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Senator Timmy Dooley

Council still awaiting response from Eir over Clare consumer issues

EIR have still not responded to a formal request from the local authority for clarity on who members should contact in emergencies during phone and broadband outages. Councillor Pat Hayes said that despite recent revelations by Eir’s Chief Executive about problems in staffing its customer service function, the council had received no formal response to a query sent some months ago.

“Considering that the company was once State owned and now it’s privately owned, I can’t understand why it never recognised or placed any value on customer loyalty,” the Chairperson of Killaloe Municipal District said. “People still ring their local councillor on a regular basis because they get no satisfaction from Eir, or can’t get through at all to them. As councillors, we would like to know who we can speak to within the company, but as yet, have had no reply from the company. I am hoping that, in terms of broadband, the National Broadband Plan, who have agreed to come in and outline their plans to the council, there will be an alternative option available.”

In addition to receiving a large volume of queries from homeowners dissatisfied with their coverage and customer service, councillors also raised concerns in August when Storm Ellen caused significant outages in phone services across East and South Clare. The company’s approach was contrasted with that of the ESB and other service providers who provide out-of-hours points of contact to the local authority.

At the end of last month, the communications regulator ComReg, said that official complaints about Eir had jumped from 383 in the first quarter of 2020, to more than 1,000 complaints between July and September. Some of the complaints were from people who had waited over an hour to speak to a customer service representative and some faced weeks of repeated calls before complaints were resolved.

Addressing the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks, Carolan Lennon outlined severe recruitment and retention issues at the company over the course of 2020. She said that 80 staff had left the company during the pandemic and that she considered there were good jobs in rural areas, paying between €21,000 and €23,000 a year, plus bonuses. Ms Lennon added that Eir has hired 120 staff since restrictions eased after the first wave of Covid-19 and that average call wait times are now around ten minutes.

Responding to Ms Lennon’s claims, Senator Timmy Dooley cited the issue of low pay as an issue that had a direct connection with poor customer service.

He pointed that that between 15% and 18% of Eir’s call centre staff had walked out in the middle of a pandemic and that that should have raised a “red flag”.

“If Eir pitches what it is offering to such a low level, it will get people who are less skilled and less committed to the company,” Senator Dooley told the committee. “I would argue that if Ms Lennon is serious about doing what she is talking about and putting in place permanent, pensionable jobs, Eir is going to have to pay more. Quite frankly, there is a direct correlation between what I pay in purchasing Eir’s services and the care I get. If I am paying what I consider to be a decent amount of money for the service I am getting and, ultimately, I am not getting the service, I might argue, with some justification, that Eir is penny-pinching on the back end in terms of its customer care.”

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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