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Sunday, April 08, 2007

UK Broadband Customer Service and Speeds

ThinkBroadband have published the results of their regular Customer Service Polls and there are few surprises:

i) The Premium Suppliers keep their lead
Zen Internet (76%), Newnet (75%), Entanet (73%), Supanet (69%), Madasafish (68%), prove the general theory that small is good for service. The message is clear that if excellence in customer service is needed the heavily promoted brands are not the way forward.

ii) Things can get better
The improvement in performance of Be which is now owned by o2 is unbelievable, year-on-year customer service has jumped by 16% on a very reasonable sample size. It will be interesting to see how the mass market launch of o2 will affect this.

iii) Things can get worse
The decline year on year across the board of the Pipex family of brands is unbelievable: Pipex (48% down 18%), Bulldog (38% down 9%), Fredom2Surf (53%, level), Nildram (63%, down 17%) It is hardly surprising that according to the Sunday Mail nearly everyone has pulled out of bidding for the company with only Carphone left fielding a low-ball offer.

iv) The Broadband Majors are struggling
None of the majors have results that set the pulse racing and provide a reason for anyone to buy their service: Virgin Cable (54%, down 4%), BT (50% down 7%), Orange (44%, down 8%), Tiscali (42% down 4%), AOL (46%, down 7%), TalkTalk (40%, stable),

v) Sky vs Virgin Media
Sky Broadband is almost at levels of customer service of Virgin Media which admittedly are nothing to write home about. It is also noticeable that the Sky brands (Sky + UK Online) are on an upward path whereas Virgin Media are on the decline. I think the Sky service is too new to make the survey results dependable, but the decline in Virgin Media is apparent for all.

I have no doubt that Sky will milk this for all its worth. In fact, during a recent Sky Brand Teach-In I saw this slide popping up.

Of course, while factually true it does help that Sky and Be do not have the legacy fixed speed base that some of the others suffer from. This legacy factor is true for Virgin Media, BT, Orange and Tiscali but but does not provide an excuse for TalkTalk. It also appears that Virgin.net is predominately a legacy base and is in need of an upgrade. It is worth noting that the thinkbroadband speedtest takes into account backhaul congestion and is not a measure of raw dsl speeds to the local exchange and therefore is a much more realistic estimate of real life performance than the (mis)advertised theoretical optimum speeds.

Interestingly, thinkbroadband admit that their survey is more likely to attract the disgruntled and therefore has changed the methodology to include push email requests. No survey is perfect, but I would argue that thinkbroadband probably understand the UK broadband market better than most and the 2006 trend towards more misery in the broadband market is indisputable. Let’s hope in 2007, this trend is reversed.

My personal advice for anyone wanting broadband is if you want a techie solution go for Zen Internet, if you're a non-techie and want people actually answering telephone calls/emails trying to solve your problems go for Madasafish, if you’re broke and already have satellite TV go for Sky and if you’re completely insane then go for TalkTalk. Well at least that’s my excuse ;-)