Cristina Luna-Esteban, Office of Communications (Ofcom) Director of Telecoms Consumer Protection, explains how our compliance and monitoring programme is helping to protect telecoms customers.
As customers, we all want to be treated fairly. Whether we’re shopping online, paying our energy bills or taking out a broadband contract. And at Ofcom, it’s our job to make sure phone and broadband companies are playing by the rules.
These rules – known as the General Conditions – set out clearly how companies must treat their customers. They cover things like making sure customers can switch provider with ease, get clear information about a package before they sign up and can refer complaints to an ombudsman when they’re unable to resolve issues with their provider.
Every telecoms company that wants to operate in the UK must abide by these rules. It’s their responsibility to make sure they’re aware of the requirements, understand how they apply to their business and that they continue to comply with them.
But how can we tell if a company is falling short?
We do this in a few different ways. For example, monitoring the number and nature of the customer complaints we receive. Issues raised by consumer groups or the media can also bring problems to our attention. As can trending topics on social media. We carry out detailed analysis of customer service performance across the industry’s biggest companies too.
We’re now stepping up this work further. We’ve recently strengthened our analysis of potential customer issues and launched a dedicated monitoring and compliance programme. Through this programme, we’ll take regular deep dives into the rich range of data available to us – making sure we can identify problems and work with providers to get them fixed as quickly as possible.
As well as spotting issues with how companies are treating customers, we are increasing our focus on understanding how providers are meeting our requirements and delivering on the voluntary schemes we’ve agreed with industry. The programme also offers opportunities to share good practice and hear first-hand how our measures to protect customers are working in practice.
Throughout this, it is important providers are open and upfront about problems they are facing, with a focus on identifying the right solutions and providing customers with a better service quickly.
Where we suspect there is a serious breach of our rules, we can of course still launch formal enforcement action. These investigations can result in companies being fined and customers receiving refunds in certain circumstances. This may still be the best way for us to deal with major issues that cause customers harm. But they are not the only way to address problems.
By using data more effectively, working closely with consumer groups and having an open dialogue with industry, we believe we can tackle many problems customers are facing day-to-day without the need for lengthy investigations. That is a better outcome for customers and companies alike.
We have already seen early examples of this working well. For example, we’ve worked with providers to improve the quality of the notifications they’re required to send customers who are coming to the end of their contract. We’ve also identified improvements for the way industry applies and communicates priority fault repairs for disabled customers. Through effective monitoring and early engagement with providers, we expect that our approach will deliver many more improvements like this.
Ultimately, customers’ needs must come first. And customers rightly expect problems to be identified easily, resolved quickly and prevented from happening again. Through our new monitoring and compliance programme, we’ll be working with industry to make sure that happens.
How to find out more
Ofcom has published a summary of the main rules, guidance and voluntary customer support schemes that all providers should know about.
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