Ofcom: Telco complaints handling still an issue
May 18, 2023
Ofcom has published its seventh annual comparing customer service report, painting a mixed picture of how UK telecom providers performed in 2022.
It reveals that people were more likely to be satisfied with their mobile provider (87 per cent) than their broadband (82 per cent) or landline company (77 per cent). And while average numbers of overall complaints to Ofcom fell year-on-year, there are clear areas where the industry needs to improve, particularly around call waiting times and complaints handling.
Hold the line
The most popular way by far for customers to contact their provider is by phone, accounting for 77 per cent of mobile customer contacts and 90 per cent of landline and broadband contacts. Webchat was the next most popular way, at 17 per cent and 6 per cent respectively.
In 2022, despite the impact of Covid-19 subsiding, mobile customers spent an average of 2min 23s in a queue, up from 2min 15s the previous year. Broadband and landline customers waited 2min 37s on average, compared to 2min 16s in 2021.
However, when comparing individual companies, their performance varies.
Across broadband and landline providers, BT, EE, NOW Broadband, Plusnet, TalkTalk and Vodafone all saw their average call waiting times rise in 2022, while KCOM, Sky and Virgin Media managed to improve on the previous year.
NOW Broadband remains the best performer, keeping their call waiting times under a minute on average at 51 seconds, despite taking longer to answer the phone in 2022 (up from 31s in 2021). Shell Energy is the worst, coming in at over eight minutes on average.
For mobile, EE, BT, iD Mobile and Three all saw their average call waiting times increase compared with 2021, while O2, Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone reduced theirs.
Three continued to be fastest on the phone lines at 47 seconds on average, although this did triple in 2022. EE has the longest average call waiting times at 3min 41s – up from 2min 25s – while last year’s worst performer, O2, reduced theirs from 4 minutes to 2:33.
Deal with it
One in five broadband customers (20 per cent), and around one in ten (12 per cent) mobile customers, said they had a reason to complain about their service or provider in 2022.
However, satisfaction with how complaints are handled continues to be an industry-wide issue. Similar to 2021, only around half of mobile, broadband and landline customers who made a complaint to their provider in 2022 were satisfied with how it was handled. Just over a third (34 per cent) of complainants in each of these sectors said they were neutral about the way their complaint was handled with between 13 per cent and 15 per cent saying they were dissatisfied.
As part of our research, we spoke to customers who had recently contacted their provider with a complaint to understand the steps providers could take to improve their complaints handling.
The call centre experience was identified as a key element of the complaints process, with call waiting times, getting through to the right person quickly, and dealing with the complaint first time all factors that participants in our research said could be improved.
“We’ve asked telecoms customers what frustrates them most with their providers, and the message is clear: they want to get through to the right person on the phone quickly, and have their complaints dealt with first time. With switching becoming simpler, providers that continue to let standards slip should expect customers to show them the door,” commented Ian Macrae, Ofcom’s Director of Market Intelligence.
Scores on the doors
Among mobile providers, Virgin Mobile scored lower than average for overall satisfaction (81 per cent), while Tesco Mobile and giffgaff customers had higher-than-average satisfaction (both 95 per cent).
Tesco Mobile (95 per cent) and giffgaff (93 per cent) also scored above average for value for money, with EE (74 per cent) and Vodafone (76 per cent) scoring below average.
For broadband, Plusnet customers were more likely than average to be satisfied with their service overall (89 per cent). TalkTalk (46 per cent) and Virgin Media (46 per cent) were both below average on how complaints were handled, while Sky was above average on this measure (55 per cent).
Virgin Media customers had below average satisfaction (70 per cent) with their landline service, with EE (90 per cent) above average on this measure.