Virgin and TalkTalk top Ofcom’s latest complaints list

Telco customer service has bounced back from a Covid-19-related dip, but UK consumers are still finding reasons to complain, according to the latest data from Ofcom.

Mary Lennighan

November 16, 2021

3 Min Read
Bad Customer experience

Telco customer service has bounced back from a Covid-19-related dip, but UK consumers are still finding reasons to complain, according to the latest data from Ofcom.

The UK telecoms regulator has published complaints league tables for the April-June period that show a couple of big names in the market are not performing as well as they might. On the fixed-line and fixed broadband side – the most complained about markets – Virgin and TalkTalk appear to have the most disgruntled customers, while Virgin Mobile drew the most complaints in the pay monthly mobile category and Virgin Media in the pay TV space.

To provide a bit more context, TalkTalk picked up the wooden spoon in the home broadband sector with 19 complaints to Ofcom per 100,000 customers, followed by Virgin Media with 17 and BT-owned Plusnet with 15. In the landline market TalkTalk had 13 complaints per 100,000 compared with 10 each for Virgin Media and Shell Energy; the latter made it into the ranking this year for the first time following its acquisition of the Post Office’s telecoms business.

Complaints are lower in the pay TV space, although Virgin Media had the dubious honour of bucking that trend with nine complaints per 100,000 compared with an industry average of just four, and lower still in the mobile market, which claims an average of two. Again though, Virgin Mobile sits at the bottom of the pile with four complaints per 100,000, while Three and Vodafone and have three each.

“It’s encouraging to see complaints figures falling across the board to pre-pandemic levels, but providers cannot be complacent about their customer service,” said Ofcom’s Consumer Protection Director Fergal Farragher. “Those with a consistently high number of complaints still have a lot of work to do to ensure they meet the expectations of their customers.”

Indeed, although that’s hardly new information. Telcos have struggled with customer service for years, both in the UK and further afield. You could argue that with more people working from home permanently as a result of the pandemic, that telcos face a greater risk of customers voting with their feet than ever before, and that might just spur them into action.

Comparison site and switching service claims that more than 15 million consumers suffered a broadband outage in the last year, echoing Ofcom’s message that “there are still issues that broadband providers need to deal with.” The firm urges those affected to firstly complain to their provider and ultimately escalate to the ombudsman if required, which is not exactly rocket science as advice goes, but it’s a fair point.

And presumably it’s what UK consumers are already doing, otherwise who knows what next year’s figures will look like?

Speaking of next year, it’s worth noting that complaints captain Virgin finalised its merger with Telefonica’s O2 mobile business in June, which could have a bearing on the results over time. O2 brought in two complaints per 100,000 in the mobile sector and could potentially help haul Virgin up the charts. However, much depends on the integration process between the two, and that’s an area where many telco mergers have fallen down, particularly when it comes to customer service. Virgin Media O2 has both an opportunity and a banana skin in front of it.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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