Telecoms companies need to improve customer service, claims Ofcom


Telecoms firms need to go further in tackling customer service problems, despite the support they offered during the pandemic, Ofcom has found.

In 2019, the UK’s biggest broadband, phone and pay-TV providers committed to putting fairness at the heart of their businesses and going beyond their legal obligations for how they treat their customers.

Ofcom’s review of progress against those commitments has found that many companies have taken steps to provide fairer deals, clearer information and better support for their customers. But further action is needed in all areas, particularly customer service. Companies should improve complaints handling as a priority, as well as ensuring customers do not find it harder to leave, compared to signing up.

Most major mobile operators have reduced prices for out-of-contract customers on bundled airtime and handset deals. And all major broadband providers introduced price reviews for vulnerable customers, and most have also made wider changes for out-of-contract customers – saving millions of people money.

Companies are also doing more to identify vulnerable customers – including making it easier to report their circumstances or needs through webchats, apps or phone.

We also welcome providers’ efforts to keep people connected during the Covid-19 pandemic – including extra help for people in debt, removing broadband data caps and providing free additional mobile data for schoolchildren.

More action needed to support customers

However, phone and broadband companies need to do more in other areas. Only some broadband providers offer affordable ‘social tariffs’ for people on low incomes. And while there has been some progress on identifying vulnerable customers, more is needed to support those who need most help.

We are also concerned about customer service levels. At the start of the pandemic, many providers’ call centres were significantly affected by social distancing rules and staff sickness.

Ofcom research today reveals broadband and landline customers waited an average 4 minutes and 9 seconds to get through to an advisor last year, around twice as long as in 2019. Mobile customers saw waits of 2 minutes 7 seconds on average (up from 1 minute 18 seconds in 2019). And only around half of broadband (52%) and mobile (57%) customers were satisfied with how their complaints were handled.

Says Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Networks and Communications Group Director:

 “Telecoms companies adapted quickly to meet soaring demand for their services last year – helping to keep the country connected.

“But some have struggled with customer service problems. We’re challenging them to act now, so the telecoms industry becomes the gold standard for customer service.”

Adds Rocio Concha, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Which?:

“It is important that Ofcom holds phone and broadband providers to account and ensures they live up to the Fairness for Customers commitments they made in 2019. 

“In a time where being connected is more important than ever, providers need to take their commitments seriously and do more to meet consumers’ expectations – particularly on customer service, pricing and ease of changing contracts. 

“Our recent surveys on the best mobile phone and broadband providers showed some of the largest companies continue to fall short. Anyone who is unhappy with their provider or worried about paying too much should shop around as huge savings can be made by switching to a cheaper tariff – especially if you are out of contract.”

Broadband companies compared

Ofcom is also publishing its annual Comparing Customer Service research today, which compares how the major providers performed last year.

Overall, eight in 10 broadband customers (80%) said they were satisfied with their service. EE customers were more likely than average to recommend the company to a friend.

More than a quarter (26%) of broadband customers had a reason to complain about their service or provider – with Vodafone and Virgin Media customers more likely than average to have a reason to complain. However, BT customers were less likely than average to have a reason to complain.

Virgin Media customers waited the longest for their calls to be answered (7 minutes 40 seconds on average).

Mobile companies compared

Overall, nine in 10 customers (90%) said they were satisfied with their mobile phone service, with only 3% of customers saying they were dissatisfied with their service overall.

Overall satisfaction with mobile service was in line with the average for all providers except Three, whose customers were less likely than average to be satisfied with their service overall.  

Both giffgaff and Tesco Mobile customers were more likely than average to recommend their provider to a friend, while Three and Virgin Mobile customers were less likely than average to do so.

At six minutes 44 seconds, Virgin Mobile customers had the longest average wait to get through to an advisor.

Chris Price
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