Eir chief apologises at Oireachtas committee hearing for failings in customer care

Sligo Chamber of Commerce rejects idea that lack of suitably skilled staff was part of problem

Eir’s chief executive Carolan Lennon repeatedly apologised for the company’s customer care issues. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Eir’s chief executive Carolan Lennon repeatedly apologised for the company’s customer care issues. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The customer care offered by Eir was condemned as “unacceptable” at an Oireachtas hearing on Wednesday as the company was accused of “penny pinching” when employing frontline staff and leaving sometimes vulnerable customers “out in the cold”.

Eir’s chief executive Carolan Lennon appeared before the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks and over the course of two hours of what were described as “robust exchanges” she repeatedly apologised for the company’s customer care issues.

She stressed staff were “doing their absolute best” and said failings were “my fault not theirs” adding that she had not come before the committee to offer any excuses.

However, she then outlined a list of reasons for the problems the company has had over the past year, including its large size relative to other players in the industry, the pandemic, the number of staff working from home, staff turnover, retail outlets forced to close during the first lockdown and even problems the company had when opening a call centre in Sligo last year.

Ms Lennon promised that the level of care would improve within weeks and said she hoped waiting times for making telephone contact with Eir’s staff would fall to under five minutes by the end of the year.

Vulnerable customers

However, she rebuffed repeated suggestions she should consider taking measures to compensate thousands of sometimes vulnerable customers who have been let down by Eir.

When questioned about how much the company pays customer care staff, she said they earned between €21,000 and €23,000 “plus bonuses”; or just over minimum wage. She stressed they were “good permanent jobs” and denied the pay levels were responsible for 80 staff leaving its call-centre operations in recent months, saying instead challenges presented by working from home were more likely to blame.

“You are penny-pinching on the back end when it comes to customer care,” said Fianna Fáil senator Timmy Dooley, adding “low-balling on the pay side” meant Eir would inevitably get “people who are less skilled and less committed to your company”.

Ms Lennon said they would “have to disagree. I don’t believe that is the issue.”

She said Eir had chosen Sligo as a base for a customer care centre and that had posed challenges because “there is no history of contact centres there”.

Disputed

That point was repeatedly disputed by committee members who listed several large customer care centres either currently operating or which had recently operated out of the area.

Ms Lennon said it was working to reduce not only the wait times but to fix issues faster when contacts were made. If we do what we say we are going to do, there should be no reason [for customers] to ring back.”

Sinn Féin’s Darren O’Rourke said the way the company had been handling customers was “inexcusable” and added Eir had “blatantly failed them”.

Suggestions that a lack of suitably skilled staff in Sligo was in any way responsible for Eir’s poor levels of customer care were rejected later on Wednesday by the chief executive of the Sligo Chamber of Commerce, Aidan Doyle.

He said that the chamber and various local organisations had offered on several occasions to help the company to train staff to work in its centre, and he said he was reiterating that offer now.

He accepted Ms Lennon had clarified that the company remained committed to Sligo and said that when she had referred to the area she had meant to say that she and senior Eir management had underestimated the challenges in setting up a customer care centre from scratch and did not intend to suggest that would-be employees in the Sligo area lacked the skills to work in its centre.