Telecoms regulator Ofcom has released a new study looking at the performance of major broadband and mobile phone providers when it comes to customer services, identifying the best and worst performers among the UK's biggest names.
Overall, it found there has been an improvement in the number of people expressing satisfaction with their broadband suppliers. Some 83 per cent of consumers said they were happy with the service they received, up from 80 per cent in 2018. Over the same period, the number of people who had reason to complain to their provider fell from 15 per cent to 13 per cent.
However, there is still work to do, and Ofcom's research revealed TalkTalk was the worst performer overall, scoring below average for customer satisfaction on several measures.
The report offered insight into a range of issues, including how long complaints take to be resolved, the customer experience when contacting providers, and how likely consumers were to recommend their supplier to friends and family.
Ofcom's Consumer Group Director Lindsey Fussell said: "Shabby service can be more than just frustrating; it can have a big impact on people and small businesses who rely on being connected. When you’re shopping around for a phone or broadband service, quality can be just as important as price. This information can help buyers make the right decision."
So what were the key findings of the report?
When it came to overall satisfaction, EE was the best performer among the brands evaluated, with 87 per cent of consumers happy with their service. By contrast, TalkTalk was the worst, with only 79 per cent satisfaction.
TalkTalk also had the highest number of customers with reason to complain (17 per cent) and the lowest satisfaction with how complaints were handled, with just 44 per cent feeling its response was adequate. However, Plusnet was the most complained-about provider.
A breakdown of the findings for home broadband services is below:
Complaints per 100,000 customers
Satisfaction with complaints handling
On average, broadband consumers calling customer services had to wait one minute and 37 second before they were able to speak to an advisor. While this is a slight fall of three seconds since last year, it remains significantly higher than the waiting times for mobile providers, so there is clearly still work to be done in this area.
TalkTalk actually performed significantly better than average in this area, with consumers able to speak to an advisor in just 33 seconds. By contrast, Plusnet was far and away the worst performer, with consumers on hold for an average of six minutes and 47 seconds, which led to almost one in five callers (17 per cent) abandoning their call before being put through.
Overall, satisfaction with how complaints are handled remains poor, with only around one in two consumers pleased with the process. In 2018, only around a third of issues (32 per cent) were resolved completely on first contact, with this falling to 25 per cent for TalkTalk customers.
If broadband complaints are escalated to dispute resolution schemes, 83 per cent of cases were ruled in favour of customers.
Ofcom also used social media data to gain an insight into what broadband and mobile customers are complaining about online, analysing more than 95,000 public posts on Facebook and Twitter.
It found that for broadband providers, the most common issues consumers discussed were related to customer service and price or billing. However, some themes were more common than others for certain providers.
For instance, users of Plusnet, TalkTalk and Vodafone were more likely to complain online about poor customer service. This includes complaints about the time taken to resolve any issues, as well as the quality of customer service interactions.
Overall, 38 per cent of posts related to customer service issues, while one in five (20 per cent) relating to costs and contracts. Other areas of complaint included poor broadband speeds (13 per cent), Wi-Fi issues (seven per cent) and problems with hardware (six per cent).
However, Ofcom has recently introduced a new scheme that will see customers receive automatic compensation if they experience any issues with their broadband service, so it will be interesting to see what impact, if any, this has on the next set of figures.
According to Dani Warner, broadband expert at uSwitch.com: "With providers increasingly unable to differentiate their service on broadband speeds alone, more pressure is falling on providers to ensure their customer service is good enough to attract and retain consumers.
"In the case of TalkTalk, which continuously ranked poorly in terms of customer care at the tail end of last year, these figures aren't particularly flattering.
"On the mobiles side, smaller providers once again proved that they had the edge in keeping their customers happy with MVNOs giffgaff and Tesco Mobile topping the list of providers most likely to be recommended for a second year in a row.
"Overall though, the big picture is of fewer complaints from both mobile and broadband customers across the board which shows that the industry is moving in the right direction.
"If you are unhappy with the service you're paying for and you're out of contract, it’s easy to take advantage of the wide array of options to move to a service that better suits your needs.
"Importantly, don't be reluctant to complain to your provider. If you have a problem or aren’t happy with the service you are paying for, let them know. If you remain dissatisfied don’t forget you can take your complaint to the appropriate ombudsman services, who will review your case free of charge."