Contacting your provider during the pandemic - what can we do when we can't get through?

Our independent research reveals the impact on consumers of not being able to contact their communications provider using their preferred channel of communication, during the pandemic.

Our stakeholders told us that, particularly during the pandemic, consumers sometimes struggle to connect in the way they prefer e.g. on the phone, in a shop, webchat with their communications providers. We therefore commissioned research to understand more about this, and to develop a series of recommendations for policy makers and industry.

The research had two strands:

  • Survey: We commissioned research with a representative sample of over 4,000 adults across the UK to understand the issue.
  • Interviews: We also commissioned in-depth research to talk to people have conditions or circumstances that might mean they had additional requirements when contacting a communications provider, such as having a physical or mental disability, being older, or having lower levels of literacy.

Key Insights

A number of key insights emerged from the research:

  • Most customers (62%) prefer contacting their communications provider by telephone;
  • Almost half of customers (46%) who contacted a provider over the last six months were unable to use their preferred method of contact;Long waits are causing frustration and anxiety, which pushes customers to non-preferred channels and makes it harder to achieve a positive outcome;
  • Using a non-preferred channel can impact outcomes for everyone, but especially for those with additional requirements;
  • There are aspects of the telephone experience beyond wait times that make it harder for some customers with additional requirements, such as the challenge of understanding an agent’s accent, which may be difficult or those with hearing impairments, or the need to follow an agent’s instructions when troubleshooting equipment, which may be difficult for those with cognitive difficulties or physical limitations;
  • Webchat seems to be under-utilised as a channel due to consumers’ low familiarity with it.
    If face to face options are unavailable, some customers can find contacting providers particularly challenging;
    Customer confidence is a strong driver of successful outcomes; and
  • Nearly half (47%) of customers with additional requirements using a non-preferred channel were unable to get the information or outcome they wanted.

Improving the consumer experience

The key findings have highlighted what communication providers and policymakers could do to improve consumer experiences:

  • Improve awareness of how consumers can register themselves as someone who might have additional requirements;
  • Create a more ‘human’ customer service experience for those who prefer face-to-face communications but who cannot access a retail store;
  • Designate communication services as ‘essential services’ alongside utilities; and
  • Help customers navigate the complexity of the communications sector in the way they feel most comfortable.

Recommendations

The Panel proposes the following practical steps for communication providers to take to improve the consumer experience:

  • Offer a range of contact channels so the  service is inclusive from the outset – ask consumers in their first interaction what their preferred channel is, and use consumer research to identify needs more accurately;
  • Raise awareness of the impact on consumers of using a non-preferred channel – particularly, ensuring that customer service agents are aware of the potential impact of customers using a channel they are not comfortable with;
  • Manage waiting times for telephone support – potentially introducing and promoting a priority telephone number for consumers with additional requirements;
  • Improve service agents’ ability to adapt to customer needs – providing training on handling customers with vulnerabilities, and giving them time to listen to customers and treat them efficiently and with compassion;
  • Improve hands-on support when face to face options are unavailable – making a range of options available when retail outlets are closed, including video calling, written how-to guides and potentially waiving fees for engineer visits for some customers;
  • Boosting the availability and effectiveness of webchat as an alternative channel – do more to raise awareness of the service, and making it clear when it is staffed by a human, target live agent support to those most in need of reassurance and support; and make chat transcripts available as standard;
  • Address potential communication barriers when using the telephone – taking action to address the problems that some customers find with technical terms, strong accents or when they have a preference for visual over verbal explanations.

Reports:

Contacting your provider: what can we do when we can't get through? (Communications Consumer Panel)
Crynodeb o'r adroddiad: Cysylltu â'ch darparwr gwasanaethau cyfathrebu (Panel Defnyddwyr Cyfathrebiadau)

Contacting your communications provider, Jigsaw for CCP, June 2021

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