18 May 2022

Best and worst telecoms customer service revealed

  • While satisfaction is high, Ofcom warns phone and broadband firms over areas of poor performance
  • Call waiting times still above pre-pandemic levels
  • Only half of customers satisfied with how complaints are handled

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

Our 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%, broadband: 83%, landline: 77%). 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.

Stuck on hold

Having nearly doubled between 2019 (1min 18s) and 2020 (2min 7s) due to 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.

Average call waiting times by mobile provider

BT 55 seconds EE 2 minutes 25 seconds ID Mobile 1 minute 39 Seconds O2 3 minutes 59 seconds Sky 1 minute 50 Seconds Tesco Mobile 2 minutes 15 seconds Three 16 seconds Virgin Media 1 minute 59 Seconds Vodafone 2 minutes 30 Seconds

For broadband and landline, all major providers, except KCOM, saw a decrease in their average call waiting times since 2020, but only 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.

Average call waiting times by broadband and landline provider

BT 1 Minute 46 Seconds EE 53 Seconds KCOM 8 minutes 53 Seconds NOW 31 Seconds Plusnet 2 minutes 7 Seconds Sky 2 minutes 17 seconds TalkTalk 1 Minute 2 Seconds Virgin Media 3 Minutes 45 Seconds Vodafone 1 minute 18 Seconds

Resolving complaints

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%.

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% of broadband complaints, 40% of landline complaints and 43% of mobile complaints were completely resolved on first contact.

Best and worst customer service scores

Virgin had lower than average overall satisfaction scores across the mobile (83% vs 91%), landline (69% vs 77%), and broadband (78% vs 83%) 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% vs 91%). Conversely, although Three had the lowest average call waiting time by far, it also had a relatively low overall satisfaction score (86%) compared to a sector average of 91%.

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% vs 83% for broadband and 81% vs 77% for landline).

Like 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.”

“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.”

Ian Macrae, Ofcom’s Director of Market Intelligence

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