.

But she said she was not surprised by the high level of complaints.

“If a repair goes wrong or a member in here wants access to broadband for a constituent, they do not contact the head of Sky or Vodafone. They contact the head of Eir. We do all the repairs, all the installations, so as a result we are likely to get more complaints,” Ms Lennon said.

“That’s not to excuse it. I’m not saying that the service over the summer was acceptable or even where we are now is acceptable, it isn’t.”

Ms Lennon told the committee that Eir had lost up to 80 staff during the pandemic, that the number of calls other staff had been able to deal with had decreased and that the volume of calls had also increased.

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If you pitch what you're offering to such a low level then you're going to get people that are less skilled and less committed to your companyTimmy Dooley, Fianna Fail TD

She also said customers who called the company had an average wait time of 30 minutes during the early stages of the pandemic, but that had now dropped to below 10 minutes today.

However, committee chairman Kieran O’Donnell said he had contacted customer service on Wednesday and he had waited 29 minutes to be connected to a staff member.

The Fine Gael TD “took exception” to Ms Lennon’s excuse that Eir is a bigger company so therefore it had more problems.

“It’s unacceptable, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny,” he said. “It is a lame excuse.”

Ms Lennon said once the first lockdown restrictions had been lifted the company started hiring again.

“We’ve hired 120 people. We’re not done yet, we continue to hire,” she said.

Fianna Fail TD Timmy Dooley said he was “shocked” that 80 people gave up their jobs between March and July in the midst of the pandemic when so many other people were losing their jobs.

Mr Dooley said it was “bizarre” to him but when Ms Lennon told the committee that call staff were being paid a salary of between 21,000 euro and 23,000 euro plus bonus per annum, Mr Dooley said he “shouldn’t be surprised then if the wages are that low”.

“If you pitch what you’re offering to such a low level then you’re going to get people that are less skilled and less committed to your company,” Mr Dooley said.

“I would argue, with respect, that if you’re serious about doing what you’re talking about, and putting in place permanent pensionable jobs, then you’re going to have to pay more.”

In response Ms Lennon said: “We will have to agree to disagree, I don’t believe that’s the issue.”

But she told the committee that Eir made a “mistake” locating their customer care centre in Sligo.

“This is a mistake we did make in choosing Sligo to build from a green field,” she said.

“There was no history of contact centres in Sligo before we got there, which meant that when we were hiring local staff, and people travelling from the environs, local staff, many of them came in from retail or hospitality.”

“That was a challenge, it took us longer to train them,” she added.

In her opening statement, Ms Lennon said Eir had completed the rollout of its rural fibre broadband programme during the summer of 2019, delivering to a total of 340,000 rural homes and businesses.

She also said she was aware that TDs and senators were getting representations from constituents who have homes close to Eir’s rural fibre network who wanted to be connected but that she could not connect them because Eir had already handed over the baton to National Broadband Ireland.

She said the company had connected 150,000 new customers to fibre broadband and repaired 200,000 faults since April this year.

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