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Broadband Customers Win Most of their ISP Complaints

Thursday, July 24th, 2014 (2:37 pm) - Score 656

A new survey conducted by Which? on 3,621 members of the public has revealed that 68% of consumers who escalate their complaint against a service or utility provider (e.g. broadband, phone, energy, water etc.), such as by using an independent ombudsman, win their case. But sadly 60% of those who attempted to resolve a complaint directly were left dissatisfied

The good news is that broadband consumers appear to be much more likely to get their complaint resolved after escalating to an ombudsman than most other industries, with some 86% winning their cases. By comparison only energy companies scored higher (95%), while complaints about public services saw the least success (42%).

Good news then? Yes and no, depending upon which side of the fence you sit. Ofcom’s General Condition 14 (Dispute Resolution) requires all ISPs in the United Kingdom to be members of an approved ADR complaints handler scheme like CISAS or Ombudsman Services, which are designed to supplement (not replace) the ISPs own internal complaints procedures and are only used after a dispute has gone unresolved for 8 weeks (the “Deadlock Letter” stage).

In principal the system is good for consumers but ISPs, especially smaller providers that often struggle to make a profit and which don’t have economics of scale on their side, often complain that the ADR system is flawed. Currently, ISPs need to pay a case fee (usually worth well over £300), regardless of whether or not they win, and some complain that there is little to dissuade vexatious claims (e.g. using ADR as a way to avoid settling unpaid bills for a service which has been working without problems) from clogging up the system and creating delays.

A number of examples (here and here) have already been highlighted and some ISPs now claim that the commercially orientated complaints handlers are effectively being incentivised to take on a complaint even when it would appear to fall outside of Ofcom’s guidelines (here).

On the other hand a few ISPs simply don’t play nice with their customers and for those situations it’s necessary to have an independent complaints handler. At the same time it is also important that any ombudsman acts fairly on behalf of all parties, especially when such huge fees can be levied against an ISP.

A variety of potential solutions have already been proposed by ISPs, such as the worrying idea of charging consumers to make a complaint. Thankfully other ideas are more sensible, with some suggesting that Ofcom should take on the responsibility directly and others saying that ISPs shouldn’t be charged unless they rack up a certain number of complaints.

As it stands a series of discussions have already taken place between ISPs and Ofcom but we’ve yet to observe any significant shift in approach.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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12 Responses
  1. Avatar HooRay says:

    There,s more complaints with the speed of the so called superslow fibre because openreach nuggets have just hoy the cabinets anywhere instead of thinking where to put them for best results . They just doing it for aka ” openreach “cowboys for less work for them to do “typical ” absolute shambles

    1. Avatar DanielM says:

      Maybe because its not fibre. its VDSL.

  2. Avatar MrMe says:

    I’m certainly thankful for the ADR and I’m glad the asshat ISP had to pay £300. I spent hours arguing with the ISP who tried wanted me to pay them for the period after I had told them to cancel the service (with the proper notice), they claimed they couldn’t cancel the service whilst there was debt outstanding – a non-existant debt because I had told them to cancel the service. And to top it off they wanted me to pay for all of this extra service that they wouldn’t cancel!!!! Thieves.

  3. Avatar bob says:

    Sadly it shows just how bad customer services are in the UK. Most now use call centres and my experience of call centres is that standards are unacceptably low. The first problem is to actually get through to someone. This can take up to 20 minutes. The second problem is to try to get the problem resolved. This usually proves to be impossible so I am not suppressed many go to the Ombudsman although this itself is long winded you first have to exhaust the ISP’s complaints process. Many call Centre agents are not aware of one or deny the existence of one

    1. Avatar Raindrops says:

      Having recently had to deal with BT india support i can attest to the wait times. The online chat/help i was 50 odd in a queue and had in excess of a 15 min wait in the end.

      Shockingly the good thing is when they could not solve the issue through such obvious advise of powering on and off the homehub. The ring back they promised the next day did actually happen (i was amazed). Again BT India and again something they could not solve, which resulted in a engineer visit.

      Apart from making me go through the obvious hoops it was actually a better experience than i was expecting, thats not to say it was good just not as terrible as i expected. Wait times via online and phone are too long and as with any overseas support trying to understand each other can be a challenge.

  4. Avatar X66yh says:

    The problem is people like you who actually know what they are talking about are a small minority of an ISP’s subscriber base.
    So the call centre are not set up to deal with you – they are set up to field the majority who have no idea what they are doing.

    10 years ago a mobile executive told me that 80% of calls to the call centre were what he described as “customer education” and I called “Read the f***ng manual” type calls.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      I can believe that, had plenty of similar experiences myself.. back when I could actually use a phone that is (currently semi-deaf). It was quite normal for people to get flustered by IT problems that would be no fault of the company, just simply things like forgetting to connect a cable or not installing the software etc.

      I.T. is thankfully much more accessible / easy to use today but friends still require my help from time to time, often with basic problems (most of which they could solve via a simple Google).

    2. Avatar Raindrops says:

      I guess the difference between good support and poor support with regards to real issues that can not be solved over the phone is that good support ask first if you have tried doing XYZ while bad support make you go through the obvious XYZ solutions which fixes nothing in cases where anyone that can basically plug in a cable has probably already tried.

  5. Avatar DTMark says:

    Perhaps the way that DSL products are sold has a lot to do with this. According to the poll on the right of this page, about 68% of people get slower speeds than their original estimate. Yet, the requirement placed upon ISPs to fix this is laughably weak – the customer must give them the opportunity to fix it, and if they cannot, then the ISP can just wash their hands of it and the customer is free to walk away. If the ISP subscribes to the Code of Practice.

    Imagine this the other way around – the customer is obliged to pay for the services, but if they fall short, the ISP must give the customer several opportunities to pay, and if after a few months the customer doesn’t pay, then the ISP can withdraw the service.

    The way in which broadband is sold naturally tends towards customer complaints.

  6. Avatar New_Londoner says:

    I think part of the problem is that the majority tend to purchase broadband on price, yet also want a high level of service. The way the market has been regulated has resulted in mainly price-led competition which doesn’t allow for especially high levels of service. Common sense tells me I’m not likely to get much in the way of customer service if I’m paying say £3 per month for one of the bargain basement broadband providers.

    Perhaps what we need is a degree of honesty from us consumers. Buy cheap but don’t expect much in the way of customer service, or buy from one of the more expensive providers if our service needs are more demanding.

    1. Avatar Raindrops says:

      “I think part of the problem is that the majority tend to purchase broadband on price, yet also want a high level of service. The way the market has been regulated has resulted in mainly price-led competition which doesn’t allow for especially high levels of service.”

      Not sure i agree with that. Fibre from BT retail as an example farms support out to India, which for the most part is poor, though they do have some individuals who are good at their job (you just have to persevere until you get one of them)

      Plusnet support unless it has changed though is UK based support and Fibre from them is cheaper. That is not to say being UK based automatically equals good, but it does mean for starters there are virtually no communication issues for the customer or support person.

      Both companies are BT owned though, yet Plusnet which could be argued has the better support of the two is cheaper.

      Cheap thus does not and should not equal poorer support and people should not expect it to be poorer just because it is cheaper. Service levels in the broadband industry (and many others) should all have or at the least aim for the highest possible support, obviously though that is not the case no matter the price.

  7. Avatar James Harkin says:

    Most problems I have found are caused by faulty broadband boxes. The number of boxes friends and myself have had, have been faulty and the broadband suppliers 1st line support never want to admit their boxes are at fault. If you get this issue, always ask to speak to someone senior and they usually just send out a new box.

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