Putting the customer first in telecoms

20th Jul 2017

‘Putting the customer first in telecoms’

- meeting minutes from 6th July APPG session

Room P, Portcullis House, Houses of Parliament, London SW1A 0AA

In attendance:

Annual General Meeting

Philip Davies opened the meeting by welcoming those in attendance and began with the election of officers for the APPG. There being no additional nominations for the positions of Co-Chair and Vice Chairs, Christopher Chope MP proposed and Chris Evans MP seconded that all officers be re-elected en bloc, a motion which was carried unanimously.

The following officers were re-elected:

Philip Davis closed the AGM.

APPG Meeting on broadband and telecoms: Putting the customer first

Philip Davies MP opened the meeting by thanking everyone for attending and commenting on the excellent range of attendees, both from Parliament and external organisations.

Jo Causon, Chief Executive of The Institute of Customer Service thanked Phillip Davies MP for chairing the meeting and reminded those in attendance about the purpose of meetings such as these. She stated that 70% of the UK workforce are in customer related roles and that, with 79% of UK GDP based on the service sector, it is too important an issue for the UK’s growth prospects to be left to chance. Elaborating on its importance, Causon stated that regulators, policy-makers, organisations, customers and the media have a shared need for transparent, independent, consistent measures of customer experience performance and that these are imperative to ensure the telecoms sector – and others – are held to account and encouraged to improve performance. She noted that evidence from UKCSI suggests that it will be helpful also to assess performance on a range of experiences that are most important to customers in each sector, stating these to be professionalism, timeliness, ease of doing business, service quality and problem solving.

Jo Causon also noted that in the latest UKCSI demonstrates that the telecoms sector has seen a slight increase in customer satisfaction over the past six months, rising 0.4 points to 74 (out of 100). She commented that whilst the sector is the 4th highest climber of 13 sectors monitored by The Institute of Customer Service, it is still the lowest performer.

Philip Davies then asked Lindsey Fussell, Group Director (Customer) at Ofcom, to provide a brief summary of Ofcom’s current work and an outline of how they see the situation for customers in the UK. Lindsey made it clear that access to broadband was essential, with many customers now seeing it as an essential utility rather than an optional service.

However, she noted that the sector is failing to keep pace with customer demand and suggested that further investment to correct this is vital. She stated that customer engagement with companies also remains low and people generally do not shop around, noting this is a problem in other sectors as well. Fussell commented that this was driven by a number of factors, including switching being too complicated, customers not wishing to shop around and price, rather than customer service, being the main determinant of demand.

Philip Davies MP asked Nigel Huddleston MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for Digital, Matthew Hancock, to give a brief overview of the Government’s policy priorities in the areas of digital and telecoms. Huddlestone made it clear that the Government is focussed on rolling out the final stages of the programme to connect the remaining 8% of properties as yet not connected to superfast broadband, and supporting pioneering R&D into ultra-fast broadband.

He also noted that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport commented that the Department ensures that focus and attention is directed at the needs of customers and that these are being satisfied. The Department is very keen to work with industry and Huddlestone made a point of acknowledging the work that the companies represented in the room are doing to improve services.

In response Peter Aldous MP asked for an assurance that ultra-fast work will not lessen the focus on the superfast broadband programme and Huddlestone was clear that Matthew Hancock had a “laser-like” focus on the latter programme and ensuring it was implemented in full. The representatives from Openreach made clear they also were fully committed to it.

Questions and general discussion session

Philip Davies MP then opened the meeting out to questions and general discussion.

Mike Kane MP said there were significant problems with broadband in his constituency and reiterated this was not acceptable, particularly as his constituency of Wythenshawe and Sale East was at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse and contained the strategically important Manchester Airport. He noted frustration that more has not yet been done to improve connections at the airport itself and at a nearby business park where there are areas where wireless and 3G connections are virtually non-existent.

Matt Walker, of Openreach, responded by noting that the business park is new and was not on the radar of Openreach hence the delay in getting connections to it. Peter Aldous MP said the problem of small not-spots was much wider and it was frustrating that these occurred, especially with new developments, and that companies and providers didn’t seem that interested in trying to sort them out.

Matt Walker again emphasised where there are specific concerns they should be raised as they were in the forum and that technological advances were being exploited to connect areas with not-spots, in particular new housing and other developments.

Mike Kane MP made the point that Vodafone is doing good work in his constituency and that he has a good dialogue with the company.

Clova Fyfe from BT asked that MPs make Openreach aware of new developments in their constituency although clarified, after objections from some MPs, that they do monitor new builds but that any extra information would be helpful.

Jo Churchill MP said that now broadband was in effect a utility, these services should be organised before the development is built, as in the case of other utilities such as water. She also made clear that not-spots were a problem in her constituency, particularly in rural areas where small start-ups and businesses are based.

Matt Walker mentioned a partnership approach they are taking whereby the landowner digs a channel and Openreach install the fibre cable and this approach is working well where small sites in rural areas need better connections.

Christopher Chope MP mentioned that he has cases where new developments are built and the service in the area had worsened for people. Matt Walker said this shouldn’t have happened and asked for details.

Chris Evans MP sought to re-focus the session on customer service and shared his own experiences with broadband problems. He made the point, which was accepted within the meeting, that if an issue is bought to the attention of an MP the companies involved had failed. It was mentioned this went to the heart of The Institute’s work to help companies ensure that everything is right first time.

Chris Evans made the point customers don’t necessarily mind an issue taking a while to resolve but they instead want someone to take ownership of the issue and not constantly having it passed through different people.

Clova Fyfe said that Openreach now have a new dedicated point of contact for MPs and that BT are moving 95% of their call centre staff back to the UK. She emphasised the need to ensure that there are more instances of customer experiences being right first time.

Jo Causon, responding to Chris Evan’s question, made clear that the evidence points to companies having a poor success rate at solving complaints and issues. She outlined a number of requirements which customers expect companies to be able to fulfil, which included:

Chris Evans again empathised the need for people in firms to take ownership of issues which Jo Causon said was very important and helps customers to feel their problem is being solved.

Iain Wood, of TalkTalk, said the company would welcome greater competition and welcomed the work that Ofcom are doing in this area. He also said industry must make clear its commitment to raising standards and that there were concerns amongst some customers about the price of superfast broadband which prevented people upgrading to it even when they were entitled and could receive it.

Philip Davies MP read out the three best and worst performers in the sector from the UKCSI. At this point Jo Causon again emphasised the work of The Institute and the fact it is there to assist companies and help them to improve customer service, not simply act as a critic.

Alistair Law, from Sky, said he agreed that the Ofcom changes were essential and that we could be on the threshold of a new period with much greater levels of investment by companies and significant improvements in service to customers.

Neil Parish MP, who joined during the meeting, said Openreach does indeed need to be more open and have greater reach, particularly in rural areas where there are not-spots. He said his constituents don’t mind who delivers the broadband, they just want it to be effective and for a reasonable price. He believes Ofcom need to hold providers to account and urged the Government to “sharpen the teeth” of Ofcom and for these enhanced powers to be used.

Lindsey Fussell made clear that companies need to do more on customer handling, particularly on calls, and that not all the problems will be solved simply by investment. It was also important to keep and follow through on promises.

Emily Foley Head of Customer Policy and Strategy, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said that customer interests were at the heart of their work and that they are looking at the next steps to do more to improve the customer landscape. She also said the Department would like to see customers ‘vote more with their feet’ as this would act as more of a wakeup call to industry.

It was also noted that The Institute would follow up the discussion with both DCMS and Nigel Huddlestone and that meetings would be arranged shortly.

Finally, the meeting discussed the issue of broadband on trains and the need for Network Rail to be more cooperative in this regard.

Philip Davies MP closed the meeting by thanking all participants and noting that it had been useful for all concerned with some good follow-up actions.

Minutes from APPG Meeting on 'Putting the Customer First in Telecoms'

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