Which broadband provider offers the best customer service?

hysterical phone woman

WHEN we decide to look for a new broadband provider, it's likely we've experienced less than stellar customer service from the old one.

But how can we ensure that we're not about to jump from the frying pan into the fire?

To get a clear picture on how each broadband provider fares, we've looked at results from Ofcom's annual service quality report, which relates specifically to customer service, and the annual Which? survey into broadband customer satisfaction, which covers broader issues like connection quality and reliability, as well as customer service.

We've also looked at the results of PC Pro's Excellence Awards 2016, which look at a range of factors to decide which broadband ISP is the best, including customer support, reliability and value for money.

The best customer service for broadband

Based on the information we have available from Ofcom, Which? and PC Pro, Choose's top broadband providers for customer service are:

  1. Zen
  2. Virgin Media
  3. Sky
  4. Plusnet

Says who?

In April 2017 Ofcom published its annual service quality report, detailing the different levels of customer service experienced across broadband, mobile and landline providers.

ofcom complaints

As the graphic to the right shows Virgin and Sky had the fewest complaints per 100,000 to Ofcom in 2016. However, there was an increase in complaints for both providers when compared to 2015.

In 2015, Virgin received an impressively low 11 complaints per 100,000 customers while Sky only had seven complaints from the same number of customers.

BT doesn't fare well here considering the fact that Plusnet and EE are both owned by the company - so it essentially holds the top three spots for customer complaints. There's more on complaints below.

Virgin and Sky also fare well with regards to Ofcom's more specific customer satisfaction data for broadband only.

Broadband satisfaction overview by provider:

Ofcom broadband satisfaction

SOURCE: Ofcom, April 2017.

As the graphic shows, the industry average for customer satisfaction is 87% and both Sky and Virgin exceed this, with 88% and 91% respectively.

In the report, Sky also performed particularly well when specific aspects of customer service were measured.

For example, Sky exceeded average satisfaction levels for measurements relating to call handling, including the courtesy and politeness of customer service agents, the agent doing what they said they would and their willingness to help resolve an issue.

They were also the most willing to offer some kind of compensation or goodwill gesture when there was an issue.

Virgin exceed the average customer satisfaction levels for ease of finding their contact details to get help and for ease of getting through to the right person (on the phone).

Which? take a more comprehensive view of providers.

In their latest assessment of the broadband market published in April of this year, it's the smaller providers who come out on top.

The best providers for customer service were:

Zen come out with a total customer service satisfaction score of 86%, followed closely by Utility Warehouse with 81%.

They were the only companies to earn five stars for their customer service and as a result Which? has given them its Recommended Provider stamp of approval.

In addition, over 70% of Zen and Utility Warehouse customers said their broadband connection was excellent or good. Compare this to the 18% of customers who rated TalkTalk's broadband either poor or very poor.

There's quite a gap between second and third place, with John Lewis Broadband coming in with 68% for customer service satisfaction.

Given that John Lewis Broadband is basically Plusnet with a different label - only the branding and prices are different - it's interesting that Plusnet came fifth in the Which? survey, with a satisfaction score of 65%.

Plusnet also dropped from fourth place in 2016 to fifth place this year, indicating that customers may be increasingly unhappy with their customer service.

However, Plusnet's scores are an improvement on their performance in 2015, following a spate of issues for the ISP.

Issues aside, Plusnet fared pretty well with PC Pro readers.

In 2016, PC Pro's Excellence Awards collated the ratings and opinions of more than 5,000 readers.

Note that readers were asked for their opinion on customer support rather than customer service. This distinction is important because it primarily covers technical support rather than other areas of customer service that the Ofcom and Which? surveys covered.

PC Pro's top three providers have remained unchanged since 2014:

Zen Internet has scooped Best ISP for the 13th year in a row now, with an overall score of 95% and a score of 98% for both customer support and reliability. In fact, as far as PC Pro readers are concerned the ISP comes out on top for all categories - they also scored 93% for speed of connection and 87% for value for money.

Plusnet fared well with an overall score of 79%. They scored 77% for customer support, 81% for reliability and 78% of respondents thought they provided the best value for money.

After Zen and Plusnet, PC Pro readers placed Virgin Media third with an overall score of 76%. Virgin scored 68% for customer support and 76% for reliability.

Interestingly, in the PC Pro Excellence Awards Virgin comes out far ahead of its rival Sky, which gained an overall score of just 59%. This is unlike the Ofcom and Which? surveys, where Sky and Virgin sit side-by-side at the top of the ratings.

Note that voting for the 2017 PC Pro Excellence Awards opened in July but we'll have to wait until later in the year for the results to be announced.

...And the worst

The Choose bottom three broadband providers for customer service are:

  1. TalkTalk
  2. BT
  3. EE

Says who?

According to Ofcom, BT is the most complained about broadband provider, with 127 complaints per 100,000 customers. It is closely followed by Plusnet with 113 complaints per 100,000 connections and EE with 108 per 100,000.

When we remember that EE and Plusnet are owned by BT the problem for the company becomes more apparent.

See the graph below for a better overview of complaints over the past couple of years.

Broadband complaints per 100,000 customers/connections, monthly:

ofcom complaints

SOURCE: Ofcom Telecoms and Pay TV Complaints, December 2016. Available here [pdf].

As the figure above shows, EE have made serious efforts to improve their customer service and complaints about them to Ofcom have reduced since 2014, but BT have found themselves garnering more and more complaints.

Echoing BT's figures in every quarter in the above graph is Plusnet. However, seeing as Plusnet rate well for customer satisfaction with Which? and PCPro they avoid being in our bottom three.

The main area of concern for Plusnet is that they have the longest call waiting time for customers who want to talk to a customer service agent.

ofcom complaints

SOURCE: Ofcom Telecoms and Pay TV Complaints, April 2017. Available here.

At over seven minutes not only is this the longest call waiting time but it is the longest by a considerable margin, bearing in mind that the next longest wait is with BT at just under four minutes.

Plusnet also had the highest percentage of customers who drop a call whilst waiting to talk to a customer service operator - which isn't surprising considering how long the average wait time is.

The Ofcom report states that 21% of Plusnet's calls were dropped while waiting for an operator. Again, this is by far the worst score - followed next by BT with 13% of customers who gave up before speaking to someone.

One surprise in Ofcom's figures is how well TalkTalk fare, with an overall satisfaction rate of 83%.

As the graphic above shows, they have the quickest average call waiting time at a speedy 47 seconds. They also share the lowest percentage of customers who drop the call before speaking to someone with EE, with just 4% of both of their customers doing this.

However, they have had major customer service problems in the past, such as integrating Tiscali customers, and although they focused on getting their house in order following 2015's big data breach they still have room for improvement.

For example, Ofcom found that TalkTalk customers had the most reason to complain about a service - with 16% of customers doing so.

Perhaps surprisingly the figure is the same for Virgin Media, which as discussed earlier, is in the top two for customer service.

But although the same percentage of customers had a reason to complain, Virgin did a much better job than TalkTalk at handling these complaints.

This is borne out by the fact that in the Ofcom report TalkTalk customers were the least satisfied with the customer service they received - with just a 51% satisfaction rate.

The theme is continued in the latest Which? report. Of the 12 companies that customers were surveyed about, TalkTalk came bottom for customer service with a 38% satisfaction rate.

BT disappointed here too with a rating of 45%, although this is a slight improvement from the 41% they managed in 2016. EE achieved an overall rating of 48% to complete the bottom three.

Interestingly, all of the main providers fared relatively badly in the latest Which? survey. Sky scored 49% and Virgin managed 52%, which placed it at the top of the pile for the large providers.

Similarly to the Which? report, the PC Pro awards placed TalkTalk last with an overall satisfaction rating of 55% and a score of just 47% for customer support.

While EE are no longer bottom of the heap over at PC Pro - their overall score of 57% places them second from last - their customer service rating dropped from 55% in 2015 to 52% in 2016.

So although there have been fewer complaints to Ofcom about EE over the past couple of years, PC Pro's findings indicate that EE's customer service still requires some improvement.

Taking the plunge

While the surveys above and broadband provider reputations can provide a good general guide to customer service, there are some other points to consider before taking the plunge.

Key indicators

The best and worst broadband providers listed above are based on the independent data that's available to us.

However, over the years we've noticed there are some key indicators, aside from reputation, which suggest that customer service from a broadband provider will be good or exceptional.

These key indicators are listed below:

Note too that taking out an unsuitable broadband contract - for example, one that's restrictive on home moves when we know we'll have to move house - is one of the major causes of broadband customer service woe.

Make sure to clue up before signing up with our guide to broadband contracts.

Finally, a small minority of people may need to think about which ISPs actively support those who may be at risk of online harassment: find out what they can do here.

Technical support numbers and forums

Another way to tell which broadband providers take customer service and technical support seriously is to have a look at the methods they use to communicate with their customers.

For example, most broadband providers have readily available information on their websites about different ways that customers can contact them, whether to make a complaint or for another reason.

Most also have helpful online forums where customers and experts can chat about broadband issues, share guides and check local services.

While it's now illegal for businesses to use revenue-generating numbers (like 0845 and 0870) for dedicated complaints lines, they can still use them for technical services. There's more on technical support here.

Look for 0800 and 0300 numbers, which will count as free or inclusive under most call plans. Our guide to free broadband technical support has more information on the support different ISPs offer.

A caveat

At Choose, we use all of the sources listed above, as well as the feedback we receive from site users, when we evaluate broadband provider performance.

However, just like everyone else looking for a new ISP we are, to some extent, shooting in the dark.

There are still happy TalkTalk customers to be found and we're sure, with a bit of digging (maybe a lot of digging), there's someone out there with some unkind things to say about customer service kings Zen.

Moreover, generally well regarded ISPs like AAISP don't even get counted.

There are no guarantees and, what's more, provider reputations often become self-fulfilling prophecies. Calling with the expectation of poor service can lead people to subsequently view their encounter more negatively than they would have otherwise done.

We can use past performance as a guide but it's up to us to choose the right broadband provider based on a whole range of different factors.

For those who do want to leave their ISP and take their chances with a new provider, take a look at this guide.

Comments

1
6 September 2017
Jonathan Hawker

BT are dreadful. I was supposed to have internet from last Monday. Four days on, I've spent over 4 hours on hold and still don't have the service I'm paying for. Avoid.

2
18 June 2017
Guy Groundnut

I must be one of the few NON-happy Zen customers, then! I returned to them after being a customer about ten years ago when they were small, had excellent customer service but were pricey! Now the high price remains but their service, in my experience, is inflexible and poor. The Zyxel router they supply has been an endless problem as it seems to time out automatically and loses connection with devolo powerline adapters. This has never happened before with previous routers. It's been replaced once but problems remain. We also wasted two days in conversation with their technical support only to be told by on a later call to Zen that they had a complete outage in our area because another provider (presumably BT) had failed to perform - blaming another contractor is always a bad sign, IMO. For wasted time and their own poor internal communication they offered me £2.00 as a 'goodwill' gesture! This for a contract that is £50+ a month.

3
15 June 2017
Bob Leiser

There appears to be attempts in Virgin Media to manipulate their satisfaction ratings.
Anyone impressed by Virgin Media's customer satisfaction ratings should be aware of the following: At the end of an engineer visit which concluded a long saga of lies and broken promises from Virgin Media, I was handed a sheet by the engineer about the third party questionnaire I would shortly receive via email. It told me to pay particular attention to the "Would you recommend us to a friend?" question. He went on to say that what I put there should reflect on him personally, not the company's performance, and a bad score would impact his performance appraisals.
This put me in a moral dilemma, certainly not wanting to give Virgin Media high ratings, but appreciating him as the only person I'd dealt with who'd given me the plain truth.
If this is widespread, it would explain why high ratings are being achieved by a company who I've found to be dishonest and unreliable, saying whatever they can to get me off the phone.

4
24 January 2017
David

TalkTalk are the worst provider ever! The broadband speed is nowhere near what they claim it is, their customer service agents take at least 3/4 of an hour to answer, then they consistently lie to you, cut you off, pass you from one department to another,and their staff attitude is incredibly rude when ringing them regarding faults- that's when you can actually understand the agent as for the most part they speak pidgin English with strong accents. I was left 20 days without broadband and phone line, I was constantly fobbed off with the most 'creative' excuses I have ever heard as to why I had no service at all for the 20 days. I was offered £15.00 compensation for the total lack of service!!! In short, I would say to anyone considering using TalkTalk, DON'T DON'T! Avoid them like the plague.

5
12 August 2016
Paul Cusiac

Talk Talk is a total nightmare! It gave me the worst service I've seen of any company in the UK. I waited at home for 2 days for installation, spent hours on the phone (more than 2 hours on hold) waiting for a completely useless call centre in the Philippines .. and they still couldn't manage to install my broadband!! I got endless phone calls from a case manager that was totally unable to do anything except tell me what he could not do. AVOID THIS COMPANY AT ALL COSTS!! (Unless you want total frustration). When I finally gave up on Talk Talk and called EE the guy on the phone said he was constantly getting calls from people who tried Talk Talk and became completely exasperated -- so it's not just me. Rating Talk Talk on a scale of 1 to 10? I give them minus 170.

6
28 February 2016
susan

Talktalk costumer services is the worst ever. They have lied to me on many occasions on different issues. The have also made bogus notes on my account. When they do eventually call you back; usually weeks later they hang up on you without speaking. I have been over charged loads of times. The broadband is slow and cuts out all the time. The speed is so slow everthing freezes, even simple tasks. I pay for super fast fibre broadband. Big joke. The phone line is not much better. I am charged every time they send out an Outreach engineer. They have not managed to correct the problems nor appear to want to. Would never recommend.

7
6 January 2016
Marc

EE are by far the worst broadband provider out there. Customer services and tech support are worse than useless. I have wasted hours trying to speak to someone not reading through a checklist who wants to resolve the constant broadband failures we are experiencing... Avoid EE like the plague!!!!!!

8
29 December 2015
M Mouse

TalkTalk billing has been criticised for years, particularly by those previously with other ISPs bought by TT (eg Tiscali, Pipex).

For Lauren and Suze - some of the problems (with engineers) or charges may be caused by BT Openreach which sets (under Ofcom's watchful eyes) the costs the ISP pays for connection etc (and the ISP then passes on the fee, sometimes bumps it up higher, such as connection fees if charges, or sometimes absorbs them - transfer from one ISP to another may cost 11 quid [when both use BT Wholesale services] up to 30 quid [where a firm like EE, Sky, TalkTalk, have their own equipment in the exchange ... they may offer really cheap broadband deals, covered, in part, by higher line rental, but they are not using BT Wholesale and switching to/from these LLU firms is charged higher).

BT Openreach has been the cause of major dissatisfaction over the past few years because of them "streamlining" (shedding staff to boost BT Group profits for the City) and they often use contractor firms for Fibre installations - paid for on a per job rate, with consequent rush, and sometimes causing other faults, which genuine non-contract BT Openreach engineers then have to sort out (with knock-on impact to their existing fault fixing workload).

At one time the "lead time" from ordering a new phone line (no broadband at all), to getting it installed, was 3 months, clearly unacceptable for residential use, but this was for a city centre business - crazy for a business not to have a landline number for that long !! Of course, because any telecom firm is willing to be flexible and take an appointment if someone else cancels, it could take less time, but very frustrating for a client to have that length of time with no guarantee it would be shorter.

Ofcom put Openreach under scrutiny in 2013 or 2014 and wanted comments from the ISPs and telecom firms, and later requested Openreach increase staff levels and decrease time to do installs and repairs. In my own case, with 2 lines, I had each line go down for a week or so, in March 2015. In fact, one line went down for a second time (just after the other line was fixed). That was 3 weeks with line faults. Openreach pays 7.50 or so per day to the telecom firm but these firms rarely pass it on to the real customer (you and me).

Why do I have 2 lines (and mobile with unlimited data and tethering)... because as a small internet business, I need internet to be reliable so for me it is better to have two lines with different firms (Post Office, and Primus, in my case) and two ISPs (Post Office selling TalkTallk broadband, and Plusnet) so even if there is exchange work on one, the other should be OK... and it is rare for both to be down at the same time. Have lived here just under 4 years, and those 3 weeks were the only time I've had lengthy non-service... but still annoying, and if I only had one line / no mobile data, could have crippled my e-mail etc.

9
8 June 2015
missmillward

TalkTalk have consistently overcharged us by double since we moved. Definitely want to move to another provider as this has been such a stressful process.

10
9 February 2015
cimbom

Worst provider is Easynet. Avoid!

11
20 January 2015
cyberella

EE has the worst customer service: There is no tech support based in UK, I had to call 3 times to get someone whom I could understand. The line was muffled as well as the accent being quite strong and hard to understand.
Also, I have called about when my TV box will arrive. I was told three different versions of what was supposed to happen. It is currently late, as I was told by one of them it would take 10 working days, it is day 12 now.

12
12 October 2014
Bob

All US internet service providers offer high rates and slow downloads and poor customer service. Even the best US ISP is not very good.

13
31 July 2014
lauren

Why did I not read the bottom four before I went live with TalkTalk on 18/07/14. I have had nothing but problems with them. Have called everyday to be fobbed off each time, eventually today I had enough after giving them several chances and listening to their promises and they are now telling me I have to pay them almost £70 to cancel the contract. Their customer service is the worst I have ever had the misfortune to deal with. I have been hung up on three times and lied to so many times that I have lost count. Don't go with TalkTalk whatever you do.

14
31 July 2014
Andy

Plusnet have been terrible recently. Tickets are being put on hold and are taking 3 days to get answered.

15
13 February 2014
Suze

I think Plusnet may have overstretched their capabilities. The situation appears to be made worse by extremely poor service from what I assume to be a small pool of engineers attempting to connect new customers and deal with the problems caused by the appalling weather:

It takes Plusnet customer care between 15 minutes to 30 minutes for calls to be answered, and then the, albeit very polite, customer care assistants seem completely unable to offer any sort of explanation as to what is causing the problems with their engineers, or what is going wrong with their appointment system.

Sadly, my experience with them has been one of frustration and disappointment: I have reluctantly decided to cancel my order with them.

I suspect it is going to be a case of 'out of the frying pan and into the fire'...

16
22 December 2013
Liz42

I agree with Stephen below - I have had technical problems with Plusnet recently and have had to wait over 1 hour to get any technical help. One time I reached someone who said they would test my broadband and line and then got cut off. They didn't bother to ring me back. Customer service is definitely very poor at the present time though they have been promising a new call centre for some time?

17
4 December 2013
Stephen

Plusnet have appeared in the top ten for a while now - this was justified at one time, but their customer service has deteriorated and they don't deserve to be in the top 100 - they take 1/2 an hour just to answer a call. Where's the logic in spending a fortune on advertising for new customers but not having the capacity to look after existing customers?

15 June 2017
Bob Leiser

Apparently, it's cheaper to pay for advertising to make you look like a good provider, than to invest in people and technology so you can actually be one.


» Read more of the latest news


» Search for more guides on broadband and mobile


Follow us or subscribe for FREE updates and special offers