Which broadband provider offers the best customer service?

julia kukiewicz
By Julia Kukiewicz

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?

We've looked at survey results from Ofcom and Which? on customer satisfaction, and the results of PC Pro's Excellence Awards 2016, to work out which providers will go the extra mile to fix that broken broadband - and which will struggle to put one foot in front of the other.

The best customer service for broadband...

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

Says who?

Ofcom release various sets of data throughout the year looking at the numbers of complaints for broadband providers serving more than a particular proportion of the UK market.

In previous years they've also released an annual study looking more closely at customer satisfaction levels.

Ofcom complaints

Virgin Media and Sky are in a constant competition to get the fewest complaints and the highest customer satisfaction scores, and both have kept up their good reputation from the past few years.

Both, however, have seen an uptick in complaints since the end of 2015: Ofcom received 11 complaints per 100,000 customers about Virgin, and about seven per 100,000 of Sky's customers.

We've included the graphic to the right to put those figures into context compared with the other big providers; there's more on complaints below.

Furthermore, they should be balanced against Ofcom's surveys on customer satisfaction, in which both rate much more highly than their main rivals.

Satisfaction with customer service from provider:

ofcom broadband satisfaction

SOURCE: Ofcom, January 2016.

Notice, however, how much higher Sky have ranked in this set of figures - with Ofcom recording a customer satisfaction score of 80% for them compared to Virgin's 70%.

Both Sky and Virgin also score highly in terms of "adviser ability to understand the issue and identify the problem" - but Sky are far more willing to offer some kind of compensation or goodwill gesture when there is an issue.

Which? take a more comprehensive view of providers.

In their July 2016 assessment of the broadband market, one ISP came out smelling of roses with 5/5 scores for reliability, customer service, technical support, and being easy to contact:

From second to fourth, Which's results look like this:

With a total score of 85%, Zen are once again one of Which?'s recommended providers, after a short period in which they lost out because of their higher prices.

But their loyal - and seemingly very happy - customers have made it clear that the customer service is worth every penny, as they scored 4/5 for value.

There's quite a gap between Utility Warehouse and John Lewis Broadband in terms of overall customer score - Utility Warehouse get 80% while John Lewis get 69%.

Utility Warehouse get 5/5 for customer service, technical support, and ease of contact, and not one individual score below 4/5; John Lewis only manage 5/5 for ease of contact, and 4/5 in most other areas.

Given that John Lewis Broadband is basically Plusnet with a different label - only the branding and prices are different - it seems odd that Plusnet's customers only give them 4/5 for ease of contact; otherwise their individual scores for service and support are identical, giving Plusnet an overall score was 68%.

That's an improvement on their performance in 2015, following a spate of issues for the ISP.

In 2016, PC Pro's Excellence Awards collated the ratings and opinions of more than 5,000 readers. They were asked for their opinions on customer support rather than service, which covers the issue of technical support as well.

Their top three have been unchanged since 2014:

Zen Internet scooped Best ISP for the 13th year in a row, scoring 98% for both customer support and reliability. In fact, as far as PC Pro readers are concerned, the ISP can do no wrong - they also scored 93% for speed of connection and 87% in terms of being value for money.

Plusnet again fare well, with 77% of people rating them best for customer support, 81% for reliability, and 78% for value for money.

There's a bit of a dip in the amount of love for the providers after that, with third place Virgin Media scoring 68% in terms of customer support - but they did score 76% for reliability.

Sneaking in close behind them with a customer service rating of 62% were their old rivals Sky.

...and the worst

The Choose bottom three

  1. TalkTalk
  2. BT
  3. EE

Says who?

For a couple of years BT could bask in the glow of no longer being the provider provoking the most complaints to Ofcom, thanks to EE. But while EE have made serious efforts to improve their customer service, BT have found themselves garnering more and more complaints in the past few quarters:

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

ofcom complaints

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

Echoing BT's figures in every quarter since at least the end of 2014 is Plusnet. Because they still rate well for customer satisfaction, they avoid being in our bottom three - but it seems that when they get things wrong, they're not such superheroes.

One surprise in Ofcom's figures is how well TalkTalk fare. They take the wooden spoon from both Which? and PC Pro, but focusing on getting their house in order following 2015's big data breach seems to have headed off the worst of the complaints.

But that doesn't mean they've become customer service stars. They've never fared particularly well when it comes to customer service, and now as after their problems integrating Tiscali customers it seems to be a case of "not as bad as before", but not "good".

Their overall score from Which? was just 37%, with customer service and technical support rating 1/5, and the ease of contacting them only 2/5.

BT have disappointed here too, with their rating dropping from 47% to 41%; EE managed to get 3/5 in each category they were judged on, with an overall rating of 47%.

But while EE are no longer bottom of the heap over at PC Pro, it seems to be more the case that the magazine's readers have less patience than those at Which? - as their customer service rating has dropped from 55% to 52%, and it's only the fact that TalkTalk got just 47% that saved them.

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 top and bottom four above are based on the independent data that's available to us.

However, over the years we've noted some key indicators, aside from reputation, which usually suggest that customer service will be good or exceptional.

Note too that taking 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.

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.

Look for 0800 and 0300 numbers, which will count as free or inclusive under most call plans - and 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.

In other words, past performance is a guide only.

Comments

1
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.

2
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.

3
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.

4
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!!!!!!

5
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.

6
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.

7
9 February 2015
cimbom

Worst provider is Easynet. Avoid!

8
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.

9
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.

10
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.

11
31 July 2014
Andy

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

12
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'...

13
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?

14
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?