Eir to issue apology for poor customer relations service

Joint Oireachtas committee to hear Covid-19 behind telecom’s challenges and criticism

The chief executive of telecoms company Eir will on Wednesday "apologise unreservedly" for customer relations issues which the company has faced, and will blame the impact of Covid-19 for driving many of the issues which have led to widespread criticism of the company in recent weeks.

In her opening statement to the joint Oireachtas committee on transport, Eir chief executive Carolann Lennon will say that the company's main challenge arising from Covid has been "providing a quality care service to our customers".

She will tell the committee that due to the pandemic, hundreds of customer care employees were moved to remote working while an effective freeze on hiring and training was brought in at a time the company says it saw a 30 per cent increase in call volumes.

Wait times

"The result was longer than acceptable wait times for our customers and I apologise unreservedly for that," Ms Lennon is due to tell the committee in an opening statement. The problems of the pandemic were compounded, she will say, because two years ago Eir moved customer care jobs back inhouse, to a call centre in Sligo, with smaller centres in Cork and Limerick.

The fact that this entire workforce is now home-based, she says, means they no longer have on-site support networks, “and so we have seen increased wait times and a reduction in the average number of calls handled to 30”, which is down from 40 before the pandemic. Also, IT issues take longer to fix, causing delays.

“If an agent faces a systems issue today, we have to courier their computer back to our IT team meaning an issue that could have been resolved in a few minutes pre-Covid now could take a day.”

Phone lines

She will also tell the committee that staff have found working from home challenging. “Working in a bedroom or at a kitchen table is not the job that our staff signed up for and we have lost 80 staff between March and July when we were unable to recruit due to lockdown restrictions.”

The closure of Eir’s retail stores has also led to an increased demand on phone lines, with queries normally arising in such outlets now inevitably being directed to call centres. Ms Lennon will tell the committee that average call waiting times have now come down to about 10 minutes, but says “there are some variations to those times, depending on the service required”.

She will tell the committee that she "understands members' frustrations" as many constituents are contacting them regarding Eir's service. Issues around Eir's service and customer care have been raised recently at meetings of the Fine Gael parliamentary party and in the Dáil.

Last week, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan also met with the company recently to discuss consumers' frustrations, which Mr Varadkar said are "causing a huge amount of frustration for people".

The company will also update the committee on its involvement in the National Broadband Plan (NBP), which it says it is supporting fully, and its fibre broadband offering.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times