Long wait: AMI hires local workers as overseas-based call centres battle Covid

A major insurer has been forced to hire more staff locally after its overseas-based call centres were hit by Covid-19 leading to long wait times for customers trying to phone in.

AMI, owned by IAG – New Zealand’s largest insurer which also owns the brands State, Lumley and NZI, normally uses call centre workers in Manila in the Philippines, Pune in India and Cape Town in South Africa.

But a spokeswoman said like other businesses with a portion of their support teams based overseas its people in those countries had not been able to work due to Covid-19.

“The current fluctuations in call wait times are largely the result of the impact of Covid-19 on our overseas call centres.”

One prospective AMI customer, who didn’t want to be named, said he had tried the call centre about five times over a two week period to get a quote for insuring his property.

While the phone was picked up quickly to start with, once he asked to speak to someone handling house and contents insurance he was left on hold.

“That was when the waiting began. One time I looked at their website which doesn’t allow you to email them, which is surprising … and it said: ‘our wait times at the moment are up to 25 minutes’, which is extraordinary.”

He gave up after 20 minutes the first time around and also gave up after a second time of waiting. He then asked to speak to a manager and ended up leaving a voicemail message.

“I said: ‘Without being disrespectful your service is frankly woeful and please call me’.”

She did ring him back after about 15 minutes and eventually they connected after going back and forth several times.

“The issue really is in that company they obviously have different teams in different areas and in that house insurance area they appear to be extremely busy.”

He said unlike other service providers there was no ability to leave details and get a call back.

“In the case of AMI you just had to wait and wait and wait.”

He said he was told by a staffer at the company they had recently put on 31 extra people in the call centre.

The IAG spokeswoman acknowledged longer wait times could be frustrating for its customers.

“We appreciate their patience and understanding and we are doing everything we can to alleviate call wait times.”

She said the company was redeploying AMI retail team members into its local call centres, as well as actively recruiting new people into these roles from across New Zealand.

“Our AMI call centre team members are working very hard to support our customers. We also continue to receive positive feedback from customers using our various digital channels. We encourage customers to consider using these support channels as an alternative.”

Last July IAG announced it would close all 53 AMI stores, culling 65 branch manager jobs.

The last seven of those stores – Albany, Botany, Te Rapa in Hamilton, Mount Maunganui, Wellington, Hornby and Dunedin – will close at the end of June.

Asked if it planned to stop using offshore call centres the spokeswoman said: “With the current uncertainty offshore, we are constantly reviewing our call centre operations and structure so we can be there for our customers.”

Callum Francis, the finance sector spokesman for First Union, said he was aware that, due to Covid, IAG had started trying to recruit more domestically based call centre workers.

“Which is always good from our point of view.”

Francis said five or six years ago many companies were looking at offshoring call centre operations. “They all thought it was marvellous.”

“Luckily for us it wasn’t the popular trend it was made out to be.”

He said some larger organisations had transferred processing departments offshore especially if they had both Australian and New Zealand operations.

But he said Covid had shown it was better that these jobs remain in New Zealand. Employing more people in these jobs would help with New Zealand’s economic recovery, he added.

Francis said across the finance sector call volumes had been blowing out over the last year with people unable to go into a branch due to Covid-19 and needing help with their personal finances.

“It has been a fluctuating issue not just with insurers but also within the finance sector. Queue volumes have been blowing out especially when people haven’t been able to go into a branch or go about their normal business.”

Last year the mortgage deferral scheme saw a massive rise in call volumes to banks during April and May.

But Francis said that had changed now and instead of deferrals banks workers were dealing with lending queries.

“With the housing market increasing, call volumes and pressure on lenders has been increasing as well so all of the banks have been trying to increase the number of people that can participate in and assist people with lending.”

Francis said companies had also been pushing to handle more queries digitally.

“Digitally is the preferred method for all millennials but there still remains a need for contact around lending and those sorts of things.

“I do wonder, despite all their focus on it, if they have put the right amount of emphasis on staffing those areas correctly and making sure they have got people in the right place at the right time.”

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