IF you have ever been trapped in automated phone purgatory, or had to face long waits only to speak to a poorly trained operator, then you are not alone.

A survey conducted by the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) has found that seven in 10 consumers are unhappy with the service standards of call centre staff.

The survey, which interviewed more than 1,000 respondents, sought to find out consumers' satisfaction level towards banks and telecommunications providers.

Respondents must have made calls to call centres of banks and telcos or both in the six months before the survey.

Only 8.4 per cent of them said call centre staff were able to answer their inquiry during initial contact.

"This sparks an area of concern as this seems to imply that call centre representatives may not be equipped with the relevant skills or knowledge to provide adequate support or assistance for consumers," Case said in a statement yesterday.

On average, more than 70 per cent of them said call centre staff did not have the knowledge to answer or provide accurate or relevant information.

A majority of the respondents did not think that the staff were courteous, friendly, professional, patient, responsive or attentive to their requirements - and also disagreed that the staff were fluent and clear in their speech.

Nearly half of the respondents had to call at least twice to reach a call centre representative.

On areas for improvements, about three quarters of the respondents said it is very important for call centres to work on improving call waiting time, staff's product knowledge and efficiency in solving problems.

Hence, Case urged call centres to work on the lapses in their service. "In particular, Case would like to suggest that call centres introduce a call-back feature for dropped calls."

The survey also found that almost 80 per cent of respondents wanted call centres to operate at least 13 hours a day.

A check with seven companies revealed that six of them are already operating at least 14 hours daily.

On the back of this, Case recommended that banks and telcos step up their publicity on the operating hours of their call centres.