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.
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 provider||Average call waiting time (minutes)|
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.
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 provider||Average call waiting time (minutes)|
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.
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.
Ofcom says providers need to prioritise improving their complaints handling and encouraged more to commit to its automatic compensation scheme.
The guidelines are in place to ensure providers treat customers well and put fairness at the heart of their business.
While Ofcom says progress has been made, it says providers need to do more in these areas:
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.