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Automated phone systems annoy more than half of Britons, poll suggests

Do you get annoyed by the "Unexpected item in the bagging area" announcements at self-service shopping till or being left on hold to the sound of "Your call is very important to us, please hold"? Well, you're not alone.

A poll conducted for Channel 4's Richard Wilson On Hold (Mon 16 Jan, 9pm) suggests that more than half of Britons found ‘Utility' (55%) and ‘Telecomm' (51%) company automated phone systems annoying.

More than a quarter (26%) of those surveyed say self-service checkouts at supermarkets give them the biggest headache.

In a programme to air tonight actor Richard Wilson investigates the rise and rise of automated services across Britain and puts the machines to the test to reveal who's really benefiting from the switch to DIY technology.

Richard struggles with a supermarket self-service till, takes 15 minutes to pay for parking by phone and totally fails to get voice activated cinema booking lines to understand him.

Richard discovers that the leading supermarkets make proud claims about their self-service tills but consumers often struggled with the technology.

Martin Hocking, Editor, Which? magazine says: "Supermarkets might say these tills are to serve customers and save time. Undoubtedly they're there to save them money and in the long run self-service checkouts will become the norm and it will be a huge saving for the supermarket."

Sainsbury's tell the programme they will offer us a more efficient, quicker system. Tesco says: "(Self-service) tills give our customers a quick and easy option which they really like. And Marks and Spencer and Morrisons say the tills improve customer service.

E.on longest on hold waiting time

Richard Wilson also creates his own call centre to put automated phone systems of some of the country's largest services providers to the test to reveal the worst and best for on hold waiting time.

Over three days the call centre made 400 calls - 50 calls each to Barclays, E.on, Halifax, Santander, Scottish Power, Sky, Southern Electric, and Virgin. These companies use "non-geographical" numbers which may incur costs that an 0800 number would not.

E.on had the longest call waiting time of 58 minutes 17 seconds and an average wait time of over 10 minutes.

In fact, all the energy companies tested did badly. Southern Electric kept one of the team waiting almost half an hour, and had an average wait time of 6 minutes 4 seconds.

Scottish Power offers a ring back service but it still took them an hour and 20 minutes to call back one of the team.

The shortest call was 25 seconds to Sky and Barclays had the shortest average on hold time of 51.

Martin Hocking, Editor, Which? says: "More and more of us are using mobile phones when we are contacting utilities, banks and so on. The difference might be something like, it might cost you 10p a minute with a cheaper 01 number. It could be costing you 40 pence a minute if you are using an 0844 number. They are premium rate numbers and Which? feels strongly that they are inappropriate more often than not for consumers."

Southern Electric say they're investigating our findings and that every effort is made to answer customer calls quickly.

Scottish Power say last year 70% of their calls were answered within 20 seconds and call back services are offered for waits over 3 minutes.

And Eon say their average waiting time is 59 seconds, that they provide a range of alternative help line numbers for customers and are also upgrading their entire phone network soon.

CREDIT

Richard Wilson On Hold airs Mon 16 Jan, 9pm, Channel 4.

Join in the Twitter conversation using #OnHold

For more information:

Automated Service Poll

Question: Of the options below, which automated service - or services - give you the biggest headache? Please select the two or three you find most annoying.

Populus interviewed 2,051 adults in Great Britain online between 16th and 18th September 2011. Data has been weighted to be representative of all GB adults in terms of gender, age, SEG and region. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council. For more information see www.populus.co.uk

On Hold Waiting Times Results

Over three days the call centre made 400 calls - 50 calls each to Barclays, E.on, Halifax, Santander, Scottish Power, Sky, Southern Electric, and Virgin. These companies use "non-geographical" numbers which may incur costs that an 0800 number would not.

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