Customers vote against phone giants
The home phone industry is paying the price for its ever-increasing call charges and poor customer service.
Amid a new round of price rises, the latest uSwitch.com Home Phone Customer Satisfaction Report, based on the responses of nearly 8,000 home phone customers, reveals that the home phone oldies are continuing to lose out to their younger rivals. Sky, the newest competitor in the poll, wins ‘Best Overall Provider' while BT, the oldest contender, comes bottom for the third year running. Meanwhile, customer service levels remain meagre across the board, with just 60% of customers satisfied overall, and value for money satisfaction plummets 8% since last year.
Best Home Phone - For the third time running, Sky is voted ‘Best Overall Provider' with 86% of its customers satisfied. The company wins 7 out of 11 categories including Most Likely to be Recommended and Best Customer Service, tied with Virgin Media. Sky is the youngest of the four major home phone companies in the rankings. It formed less than four years ago but now has over two million customers signed up to its Sky Talk home phone service.
TalkTalk comes second overall in the poll, with 82% of its phone customers satisfied. The company scoops four awards, including Best Value for Money for the sixth time running. However, from 1st June, customers will see a 26% rise in the daytime peak call rate from 4.6p to 5.8p per minute, a 7% rise in the evening call rate from 1.4p to 1.5p per minute and a 7% rise in the call connection charge from 9.25p to 9.9p per minute. The rates apply to calls made outside customers' calling plans. Peak calling times are also changing, with evening calls starting at 7pm instead of 6pm.
Worst Home Phone - For the third time running, BT has received the lowest score for Overall Customer Satisfaction in the poll. The UK's incumbent phone company has come last in every category and has the lowest score for Value for Money for the 7th time running.
BT's position may not be enhanced by the latest round of price increases which will affect any customer not signed up to the Unlimited Anytime calling plan. From 1st April, daytime call rates have risen 9% from 5.4p to 5.9p per minute and the set-up cost for chargeable calls has risen 6%, from 9.3p to 9.9p per call. Like TalkTalk, BT's calling times have also changed, with evening calls starting at 7pm instead of 6pm. This means that any customer not on the Unlimited Anytime package who makes a call between 6pm and 7pm will be charged at the new daytime rate.
The changes to peak calling hours instigated by BT and now proposed by TalkTalk may not sit well with phone customers. According to uSwitch.com research, 30% believe that having to wait until 7pm to make calls is less convenient and a further 24% would consider changing to a provider whose off-peak hours start at 6pm. Businesses could also be affected - 2% of customers say they would use their work phone for personal calls if they had to pay before 7pm.
The news does not get better for Virgin Media's four million phone customers that, from 1st April, have seen a 99p increase to their monthly line rental and a 10% increase in the connection charge from 10p to 11p for all chargeable calls. The rate for any calls to landlines made outside of a calling plan has also risen by 1p to 7.5p per minute, and calls to mobiles are also up 1p per minute, excluding calls to Virgin Mobile customers.
The price rises will do nothing to quell the growing dissatisfaction amongst customers over the value for money they receive from their home phone service. Last year's survey showed scores in this category jumping a massive 12%. By contrast, this year scores have plummeted 8% with just 67% of customers now satisfied overall.
However, the lowest scores in the uSwitch.com survey are seen in the category ‘Best Deal for You', assessing whether customers feel their provider has placed them on the most appropriate call plan. Customers are gradually moving onto ‘all you can eat' calling plans that commit them to a fixed monthly calls package, yet fewer than 1 in 2 customers (47%) are satisfied that their provider has them on the best deal. Despite this, almost 7 million customers have never switched their home phone.
Steve Weller, communications expert at uSwitch.com, comments: "Sky hat trick at the top demonstrates its clear commitment to offering a consistently high service across all areas. But, overall, customers are disillusioned with the value for money offered by their home phone service and the impact that the latest round of price changes will have on bills is deeply concerning. If customers don't change either their calling habits or calling plans they could see their annual bills rocket.
"It's disappointing to see TalkTalk, hot on the heels of BT, shift its evening call times from 6pm to 7pm. While it's our hope that other providers don't follow suit, we fear that this idea is fast becoming an epidemic - and a very unpopular one. Those customers that have traditionally hung on until one minute past six will now need to hold off for an extra hour or move to a different phone plan to avoid being stung.
"The good news is that there are some less known phone companies out there looking to grow - and they are offering some very enticing deals. Primus, for example, is offering line rental for just £8.99 a month including free evening and weekend calls. Daytime call rates are just 3p per minute with a 4p connection charge - but best of all, evening calls start at 6pm and finish at 8am, giving a generous 14 hours of free talk."
Weller concludes: "Consumers mustn't be afraid to seek out the best deal to suit their needs and their pockets. It may be that by contacting their existing provider they are able to move onto an improved deal or alternatively they may need to play the field and make the switch to an alternative provider in order to take advantage of the best offers on the market."