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STAFF REPORTER LARGE companies who provide a telephone assistance service to clients will not be able to keep callers waiting for longer than a minute, Central Government said yesterday regarding legislation governing customer complaint handling currently tabled for review.

The old numbers beginning with “902” which had been the precursor for customer help lines will be done away with and instead a personalised, free service will be available to resolve complaints or for discussion on contractual issues.

The rule will be that this maximum waiting time must apply to more than 90 percent of calls received by the telephone services set up to settle customer complaints. Companies will have to recognise the rights of the public who have purchased goods or services from them, government sources said.

If the new legislation is introduced, companies will no longer be able to benefit financially from customers needing to contact them or to use the help line as a means of offering other products and services to customers.

Companies will be obliged to have a fully prepared client service team, available on an ongoing basis to deal with complaints and to monitor their solution on a stage by stage basis. A time limit will be imposed on the settlement of queries orl objections, a spokesman explained.

In future, he furthered, large companies will need to have personnel already trained in customer “aftercare” to handle calls.
The introduction of tougher measures is a move by the government to boost quality of service and avoid situations such as the member of staff answering a call being unable to provide the information the client requires. Before entering into a contract with a company for goods or services, the customer will be informed on how to go about seeking further information or registering complaints in connection with what has already been paid for.

Companies will also be obliged to put complaint procedure information up on their websites. They will also be required to undergo quality auditing on an annual basis in order that improved customer service can be benchmarked.

Meanwhile, “Consumers in Action” said yesterday that they had some serious concerns about the new laws governing customer service such as the period of one month that a company will be given to resolve a complaint.

A spokesperson said that there may be cases when no progress at all will be made, and quoted the example of rulings dating back to 2000 with the electricity sector having to settle queries within a period of five days. “Now they will be given a month to solve the same issues,” Consumers in Action claimed.