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7 May 2021

Telecoms regulator calls on providers to improve customer service

Broadband, mobile and landline providers need to reduce long call waiting times and improve complaints handling

Broadband, landline and mobile phone providers need to do more to tackle customer service problems, Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, has said.

In a report discussing fairness commitments made by providers in 2019, the regulator said that major providers have taken steps to offer fair deals, provide clear information and offer better support for customers, but there is more work to be done.

Ofcom took aim at customer service and the impact the covid-19 pandemic has had on call waiting times and complaints handling. While it acknowledged that Covid-19 has significantly impacted providers' call centre capacity, it says adequate measures should now be in place to support customers.

But its latest research shows that many providers had longer call waiting times in 2020 and many customers still feel that heir complaints aren't being handled effectively.

The findings support our research showing that not all providers are offering satisfactory customer service or technical support.

Find out which providers impressed the most in our regular survey of theUK's best and worst broadband providers.

Broadband providers call waiting times

The average call waiting time for broadband and landline customers in 2020 was four minutes and nine seconds - around twice the wait customers experienced in 2019. Every broadband provider included in Ofcom's analysis had seen its call waiting time increase in 2020.

Broadband providerAverage call waiting time (minutes)
Post Offfice1:59

Call waiting times for Virgin Media customers were the worst by some distance, but Plusnet customers also had to wait an above average amount of time to reach an advisor.

While other methods of contacting providers are available (such as live chat and email), telephone is still the preferred method of contact for broadband and landline customers, accounting for 83% of customer contacts.

Mobile providers call waiting times

Waiting times for mobile customers were much shorter than for broadband customers - an average of two minutes and seven seconds. However, this was also significantly slower than the one minute, 18 second waits the average customer experienced in 2019.

Mobile providerAverage call waiting time (minutes)
ID Moile0:56
Sky Mobile2:33
Tesco Mobile3:39

Here, the longest call waiting times were for Virgin Mobile customers, while BT Mobile had the shortest wait at just 46 seconds. Three and ID Mobile were the only providers to reduce their average call waiting time in 2020.

Some 73% of mobile phone customers get in touch with their provider via phone calls, with most of the remainder preferring live chat.

Find out which mobile providers impressed in our survey of the best and worst UK mobile networks.

man bored on phone

Complaints and complaints handling

While one in ten mobile customers said they'd had reason to complain about their service in 2020, a quarter of customers said the same about their broadband service.

Three, Virgin Media, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone (broadband and mobile) were the providers with customers who were significantly more likely to have a reason to complain compared to market averages.

All four providers also generated a high level of complaints made to Ofcom - both in the final quarter of 2020 and throughout the year.

Ofcom says providers need to prioritise improving their complaints handling and encouraged more to commit to its automatic compensation scheme.

What are the Fairness for Customers commitments?

In 2019, telecoms providers including BT, EE, Giffgaff, O2, Plusnet, Post Office, Sky, TalkTalk, Tesco Mobile, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone committed to a set of 'Fairness for Customers' guidelines put in place by Ofcom.

The guidelines are in place to ensure providers treat customers well and put fairness at the heart of their business.

They call on providers to protect vulnerable customers, ensure all customers are provided clear information to allow them to make informed decisions, and ensure their services are reliable and work as promised.

While Ofcom says progress has been made, it says providers need to do more in these areas:

  • Ensuring customers can sign up to, change and leave their services quickly and smoothly.
  • Ensuring customers are supported to make well informed decisions and provided with clear information before, during and at the end of their contracts.
  • Ensuring services work as promised, reliably over time - and taking appropriate action when necessary.

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

'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.'

Ofcom says it will continue to work with the providers than have committed to the Fairness guidelines and ask them to provide an update on their progress next year.