Telcos customer service still not good enough in UK and US

Bad Customer experience

Telecoms operators on both sides of the Atlantic still have work to do when it comes to customer service and satisfaction.

That conclusion, drawn from a new Ofcom report in the UK and the latest iteration of the wireless segment of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), will come as little to surprise to anyone following this industry. Nonetheless, the results of these types of survey are always worth a closer look.

The UK regulator on Wednesday published its latest annual report on customer service levels across the industry. The headline findings show that satisfaction levels are generally high, but there are some key areas for improvement – especially in the fixed line and broadband markets – and many telcos are not communicating particularly well with their customers.

One in five broadband customers said they had reason to complain about their service provider in 2021, Ofcom’s numbers show, compared with one in 10 mobile customers and one in 20 fixed line users. And only half were satisfied with the way their problem was handled. “This is an industry-wide issue, with no provider scoring more than 57%,” Ofcom noted.

The regulator is focusing in particular on the amount of time customers have to wait to speak to their service provider in the event of a problem. Call waiting times rocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic and in the mobile sector rose again during 2021, although in the fixed and broadband market, times came down.

“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,” said Ian Macrae, Ofcom’s Director of Market Intelligence, stating the obvious.

Of course, what we all want to know is how individual telcos are performing on customer care in general.

As is becoming the norm, Virgin is taking a beating across the board. The operator had below average overall satisfaction scores in the landline, fixed broadband and mobile sectors, in some cases its scores coming in well under par.

The average level of satisfaction in for broadband services overall was 83%, an increase on the previous iteration of the report, driven in no small part by BT, which upped its own score to a market-leading 88%. Virgin managed just 78%, with only Vodafone – included in the fixed broadband chart for the first time – clocking up a weaker score.

BT repeated its feat in the landline space, its 81% score topping the chart and exceeding the industry average of 77%. Virgin scored just 69%. The operator was also the weakest player in mobile, its 83% customer satisfaction score falling well below the industry average 91%. It’s worth noting that this score refers to the Virgin Mobile MVNO and not to O2, which merged with Virgin a year ago and ranks highly in customer satisfaction at 92%. That said, O2’s call waiting time well exceeded the industry average, a figure that Ru Bhikha, telecoms expert at, described as “particularly embarrassing” for the operator.

EE racked up the same 92% satisfaction score in mobile, beaten only by Tesco Mobile at 96% and GiffGaff at 95%.

As the above figures demonstrate, call waiting times aside, mobile customers are in general happier than fixed and broadband customers. However, overall satisfaction is down a couple of percentage points on Ofcom’s previous update, and that’s a pattern we’re seeing elsewhere in the world too.

Overall customer satisfaction with wireless services in the US dropped by 1.4% to 73 out of 100, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Wireless Phone Service and Cell Phone Study 2021-2022, which hit the shelves on Tuesday.

ACSI analysts put the numbers – described as “not ideal” – down to consumers’ growing demand for and reliance on mobile services.

“The 1.4% decline in customer satisfaction for wireless phone service is a pretty clear indicator of system load problems,” said Forrest Morgeson, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Michigan State University and Director of Research Emeritus at the ACSI.

“While it’s easy to suggest this is merely a short-term glitch in the industry that will course-correct as individuals cut down on their screen time, it’s worth keeping an eye on this trend moving forward,” Morgeson said.

Verizon’s TracFone is the highest ranked in terms of wireless phone service with a score of 75, followed by AT&T at 74, exactly the same as in the previous report. In terms of MNO ranking, which is apparently subtly different, T-Mobile US is the highest scoring of the big mobile network operators, a 3% increase on the previous survey giving it an ACSI score of 74. AT&T and Verizon both dropped to score 73. Interestingly, many of the country’s value MVNOs have higher scores, which gives some indication of the main factors influencing customer satisfaction.

The size of the hole in your wallet after paying the phone bill affects your expectations of your provider, and therefore satisfaction or otherwise, whatever your location.

“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,” said Ofcom’s Macrae.

His advice pertains to the UK market, of course. But mobile operators in the US would also do well to take heed.


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One comment

  1. Avatar Moore Jackson 13/07/2022 @ 7:59 am

    Thanks for sharing this amazing guide. It isn’t. Every nation has its fair share of arseholes that shouldn’t be in customer facing roles, but in my experience, one tends to get back what you put out. Be nice to staff and they tend to be nice back. Treat them like dirt and you will be paid back in kind.

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