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BT Openreach CEO Claims “Strong” UK Customer Service Improvements

Monday, Jul 18th, 2016 (3:05 pm) - Score 2,096

Openreach, which is responsible for maintaining BT’s national UK phone and broadband network, takes a lot of flak from both ISPs and consumers alike for customer service failings (missed appointments, service delays etc.). But today Clive Selley, CEO of BTOR, has claimed to be turning things around.

Some readers may recall that Ofcom’s last Fixed Access Market Review (FAMR) in 2013-14 forced BTOpenreach to make a number of improvements to their operations (here), such as requiring faster service provisions and forcing the telecoms giant to publish regular performance reports (example).

Mind you many ISPs were still far from happy and last year Sky Broadband complained that over 90% of new line installations, which require an Openreach engineer to attend, were taking 10 calendar days or longer and almost one in ten installations requires longer than 30 days. Sky also hammered Openreach over missed appointments, failed jobs, fault rates and other related issues.

In keeping with that Ofcom’s recent Strategic Review has proposed to introduce even tougher minimum service requirements, which they believe will push Openreach into repairing faults and installing new lines at an even faster pace (here). But Openreach’s boss has today hit back by showing that they’ve already improved a lot since reporting began in 2014.

Openreach’s Key Improvement Highlights

* Engineers fix 84% of faults within two working days – compared to just 67% when reporting began two years ago.

* 93% of new lines are installed on time.

* The average time to get an appointment has been cut from 11 to 7 days.

* Openreach has reduced the number of appointments its engineers miss by more than a third in just 3 months and is on track to halve missed appointments this year.

* Openreach claims to be exceeding all of the 60 service measures set by the regulator Ofcom and they view these objectives as a minimum, rather than a target. Plus they are “determined to continue exceeding them as the thresholds get tougher each year“.

* Openreach is aiming to halve the number of missed appointments it is responsible for – from 5% to just 2.5% – by the end of March 2017, and has an ambition to reduce them even further after that.

Overall Openreach is responsible for installing and repairing around 30 million UK telephone and broadband lines, and its engineers complete more than 175,000 separate jobs each week in exchanges and at street cabinets, as well as those that require a customer appointment. Engineers are also becoming more skilled, with enhanced training to gives them the ability to tackle a wider variety of jobs and problems.

Openreach claims to have hired more than 5,000 new engineers over the last three years, and they’re currently in the middle of a recruitment drive that will see another 1,000 engineers and more than 200 apprentices join the company before May 2017. On top of that they’re also investing “50% more into proactive network maintenance“, which is designed to identify vulnerabilities and prevent faults from occurring.

The business has also established a case management team to “step in, prioritise and resolve problems for customers who have experienced two or more missed or unsuccessful appointments,” which is nice.

Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach, said:

“Improving the service that we provide to customers, is my number one priority. These latest figures show we’re making real progress and we’re well on the way to hitting my target of halving missed appointments to two and a half percent within a year.

Everyone at Openreach recognises there’s more to do, but these are encouraging signs that our investments and focus are having a positive effect. We’re recruiting 1,000 engineers this year, and by simplifying the way we work and giving our people the training and tools they need, we will achieve even better outcomes. I’m particularly pleased that we’ve managed to repair faults faster than this time last year, despite the wettest June on record.”

The timing of Openreach’s announcement is no doubt intended to focus minds as Ofcom gears up to publish the final statement on their Strategic Review, which is still threatening to split Openreach from BT’s control if the operator fails to agree to a series of big changes.

At present the biggest stumbling block is still the question of Governance, with Ofcom seeking more independence of the group from BT’s control. The regulator wants Openreach to be able to take its own decisions on budget, investment and strategy. The new management would also be required to “serve all wholesale customers equally, and consult them on its investment plans.”

However BT is known to be deeply unhappy with the idea of becoming a “ring-fenced, ‘wholly-owned subsidiary’ of BT Group, with its own purpose and board members” and some even speculate that they might prefer being split to that idea, although we have our doubts about that.

Never the less BT’s current plan to invest in rolling out ultrafast 300-500Mbps G.fast and 1000Mbps FTTP broadband technology to 12 million UK premises by 2020 is largely dependent upon Ofcom’s decision. On the flip side, BT’s rivals claim that splitting Openreach would attract more investment and make a national FTTP/H network more plausible (this isn’t likely to go much beyond 60-70% coverage).

We’re expecting to learn the outcome of Ofcom’s Strategic Review within the next few weeks, although we’d still be willing to bet that BT and Ofcom will be able to achieve sort of voluntary agreement. But that’s by no means a solid certainty.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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