On hold and on edge – the scourge of calling big companies

Call centres all over Australia – those that are, in fact, still in Australia – are using automated services to field calls. And it has to be said, based on anecdotal evidence, they’re not doing a very good job of it.

‘Leading’ the way in this wave of frustratingly unreliable call automation is Centrelink. To hear a story of a satisfied Centrelink phone client would be something akin to finding hen’s teeth, it seems.

It’s certainly not rare to hear stories of Centrelink clients deeply dissatisfied with the agency’s phone ‘service’. I could tell a few myself. The levels and types of frustration experienced are many and varied.

Take the case of Catherine Xie, for example. Ms Xie told her tale of woe in The Age recently, and the title of her piece tells a story in itself.

‘Today, I tried to call Centrelink 17 times. I got through to hold music once, then it hung up’

And that’s just the headline. The rest of Ms Xie’s tale would be well suited to a ‘scary storytelling’ evening, such are the nightmares within. Like being told after finally getting through on a 17th attempt that the estimated call wait time was 90 minutes. Or spending 10 hours in a single week on the phone.

Tip of the ‘on hold’ iceberg

After Ms Xie’s story, many readers wrote letters to the editor recounting similar stories of exasperation. And as shocking as the number of such experiences should be, it isn’t for those familiar with Senate estimates hearings.

Hearings held in February revealed call figures for the seven months to the end of January. In that period, 25 million calls to Centrelink were made. Of those 25 million, only 8.35 million – just on 33 per cent – were actually answered. Nearly two-thirds of all calls made to Centrelink went unanswered.

That was more than six months ago. Sadly, nothing has changed for the better. In fact, the situation has worsened. Figures for July and August show that just 23 per cent of calls to Centrelink were answered. That’s 10 percentage points down on what most would agree was an appallingly low figure.

Such frustrations are not limited to government agencies. Just ask your average Qantas customer. The airline’s reputation has copped a hiding in the past few years for many reasons. High on the list was call wait times, particularly prior to this year.

The insurance giant AAMI is another company to have replaced humans with ‘bots’.

Is it time to fight back?

Such organisations are perhaps relying on an attitude of resignation from customers. ‘Oh well, that’s just how it is.’ And as more move to such a method of service (non) delivery, that is just how it will be.

But there will surely be a point at which clients and customers will say, ‘No more!’ And it would not be a bad thing if that point isn’t too far away.

Have you had a bad phone experience with Centrelink? Has a major company been giving you the telephone run-around? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: When customer service had a human touch

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. I’m sure anyone who’s ever had to ring Centrelink would have had the same experience!
    This has been going on for years … they want everyone to self serve bit of course we all know there are times when you need help &’want to speak to a human to help fix it.
    Perhaps this will be an area AI is able to help!
    I’ve also tried to contact Bendigo Bank a few times over the last month … wait times of over an hour … whilst being told how valued we are … I can’t get my head around it!
    They offer a callback service because that suits them … sadly most of the time it doesn’t suit their customers.
    How about some good old customer service! 🙏

  2. I have done so before, but now I don’t bother trying to ring CentreLink. It is almost impossible to email them, so I visit their office. At least I can sit down and read my emails, send messages and catch up on news etc.
    I tried to contact my car insurance company Apia online the other day because my annual premium renewal went up by 30% from last year, but there was a system error and my message was not able to be submitted. I tried again in the morning and got the same result. There was no email address shown so i had no option but to call them. It was no surprise that there was a fairly long wait time before I eventually got through. The reason for the increase? Amongst other excuses, the floods in NSW and Qld was given. What relevance has that, apart from making them more money, to insurance costs on a car in Adelaide.
    My bank is the same, both here and from overseas. I have tried to call them from overseas a few times on the special number for people when overseas and have run out of credit on my overseas SIM card before the call was answered. Terrific, as I had to travel to an AIS shop to top up my credit and start over again.
    I have also tried to contact Telco from overseas and gave them my overseas phone number in an email, but they point blank refused to call me back. “Not allowed to” was their email response. Just not good enough, especially from a Telco.
    We are caught in a catch 22 situation, because it will be same if we switch banks, Telcos etc and with government agencies, we have no such choice.

    • I know of any elderly person who’s struggling with having to cope with life after his spouse passing being told that he would have to wait up to 6 months before being assessed for an a home care package that he desperately needs.
      In the meantime Albo’s enjoying his life away from home on his junkers!
      Lucky country, for some but not for the voiceless, Joe Blows!!!!

- Our Partners -


- Advertisment -
- Advertisment -