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The Communications Consumer Panel has urged the communications industry to raise the level of customer service it offers, based on the findings of new research into the consumer experience of dealing with problems with communications services.

Following a review of both existing quantitative studies and new independent qualitative research, the Panel has published its report ‘Going round in circles? The consumer experience of dealing with problems with communications services. Panel Chair, Jo Connell said; “Our research highlights that some consumers are suffering in silence while for others, the negative experience of contacting their provider – the time taken to resolve a complaint, the number of contacts required and the sheer level of persistence demanded to reach a solution – made the whole situation worse. This is simply unacceptable. That’s why we’re urging communications providers to provide better support for those consumers who are experiencing problems. We’d like to see providers review their processes and give consumers better, clearer information about service expectations. We’d urge providers to improve the customer contact experience through strengthening call centre staff training and achieving recognised accreditation.”

Research

The Panel commissioned independent qualitative research from Ipsos MORI with participants across the UK who had experienced a problem with their communications service. The Panel wanted to understand why some people who had cause to contact their suppliers about an issue did not do so, as well as explore the experiences of those who had contacted their supplier to try and resolve an issue.

Key findings from the new qualitative research and quantitative review include:

  • For a variety of reasons, some people who don’t contact their provider are suffering in silence and ‘getting by’ on a sub-standard service;
  • For some who did contact their provider, their initial frustration was exacerbated by a negative contact experience;
  • The loss of time and money by consumers trying to get a problem addressed and the emotional perseverance required are rarely acknowledged by communications providers;
  • Some older consumers and some consumers with a disability seemed to be at a particular disadvantage in their dealings with providers; and
  • Escalation of problems frequently appears to be ineffective and communications providers seem to be poor at telling customers about Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

Comments from consumers highlighted difficulties they faced:

“Every single phone call that you placed you were speaking to maybe three or four different people and you were having to explain the problem each and every time.”  Male 35 – 64 years, Northern Ireland

“They use terms I don’t understand [...] you know, they’ll say ‘have you sorted the router’ or something and I’ll say ‘what router?’. You know, that sort of thing.”  Female 65 years+, Wales

Recommendations

Based on the review, the Panel has issued five recommendations for communications providers to help improve the consumer experience: 

1. The provision of better, jargon-free information to consumers about service expectations, simple troubleshooting tips as well as information about the complaints process.

2. A review and strengthening of contact centre staff training to ensure that staff:
a. Are able to establish a shared understanding of the problem with the consumer;
b. Have relevant technical expertise and are able to explain technical terms in layman’s language; and
c. Have the ability to go “off script” and be empowered to take ownership of complaints, escalating the     problem earlier in the process if necessary.

3. Improving the customer experience by:
 a. maintaining better records on previous conversations with the consumer as well as providing the consumer with a free copy of their complaint records quickly and easily;
 b. the provision of a unique reference number and firm timescales, calling the consumer back when promised; and
 c. ensuring that consumers can contact their supplier at a minimum via a freephone telephone number, email and post.

4. Providing greater support for older and disabled consumers, such as more signposting for those with severe hearing or speech impairments to their preferred contact method, e.g. email, SMS, text phone or text relay or video relay services.

5. Review and strengthen escalation and Alternative Dispute Resolution referral processes to ensure that both staff and consumers are aware of the options available.

The research was commissioned as the Panel was concerned by the levels of consumer   complaint highlighted in Ofcom’s Consumer Experience Report 2012 (CER) (1). The CER reported on the number of people who said that they had ‘cause to complain’ in the last 12 months. It found that 10% of UK adults said that they had cause to complain about broadband services, 6% about their fixed landline services and 5% about mobile phone services. When extrapolating these percentages into approximate numbers of UK households (2), the number of UK households estimated to have had cause to complain range from 1.2 to 2 million, depending on the sector - with broadband receiving the highest levels of cause for complaint (3).

You can read the Panel's report here

Ipsos MORI's report can be read here.

The research appendices can be found here



(1) http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/market-data-research/market-data/consumer-experience-reports/consumer-experience/

(2) http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/market-data-research/market-data/consumer-experience-reports/consumer-experience/

(3) The survey data has been extrapolated to represent UK households using data from Family and Households, ONS, November 2012. This extrapolation calculation is simple and no adjustment for different numbers of individuals within households applied. The figures reported are for indicative guidance only.