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Ofcom warns SPs on poor customer service

May 18, 2022

By Colin Mann

Customers are experiencing hit-and-miss levels of customer service from major telecoms providers, Ofcom has found, as the UK regulator shines a light on how providers perform and compare.

Its report on service standards across the telecoms industry covers 2021, including the continued impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Overall, customer satisfaction levels remain high (mobile: 91 per cent, broadband: 83 per cent, landline: 77 per cent). But call waiting times and complaints handling are areas of particular concern.

Ofcom is calling on providers, and particularly those lagging behind their competitors, to prioritise customer service improvements and deliver what customers expect and deserve.

Having nearly doubled between 2019 (1min 18s) and 2020 (2min 7s) s a result of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the average time that mobile customers had to wait to speak to their provider rose again in 2021 – to 2min 15s.

O2’s mobile customers were kept waiting the longest on average last year – 3min 59s, up by 1min 42s since 2020. BT Mobile, EE, iD Mobile and Vodafone’s average call waiting times were also longer in 2021 compared to the previous year. Three was the quickest to answer customer calls, averaging just 16 seconds.

Tesco Mobile and Virgin Mobile managed to reduce their wait times in 2021, but Sky Mobile and Three were the only mobile firms to cut their times to pre-pandemic levels.

For broadband and landline, all major providers, except KCOM, saw a decrease in their average call waiting times since 2020, but ony Plusnet, Sky, Virgin Media and Vodafone reduced them to pre-pandemic levels.

On average, broadband and landline customers waited 2min 16s to get through in 2021.1 In 2020, they were on hold for 4min 9s on average. Again, this had nearly doubled from 2019 (2min 10s).

KCOM customers had the longest average call waiting time last year at 8min 53s, which more than doubled from 2020 (3min 19s). NOW Broadband had the shortest average wait time, at 31 seconds.

On average, one in five broadband customers, one in ten mobile customers and one in 20 landline customers said they had reason to complain about their service or provider in 2021.

However, only half of mobile, broadband and landline customers who complained to their provider in 2021 were satisfied with the way their problem was handled. This is an industry-wide issue, with no provider scoring more than 57 per cent.

Most complainants had to get in touch with their provider more than once to get their complaint resolved.  Among those whose complaints had been completely resolved, only 37 per cent of broadband complaints, 40 per cent of landline complaints and 43 per cent of mobile complaints were completely resolved on first contact.

Virgin had lower than average overall satisfaction scores across the mobile (83 per cent vs 91 per cent), landline (69 per cent vs 77 per cent), and broadband (78 per cent vs 83 per cent) sectors. Virgin customers were also less likely than average to recommend their provider to a friend across the board, and it was the most complained-about broadband and mobile provider of the year.

While Tesco Mobile was not one of the quickest companies to pick up the phone to its customers, it was the only mobile provider to achieve a higher-than-average satisfaction level (96 per cent vs 91 per cent). Conversely, although Three had the lowest average call waiting time by far, it also had a relatively low overall satisfaction score (86 per cent) compared to a sector average of 91 per cent.

Tesco Mobile also attracted the fewest complaints to Ofcom and its customers were more likely than average to recommend their provider to a friend, while Three customers were less likely than average to do so.

BT was the only provider in both the broadband and landline sectors to achieve a higher-than-average score for overall satisfaction (88 per cent vs 83 per cent for broadband and 81 per cent vs 77 per cent for landline).

As with Three, while TalkTalk was one of the quickest companies to pick up the phone to its customers, it scored poorly for satisfaction with complaints handling, and for satisfaction with broadband speeds.

“When things go wrong with your phone or broadband service, it’s incredibly frustrating if you have to wait on hold for ages to get it sorted, or if your complaint is handled badly,” notes Ian Macrae, Ofcom’s Director of Market Intelligence. “As we emerge from the pandemic, some companies need to up their game when it comes to resolving problems, especially at a time when prices are going up. It’s never been simpler to switch, so if you’re not happy with the service you’re getting, vote with your feet and look elsewhere.”

An EE spokesperson said: “Our customers already know we provide the best customer service across the industry, and our teams in UK and Ireland provide the best personal and local service in our contact centres and retail stores. EE mobile and broadband customers enjoy being part of the UK’s biggest and fastest network with more 5G coverage than any other provider and ultrafast full fibre broadband.

A BT spokesperson said: “We’re dedicated to keeping our customers connected and providing brilliant customer service with 100 per cent of calls being answered in the UK and Ireland. We’re committed to helping our customers wherever they need us with our nationwide team of Home Tech Experts providing in-home support.”

A Plusnet spokesperson said: “We’re proud to show our customers that getting great value doesn’t have to mean compromising on service. We’re getting it right by offering reliable products, great value and brilliant customer service.”

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