Singaporeans spent more than 30 million hours on hold in 2023

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Singaporeans spent more than 30 million hours on hold to address a customer service complaint or issue, according to research, by ServiceNow. The average person in Singapore spent approximately two full working days (equivalent to 16.1 hours) on hold last year equivalent to a staggering loss of $1.24 billion (SGD) in wages nationwide.

1,030 Singaporeans aged 18 and above took part in ServiceNow’s study, conducted by Lonergan Research in early 2024, to assess the state of service in Singapore within the past year.

Slow service solutions will see Singapore business’ operating costs increase, with employees spending an average of 4.7 working days to resolve each customer issue. According to Wee Luen Chia, Managing Director, ServiceNow Asia, “The effect goes wider than just the individual businesses putting their customers on hold, it’s impacting Singapore’s competitiveness.”

34% of Singaporeans are having to resolve issues by themselves because of poor service.

Customers rank the top three frustrations with customer service as having to repeat their issues to multiple people/departments (60% of respondents); being transferred to multiple people or departments (53%) and the relentless wait on hold (42%).

Why is Singapore stuck on hold?

Respondents believe the Nation is ‘stuck on hold’ due to:

  1. Staff not having any power to make decisions/resolve issue (52%)
  2. A lack of ownership and responsibility between different departments (48%)
  3. Inefficient communications within the organisations (48%)
  4. Customer service department is understaffed or overwhelmed (47%)
  5. Customer service staff not listening to me (40%)

72% of Singaporeans have even less patience with bad service because of inflated costs; a similar number of locals (70%) think customer service is getting worse because companies are cutting costs. 

1 in 3 respondents believe that the time they spent on hold in 2023 is an increase from the previous year; almost 1 in 2 respondents (43%) believe the time it takes to resolve an issue has also increased. 43% of Singaporeans say their expectations of an organisation’s customer service department has increased in 2023.

70% of Singaporeans also reported encountering service disruptions from key providers. On average, each Singaporean experienced two disruptions each year. 

“Businesses that empower their employees and teams to collaborate quickly and transparently to resolve issues will succeed in 2024,” said Chia. Frustrating wait times, little resolution and abrupt service disruption is costing Singapore its patience along with National productivity, too.”

Shifting service needs to support all generations

The research also compared generational service experiences, revealing signs of a digital divide in customer service quality. Baby Boomers were left waiting the longest for service in Singapore, in 2023, spending an average of 5.7 days for their issue to be resolved. For younger generations, it takes around 2 days less on average to have their issues resolved (3.6 days).

More than half (56%) of Gen Z have used self-service options more frequently over the past year to resolve issues and are less likely to speak to an agent, while 55% of Baby Boomers preferred to speak directly to a person (24% for Gen Z).

A better customer experience starts with clearer visibility of where and why processes are currently letting customers down,” said Chia. “Only then can organisations invest in improving operations, to consolidate, augment, or replace the service gaps. Instead of betting on quick-fix solutions, customer experience requires a long-term commitment to building service roadmaps to progressively meet and even exceed Singaporeans’ evolving expectations.”

What does good service look like? Be strategic about speed, empathy and transparency

Two thirds of Singaporeans think that having their issues resolved quickly is key to good customer service, with transparency and empathy frequently emerging as top themes for an exemplary customer experience:

  1. Having the issue resolved quickly (67%)
  2. Getting through to someone quickly by phone, chat or in person (52%)
  3. Having an empathetic customer service agent who cares (47%)
  4. Being able to track progress (46%)
  5. Customer service agent knowing all your service details/interaction history (42%)

“Customers expect every part of a business to communicate and work together to solve their issues, fast. The research shows that customers attribute an organization’s inability to solve issues to business siloes and disempowered teams,” said Chia.

“To break this downward spiral and earn back trust, customer service needs to enable the service teams to do their best work. Routing the right people to the right process, at the right time will solve the customer’s issue fast – this is where automation and AI technologies can deliver their best work in the service of employees and also for customers. “