Eir says it ‘underestimated’ its customer care challenges

11 Feb 2021

Eir CEO Carolan Lennon. Image: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

The telco said that Covid-19 greatly disrupted its processes with agents working from home, but training and hiring has recommenced.

Eir has said it “underestimated” the difficulties it would have with operating customer care in-house, which were compounded after the pandemic hit.

The company faced a slew of complaints last year regarding its customer care and call centres – including an Oireachtas hearing – and said it is working to improve that reputation in 2021.

“Let’s be honest, Eir has never had a great reputation for customer care and customer service,” chief executive Carolan Lennon said at a briefing today (11 February).

The company had brought its customer care services in-house, after outsourcing for many years. This was part of its strategy to reboot that reputation and improve services, and included the opening a new customer care centre in Sligo.

“I still believe that is the right strategy to have it in-house and to have it out of Dublin, but it was harder than we thought and it wasn’t smooth, that transition from out to in,” Lennon added.

The impact of Covid-19 was profound on the company’s ability to hire and train customer agents when the first lockdown hit, which forced most companies in the country into remote working.

Sinead O’Gorman, managing director of customer operations, said that in January 2020 Eir was beginning to stabilise its customer operations after the opening of the Sligo centre, but Covid-19 threw a spanner in the works and hampered much of the progress.

“We had absolutely underestimated the level of difficulties and challenges that we would experience in bringing customer care back in-house so we were finally getting to a level of stability. We weren’t quite where we needed to be but we were seeing the progress and we were getting to where we needed to be, and then Covid hit,” O’Gorman said.

Coupled with retail stores closing, virtually all customer queries, including upgrades and SIM changes, fell to customer service agents who were all now working from home. There was a 30pc increase in calls “almost overnight”, O’Gorman added.

“It was almost like the perfect storm. We weren’t where we needed to be at the start and then we had all of these challenges put in front of us. It was a very difficult few months for our customers and for our staff in customer operations but we are making progress and we are seeing that.”

Eir recommenced hiring and training for its customer service centres in Sligo, Limerick and Cork in July, but its abilities to train new staff remains limited by public health restrictions.

Lennon said that Eir is deploying new IT stacks to better support its agents and is providing new equipment to reduce the number of screens they need to handle queries.

Network expansion

Eir also provided an update today on the roll-out of fibre and mobile services over the last year. Lennon said roll-outs and connections have not been hindered by lockdowns as its field workers could continue to work as they are listed as essential.

In 2020, Eir expanded its 5G network to 800 sites across 237 towns and cities in the country. While Lennon said Eir’s 5G is the largest in Ireland by a “country mile”, the company has not provided a hard figure on how much coverage it will have over the next year. The 4G network, meanwhile, has continued to expand and now has 97pc geographic coverage.

GoMo, Eir’s budget mobile phone network, continues to perform well, Lennon added, even though user sign-ups have started to slow down.

With its fibre network, Eir has now passed 314,000 homes connected in 19 counties, while last year its staff and contractors built out the first 10,000km of new fibre routes.

Most recently, Eir agreed to acquire IT services firm Evros in an €80m deal. The company expects regulatory approval for the deal in early March.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin