Frustrated with automated voice systems that lead to lengthy hold periods, Americans use the time with a customer call center to make a meal, read a newspaper or go to the toilet, according to a new poll.

In a survey of 1,000 consumers Jacada, an Atlanta-based company that proposes solutions to improve customer satisfaction, found that even as expectations for customer service rise during a down economy, companies fail to meet them.

“Once you get through that automated voice mail system, you can wait another 15 minutes for a person to service your call,” said Steve Herlocher, senior vice president of product delivery at Jacada.

The caller “will take advantage of speaker phones available at home and just get on with their lives. Multi-tasking is part of our society.”

The April survey showed that more than one-third of people said they used the time on hold to go to the toilet. Twenty-six percent said they make a meal, 25 percent watch a complete television episode and 17 percent clean a household room.

Sixteen percent said they find the time to play two or more games of solitaire, and 14 percent will read an entire magazine or newspaper.

Nearly 70 percent of Americans said they were less willing to put up with poor customer service than they were a year ago, though 43 percent suggested service has worsened during the downturn.

The number one complaint was incorrect billing and more than half of those surveyed, 53 percent, have left a company due to a bad experience with customer service.

Some 43 percent even postponed contact with the company because the thought of the call was too daunting.

“Customer service is so painful these days, consumers step back and say they should just look for another company,” said Herlocher.

Nine in 10 people overall prefer to speak to a live person, particularly for call centers servicing the banking and telecommunications industries, perhaps because customer service was not any better through a Web site.

Three in five Americans reported feeling frustration in their efforts to resolve issues over the Internet, the survey found.

Source: Reuters