In the Telegraph today (via Consumerist) is a story of a man who says he was kept on hold while calling Quantas Airlines for over 15 hours. The really interesting thing, in my mind, is the airline's response: "our average contact centre wait time during that period was under a minute and the longest wait time was 17 minutes."
Most readers will probably jump to one of two conclusions: either the customer is lying to see his name in the newspaper, or Quantas is lying to save face.
However, I think there's a good chance--maybe even a likelihood--that both the customer and the airline are telling the truth, at least as far as they know.
Most contact centers, especially at really big companies, are bewilderingly complicated combinations of ill-fitting technologies which mostly work most of the time. It's common for a single customer call to be passed between many different systems, often operated by different companies at different locations. It's not uncommon to find dead ends, paths which put the customer in an infinite loop, or unmanned queues.
But the statistics companies use to manage their contact centers often come from only one or two of these systems. It's really hard to build a coherent view of what's happening to each individual call because that requires getting different databases to talk to each other in real time.
If this unfortunate customer happened down a broken path in Quantas' contact center, it's entirely likely that the company literally had no view of his call at all. Normally a 15-hour call in any call center will be sounding alarms all over the place, but not if the call is completely off the radar.
That's why it's important to take an end-to-end look at the customer experience, from the customer's perspective. Otherwise it's too easy for a few people to simply slip between the cracks and never get noticed.