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Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
# customer service
Two-thirds of complaints dealt with by telecoms regulator so far this year came from Eir customers
The regulator said Eir customers have experienced “unacceptable” waiting times.

EIR CUSTOMERS FACED “significant problems” in attempting to contact the company, ComReg told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications today.

Chairperson of ComReg, Garrett Blaney, said of the 5,354 complaints resolved by ComReg in the first nine months of this year, two-thirds or 3,477 came from Eir customers.

The telecoms regulator also said that the mechanisms in place to impose sanctions on telecoms companies, such as Eir, are not a “frightening” enough deterrent to operators, and called for law reform on the issue.

Carolan Lennon, chief executive of Eir, told an Oireachtas committee last month that the company made a “mistake” locating their customer care centre in Sligo.

She said it took “longer” to train employees in the county because they were not familiar with working in a call centre.

“There was no history of contact centres in Sligo before we got there, which meant that when we were hiring local staff, and people travelling from the environs, local staff, many of them came in from retail or hospitality.

“That was a challenge, it took us longer to train them,” she added.

Her comments angered local TDs such as Fine Gael’s Minister of State, Frank Feighan, who said he would be writing to the CEO about her comments about Sligo, which he said were not accurate.

Fianna Fáil Sligo TD Marc MacSharry said the Eir management team “need to front up admit when they’re wrong, admit when service is poor, and support their staff”.

Lennon later clarified her comments which referred to mistakes made in underestimating the complexities of building a care centre on a greenfield site.

She said there is a talented team in Sligo, adding that she is extremely proud of the Sligo centre.

“We are steadily progressing on our plan to return to an acceptable level of care and I wish to apologise to any customer who has faced long wait times in recent months and thank all of our colleagues for their ongoing commitment and hard work throughout the pandemic,” she said.

Wait times

While any call centre can experience occasional problems with waiting times, Eir
customers faced unacceptable waiting times over an extended period during the last
number of months, Blaney said today. 

ComReg says it has taken a number of steps to mitigate the impact on customers, he said, stating that they are informing customers how they can complain to Eir.

If they are unable to contact Eir, they can complain to ComReg, he added.

ComReg is also engaging on a fortnightly basis with the CEO of Eir to understand the
status of their care operation and their remediation plans.

“It is important to note that it is Eir’s responsibility to fix the underlying problems with its customer care operation. It is Eir that hires and trains care agents. It is Eir that decides on their mandate and incentives. And it is Eir that provides them with IT systems.

“ComReg will continue to press Eir to resolve these matters expeditiously,” said Blaney.

Larger sanctions needed

Looking to the future, in the light of the significant problems with Eir’s call answering times, Blaney said ComReg has considered what additional steps it could take, and what additional powers would be useful. 

“We think it is important that ComReg should be in a position to impose much larger
sanctions that would be a genuine deterrent to non-compliance. This would give service
providers a greater incentive to proactively uphold end user rights, rather than to come into compliance only after ComReg has taken action,” Blaney told the committee.

Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley said for whatever reason Eir appears to have decided the repercussions of their poor customer service is “not going to impact on them”. 

Currently, if ComReg want to issue substantial fines to a telecoms company, an investigation is launched, due process is followed before a decision or final opinion of non compliance is reached. ComReg must then go to the High Court where it can suggest a fine or penalty that the court should apply. 

Blaney said it is a “cumbersome process” and “not frightening enough”. 

Instead of going to the courts to impose fines, ComReg wants the law changed so that the organisation can impose its own fines directly.

Chairman of the committee Kieran O’Donnell said ComReg seems “toothless” with its current powers, and urged the organisation to detail just what legislative changes would be needed for it to be able to issue substantial fines without involving the courts.

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