Carmel Shama-Hacohen
MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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If the mobile operators don't improve their quality of service fast, the legislators will crack down, MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud ) said yesterday.

The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee held an urgent session yesterday morning to discuss the poor customer service supplied by the mobile operators. Committee chairman Shama-Hacohen showed understanding of their plight: The three big mobile operators field about 6 million calls a month to their customer service lines, he said. But, on the flip side, Israeli consumers spend 48 million minutes a month on the line with the companies - on hold and being served. That's equivalent to almost 100,000 work days for consumers, costing the economy some NIS 36 million a month in lost income.

"Unless the wireless companies act speedily to solve the problems at [their] customer service centers, we will sponsor legislation on the matter," said Shama-Hacohen.

The MK said the committee would prefer to hold a dialogue with the companies on improving service before enacting legislation.

Representatives of the cellular operators attended yesterday's Economics Affairs session and were asked to present plans to improve customer service and reduce the time clients languish on hold (or waiting at their service centers ), such as hiring more customer service representatives.

The committee is considering a bill sponsored by MK Eitan Cabel (Labor ) that sets a maximum time limit of three minutes of waiting time for companies with over 10,000 customers.

"If the situation does not improve, the committee will consider the bill. We want to receive a quick response from the companies - within days - as to what steps they intend to to take to improve service," said Shama-Hacohen.

He also asked the companies to provide the committee with detailed information on the extending service hours and improving telephone response, and how the companies plan to increase their staffs and meet consumer demand.

"We will evaluate the companies primarily on the results," he said. Shama-Hacohen said he would visit one of the cellular companies' call centers to examine the situation up close.

Cellcom vice president Itamar Bartov told the committee that hiring personnel is one of the biggest challenges the company faces. "Cellcom has hired 2,000 employees since the beginning of the year, and at the same time is working on services to reduce the waiting times," he said.

Bartov said the problem is adding staff at peak times, but the company is willing to extend its hours.

As for data on time spent waiting on the line, he said this is a commercial secret and only the companies have the true information.

Einat Rom of Partner said: "I don't sleep well at night when waiting times are long." She said Partner is training 600 new employees, and the waiting time is only 6 minutes on average.

The Public Trust (Imun Hatzibur ) consumer organization said 63% of the complaints they receive are complaints about the cellular firms. "If 2 million people call a company's service center, it is a sign there is a problem," said Yigal Echtenberg of Public Trust.

The Israel Consumer Council said it has not received answers to its inquiries from the cellular firms for months.