Eir bosses have admitted the company scored a major own goal last year when it came to customer care.
The telephone company had been in the middle of reintegrating its customer-care function, which had previously been outsourced, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
Hundreds of customer-care employees were moved to remote working but productivity dropped and call waiting times soared. At the worst point, in August last year, call waiting times averaged at more than an hour.
The pandemic also triggered an effective freeze on hiring and training, which aggravated the situation.
“Customer care has had a difficult 2020, to put it mildly,” chairman David McRedmond told a business breakfast hosted by the company on Thursday.
“Eir was doing the right thing for its customers to insource care, but we underestimated the full scale of the challenge,” he said.
“A list of 10 or more issues, however, became 100 when the pandemic hit. The challenges of establishing a new care team, managing call-centre staff remotely and a lockdown-driven increase in call volumes was the perfect storm.
“There was also an emotional deficit: Eir wanted to do the right thing for its customers but we didn’t adequately feel the impact of poor service on people’s lives. We’re all really sorry for this,” he said.
Eir continues to receive a big volume of customer-service complaints. According to regulator ComReg’s most recent statistics, the company still had a much higher volume of customer complaints than its rivals.
Eir chief executive Carolan Lennon said the company had long struggled with a poor reputation for customer care but was attempting to address the matter and had recruited an additional 235 customer-support staff since last July.
She said care staff had to jump between potentially 13 screens when dealing with customers but that this system was being overhauled and streamlined.
On a positive note, Ms Lennon said the pandemic had accelerated the adoption of fibre broadband with the company seeing take-up increase by a third as more people worked remotely. Eir is spending more than €500 million on a new fibre-to-the-home network.
The network currently passes 749,000 homes, including 340,000 that had originally been earmarked for the National Broadband Plan. The aim is to extend this to 1.4 million over the next three years.
Ms Lennon said she believed Eir now had a superior technology to its main rival, Virgin, which holds a dominant market share in cities.
Eir's market share in cities in Ireland is less than 30 per cent. Ms Lennon said the medium-term aim was to increase that figure to more than 40 per cent.