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Why the UK telco needs to be more instant magical travel than long quest to better service

Why the UK telco needs to be more instant magical travel than long quest to better service

Recently, Ofcom told us that, given that the country’s 5.2 million SMEs in the UK constitute 99.9% of UK businesses, account for 60% of private sector employment, and 47% of business revenue, “High quality communications connectivity is essential to their ability to participate in and drive the digital economy.” No argument here.

The regulator also told us that there was a problem: that while the vast majority of such broadband customers were satisfied with their connectivity, a “significant minority had had less favourable experiences”. Ofcom’s assessment highlighted four issues:

  • a lack of widespread superfast broadband availability
  • a concentrated retail market structure
  • dissatisfaction in relation to quality of service, and
  • SMEs finding it difficult to navigate the market.

The document then laid out a number of very sensible ways to fix all these problems, including targeted public policy intervention to ensure that all SMEs are able to access superfast broadband, that higher service care levels should be made available to SMEs, and that it is essential that SMEs are able to identify and compare those services which best meet their needs and switch easily between providers.

There’s only problem with all these great ideas.

The document is from 2015.

And not much seems to have got better out there.

Billions lost, huge amounts of wasted time and opportunity. Why, still, in 2022?

Late last month, business news site City A.M. published exclusive findings of research conducted by Three UK, YouGov and specialist econometrics firm Development Economics. This claimed British SMEs are losing £18.77bn a year because of poor connectivity—a gap that costs the UK economy an estimated loss of £7.7bn every year.

In its story, the site reports that “micro-businesses and small to medium sized firms who provide their employees with work phones” currently lose an average of a full 60 minutes of working time per employee per week, as “staff battle with poor connectivity”.

For medium-sized businesses, this equates to 250 hours of working time per week. It gets worse. The kind of firms being constantly held back by all this are the very kind of firms a service economy like ours depends on--professional services firms, who may be down as much as £5.3bn in revenue on average per year due to poor connectivity. Retail lost £3.7bn in revenue per year because of poor technology, resulting in an annual loss of £560m in output to GDP.

The solutions offered here in 2022 aren’t that materially different from those Ofcom signalled seven years back: better tailoring of services to the needs of the smaller, not always the largest players, and with the same level of service that’s usually only reserved for large corporates.

But: it’s still not happening. A particular issue is the whole structure of the market, which is still skewed far too heavily in one well-known supplier’s ‘favour’: given this lack of effective choice at ground level, no wonder half of that 5m-plus SME cohort say would love to dump their current broadband provider (this time, the source is Sky Business), but don’t know where to turn. And yet again, the issues raised are old friends (November 2021 data): slow broadband connectivity and services, poor customer service, poor communication, outages, unacceptably bad upload and download speeds, and a continuing inability to resolve problems.

Another June 2022 survey—ironically enough, from another telco, though in this case Talk Talk Business, not Three—found that TalkTalk Business, shows that two thirds of SMEs said their supplier blamed the poor customer service they had got on the pandemic, despite almost six months passing since the last set of Covid-19 restrictions was removed.

Though in this case less a bad broadband issue than a general bad service issue, some of these guys say they’re burning 16 hours a month on the phone to supplier customer service teams, time they’d probably prefer to be spending on actual revenue-generating activity.

Bad rep for poor service to SMEs is not a prize you want to keep winning, guys

Not acceptable. We always knew that the sector gave bad service to the public; doing so for the SME side of the market just makes matters look not so much the result of an unfortunate accident as deliberate policy to maximise profits out of a captive audience that doesn’t have a better alternative so will tolerate all that you dump on it.

In that Sky survey, the vendor says, somewhat shamefacedly on behalf of the market it represents, that the brand is “proud to be a part of the journey towards better, more reliable connectivity for UK small businesses”.

It’s a journey that needs to not just speed up rapidly but come to a swift and happy conclusion. Less ‘Game of Thrones’ wandering-about-ery than Harry Potter Floo Powder.

Industry: get it sorted.