• Tina Rosén

Ofcom report: slow speeds and loss of service behind 75% of UK broadband complaints


Man sits at desk and working on his laptop

The UK regulator Ofcom recently released its sixth annual report on customer service levels in the UK telecoms industry, which benchmarked the performance of mobile, broadband and landline customers.


In the broadband market it focused on nine major broadband operators – BT, EE, KCOM, Now, PlusNet, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin and Vodafone – revealing that 83% of their customers were satisfied with the service provided. BT customers were the most satisfied (88%) and Virgin Media customers the least satisfied (78%).


Mobile sector outperforms broadband sector on satisfaction

In 2021, 20% of UK broadband customers had a reason to complain, with the most common cause being service quality issues such as slow connection speeds or intermittent or total loss of service, which together accounted for a whopping 75% of complaints. To make matters worse, only half of the customers who made a complaint were satisfied with the way their service provider handled it, and just 37% of complaints were completely resolved on first contact.


It's important to note that the high proportion of service quality complaints is partly because customers tend to be on all-you-can-eat broadband packages and are therefore less likely to be stung with overage charges or to experience bill shock. However, it’s notable that double the proportion of broadband customers (20%) needed to make a complaint than mobile customers (9%) and five times more broadband complaints were escalated to Ofcom (49 per 100,000) than for the mobile sector (10 per 100,000).


Not only are more broadband customers complaining, but the mobile sector is also outperforming the broadband sector when it comes to complaint handling – with first call resolution standing at 43% in the mobile sector compared to 37% in the broadband sector (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 Comparison of mobile and broadband service provider complaint handling in the UK (2021)

KPI

Mobile Average

Broadband Average

Difference between mobile and broadband provider performance

Customers needing to make a complaint in 2022

9%

20%

+11%

Proportion of complaints due to QoS issues

48%

75%

+27%

Satisfaction with complaints handling

53%

50%

-3%

Inquiries resolved on first contact

43%

37%

-6%

Source: Ofcom/Subtonomy 2022


Voice is still king in the UK market

Despite all the talk about digital channel, Ofcom’s research revealed that almost 9 out of 10 broadband customers (86%) still rang the contact center when they had a problem, with the next most commonly-used channel being web chat (11%). Ofcom’s figures reveal that the UK still has a long way to go to boost uptake of digital channels, with only 1% of customers using digital or self-service channels other than web chat.


Ofcom’s research revealed that almost 9 out of 10 broadband customers (86%) still rang the contact center when they had a problem.

As can be seen in Figure 2, the average call wait time for broadband customers was 2 minutes and 16 seconds, which was roughly similar to that in the mobile sector. However, there was considerable variation in performance between operators. While Now Broadband customers only had to wait an average of 31 seconds (the fastest wait time in the market), KCOM customers had to wait an average of 8 minutes and 53 seconds (the slowest wait time in the market). While around 5% of customers abandoned their calls before speaking to an agent, unsurprisingly KCOM had the highest call abandonment rates at 34%.


Figure 2 Channel preferences, wait times and call abandonment rates in UK (2021)

KPI

Mobile Average

Broadband Average

Difference between mobile and broadband performance

Use voice channel

77%

86%

+10%

Use live text channel

19%

11%

-8%

Call wait times

135 seconds

136 seconds

+1 second

Call abandonment rate

8%

5%

-3%

Customer service improvements

Overall, the proportion of broadband customers needing to make a complaint declined by 6 percentage points in 2021 (from 26% in 2020 to 20% in 2021). However, some broadband providers had worked hard to reduce the number of complaints with BT (-5%), EE (-13%), Sky (-8%) and Virgin Media (-6%) all improving. It should be remembered that in 2020 customers were completely reliant on domestic broadband due to lockdown restrictions in the UK, and higher numbers of complaints likely reflect both customers adjusting to working or studying from home, as well as service providers having to juggle staffing issues at the same time that there was an unprecedented increase in data demand. The scale of the latter problem was revealed by Openreach, the largest last mile connectivity provider in the UK, who noted that broadband usage more than doubled from 22,000Pb in 2019 to 50,000Pb in 2020.


As the UK returned to normal, average wait times for customer service reduced, but it’s notable that only Plusnet, Sky, Virgin Media and Vodafone reduced these back to below pre-pandemic levels.


Opportunities for UK broadband service providers

The UK government has committed to gigabit broadband by 2030, but this will be achieved via a heterogeneous mix of technologies – FTTP in urban areas, 4G/5G in harder to connect areas, and even LEOs in the most remote parts of rural Scotland. Managing this complex mix of technologies is set to get ever-more challenging as time goes on, as is triaging the problem when a broadband customer calls. Their issue could be due to broadband network performance but also to their in-home WiFi network, customer premises equipment, device or application performance. This is why having a solution that enables agents to diagnose problems across all network types, and easily separate out network faults from device issues, is so important.


Subtonomy research has shown that 9 out of 10 inquiries could be handled proactively or via digital channels – speeding resolutions, reducing the cost-to-serve and freeing up agents to handle the most complex inquiries. If the worst performing broadband operators are able to improve their performance to that of the best, they could avoid frustrating customers and significantly improve customer retention.

Customer retention in the increasingly competitive UK broadband market is now a serious issue. Currently, over 85% of UK broadband customers get their services from one of the so-called Big Four providers of the BT Group, Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk. But dozens of new national and local competitors are now entering the market – Vodafone currently has grown its broadband subscriber base to over a million customers, while smaller players such as Zen Internet, KCOM, and SSE are now being joined by Altnets such as Gigaclear, Hyperoptic and Community Fibre. With more choice than ever before, UK customers are able to easily switch providers that don’t deliver the speed, reliability and support they expect - putting the onus on all providers to improve their performance in these areas.


To find out how Subtonomy can help broadband providers improve their technical support for customers, check out our new broadband solution here.


You can download the full Ocom report here.