Those of us who get to deal with irate and frustrated broadband customers every single day are seeing a growing number of people whose complaints, technical problems and so on are just not getting dealt with in a "timely fashion", particularly by the major ISPs. This is causing major heartache, economic problems (eg when the connection is to a small, home-run business), and stress. Often, people just don't know where to turn for help and are frequently paying for a connection which, quite simply, doesn't work.
Sometimes, Ofcom, ASA and others endeavour to step in and make the ISPs and telcos behave properly, but for some reason our telcos seem to believe that they can get away with appalling consumer/customer relationship management and customer service, regularly hiding behind arguments such as "the phone works so we aren't obliged to do anything more", (twice this week so far from people I am trying to help) and Ofcom occasionally, (I use that word advisedly) seem to have forgotten their remit.
Ofcom's Statutory Duties
Under the Communications Act 2003:
" 3(1) It shall be the principal duty of Ofcom, in carrying out their functions;
(a) to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters; and
(b) to further the interests of consumers in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition"
(NB. No mention of putting industry first there.)
What the consumers and citizens require is simple.
When there is a problem with a broadband connection, that complaint needs to go not just to the ISP (who in many instances it is bordering on impossible to get a straight answer from, and who can drag problems out for months, if not longer, especially bouncing it back and forth between BT and themselves), but ALSO to a central hub which:
- records the issue
- allows there to be transparency, openness, honesty between ISPs and consumers
- helps consumers see whether there is possibly a technical issue in their area, with their ISP etc
- offers the chance for the many helpful people out there to step in to assist broadband users with problems.
Let's use a fab consumer/citizen resource as an example WhatDoTheyKnow
MySociety have done a great job with this for Freedom of Information requests, and it is held up as an exemplar, as with many of their other tools and resources.
Now, Ofcom should employ them to do the same for telecoms services, consumers, and providers.
How it could work:
You have a complaint about your broadband, you go to the site, pick your ISP, and then choose one of the templates available to submit your problem. All personal information is redacted from the system, although town/county or first 4-5 digits of postcode would help others in your vicinity search on known problems and solutions, which could actually reduce complaints over time.
The complaint is then submitted to the ISP complaints department. The ISP complaints department responds, hopefully with a solution, through the website. If they are a reseller of BT Wholesale services and pass the buck to BT, that process is done automatically, but transparently within the system. If, within a certain time limit, as with FOI requests, no solution has been forthcoming, then we move to the next stage, which is of course the ADR (Alternate Dispute resolution) scheme.
The endgame of this is to help ISPs serve their customers well, and to help customers get a decent, transparent complaints procedure that works. And then get their broadband back!
The benefits of this are, and I can think of many more:
* If the system flashes up an alert that 20 people in the same area but on different ISPS are all having problems, then BT can be persuaded, forced, cajoled (pick a word) by Ofcom to deal with the issue in that area. Or another service provider can step in and replace BT by installing an alternative broadband solution - whether that is FTTH, FTTC, satellite or wireless.
*If one particular ISP is seen to be the repeated recipient of complaints, then Ofcom can step in to ask the ISP what the problem is and how it can be solved.
*Customers planning to move can review ISP complaints on the site and make informed choices about which ISP to go with based on how they deal with their existing customers.
*If people report that despite numerous efforts to get broadband, they are still no closer to getting it, (and we have people in our inboxes who have been waiting YEARS in notspots) then this will help feed into the demand base for NGA and prove the need for investment.
*There is a clear "paper trail" for all consumers and ISPs, eliminating any misunderstandings and getting problems out in the open so they can be dealt with before issues escalate out of control.
* ISPs will be able to clearly monitor where their customer service is working, or not.
* This system will fill the gap now, and far into the future, for present and next generation consumers to be protected from poor customer service and substandard broadband connectivity, whilst protecting ISPs from serial complainers in forums, on Twitter etc.
*UPDATE: This article about customer retention and wasting marketing millions shows why telcos need to focus on customers in such a way as suggested
Need I say more? Just....you heard it here first!