Australian consumers spent 96.5 million hours contacting customer service to resolve issues in 2022, seven million more hours than in 2021, equating to an average of 7.2 hours per person who complained, according to the 2022 Australian Customer Care Report by digital workflow company, ServiceNow.

The increase in time on hold was due to 1.6 million more people complaining to customer service in 2022, with 13.3 million trying to resolve an issue compared to 11.6 million in the 2021 report.

The report, conducted by Lonergan Research, shows most people (93%) are changing their spending and shopping habits in the face of a tough economic outlook and cost of living impacts. More than half of Australians plan to buy and spend less in the next 12 months (57%), while nearly one-third (30%) will complain more or return more items when receiving bad products or services.

Further, three-quarters (75%) of Australians believe service is getting worse due to businesses cutting costs, and 72% say they have less patience with bad service because costs are rising.

“Organisations need to find smart ways to do more with less to meet growing expectations of customer service, as customers demand more in the face of cost-of-living pressures. Sacrificing the quality of service to cut costs will send consumers straight into the arms of competitors,” ServiceNow Australia and New Zealand vice president and managing director, Eric Swift said.

Speed is increasingly important, with 69% saying that resolving an issue quickly is key to good customer service (compared to 51% in 2021), yet almost half (46%) believe their average time on hold has increased in the past 12 months.

The average time for an issue to be resolved in Australia is 7.3 days, yet three quarters (75%) say they will consider taking business elsewhere if their complaint isn’t resolved within 7 days. The level of patience varied depending on location, with people from WA (6.1 days) and NSW/ACT (7.3 days) the least patient, while people from QLD (9.7 days) and SA (10.9 days) are most patient.

Australians are becoming more careful with their spending. Shoppers intend to change their behaviour in a variety of ways, including waiting for sales (53%), looking for cheaper options (52%), searching for special offers (55%), and using loyalty program perks to save money (55%).

For people looking to get issues resolved quickly, the research revealed the fastest way is through a brand’s app, taking less than an hour (0.9h) on average, followed by in-person such as in-store (one hour), and via online chat (1.3 hours). Phone contact takes the longest amount of time, at an average of 2.2 hours, followed by email at 1.9 hours.

Fewer Australians are favouring traditional methods of reaching customer service staff, with just one third (33%) always trying to speak to someone, rather than solving an issue via a chatbot or automated service, a preference that has decreased from almost half of Australians in 2021 (46%).