Many business-broadband users have problems with reliability, customer service and supplier switching, according to a new report commissioned by communications regulator Ofcom.
The Business Consumer Experience report is Ofcom's first such report. Published on Wednesday, it is based on telephone interviews with 1,200 UK businesses to check satisfaction with their telecoms services.
"Our research identifies that most business users are satisfied with their overall service and the value for money received, as well as with other aspects such as availability and range of services," Ofcom stated in the report. "That said, there are also a number of areas where business consumers seem to be experiencing problems, namely the availability of mobile and internet services, customer service and difficulties in switching."
Eighty percent of businesses surveyed said they were broadly satisfied with mobile, fixed and data services, according to Ofcom. However, about half of the respondents said they had some concerns and frustrations.
Ofcom noted that the sources of business's frustrations were closely similar to the causes of satisfaction. The factors that drove users to adopt a service in the first place were the factors that caused the most frustration when they were perceived as lacking.
"Some aspects of communications services are so important that they can have a significant impact on the level of satisfaction," Ofcom said. "Many business consumers expressed satisfaction that they could keep in touch while on the move as a result of extensive mobile coverage, but others experienced significant frustration if they were not able to do so."
Speed and reliability of data and internet access caused most frustration, with 28 percent of businesses saying poor or unreliable connections caused problems. Twenty-seven percent of businesses complained about poor quality or unreliable mobile connections.
Customer service also attracted comment, with problems not resolved quickly or the provider failing to take responsibility when problems arose.
Smoothing the switch process
More work also needs to be done to improve companies' ability to switch between different providers, Ofcom said.
The watchdog found that just over one-third of respondents had switched fixed or mobile communications provider over the past four years, that figure dropping to 24 percent for internet or data providers.
"Our research indicates that many consumers are not taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by greater competition and choice," Ofcom said in the report.
Most had not switched because they were satisfied, but others said service comparison, complex pricing structures and the length of contracts kept them from moving.
"Communications providers could do more to help business consumers make the most of the opportunities afforded by competition, in particular by making it simpler to compare prices and service," said the report
Ofcom said it is currently involved in efforts to target the areas of business customer dissatisfaction, including improving competition, boosting the availability of mobile and broadband services and facilitating the rollout of faster broadband. The regulator said it has also imposed regulatory requirements on BT's Openreach aimed at improving customer service.
"We are also considering how to ensure that competitive pressures work to drive improvements in this area," Ofcom said. For instance, the regulator is considering restructuring the way wholesale line rentals are charged in a way that would to ensure that Openreach has competitive incentives to offer higher levels of service.
Openreach is the division of BT responsible for ensuring that rival telecommunications operators have equal access to BT's own local network.
More information on the report is available from Ofcom's website.
In October BT announced plans to run optical fibre directly to 2.5 million UK homes and businesses for high-speed broadband access, a decision the company said was based partly on assurances received from Ofcom.