Telecoms firms should go further on customer service

07 May 2021

Telecoms firms need to go further in tackling customer service problems, despite the support they offered during the coronavirus (Covid-19) 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.

Our 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.

However, further action is needed in all areas, particularly customer service. Companies should improve how they handle complaints as a priority, as well as making sure customers don’t find it harder to leave their provider compared to signing up with them.

Most major mobile operators have reduced prices for customers who are out of contract on bundled airtime and handset deals. And all major broadband providers introduced price reviews for vulnerable customers. Most of them have also made wider changes for customers who are out of contract – 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 over the phone.

We also welcome providers’ efforts to keep people connected during the 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

But 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, providers need to do more  to support those who need most help.

We’re 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.

Our research today reveals broadband and landline customers waited an average of 4 minutes and 9 seconds to get through to an advisor last year, around twice as long as it took in 2019. Mobile customers saw average waits of 2 minutes 7 seconds (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.

While many firms have been able to bring call waiting times back down, some companies have struggled. More than a year since the pandemic began, we expect performance to return to at least 2019 levels, as restrictions ease.

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.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s networks and communications group director

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.

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.

Broadband

Mobile

Landline