UK households suffer as online problems disrupt work during lockdown

As the lockdown has made connectivity more important than ever, research from Quadient has found that as many as 8.5 million UK households have suffered work, schooling or entertainment disruption, or were cut off from their families, because of internet connection problems.

In its survey of 2,000 UK adults in June 2020, carried out by Opinium Research, Quadient aimed to explore how consumers view the customer service they are receiving from their providers, and just how important these new connections – both fixed and mobile broadband – are.

It investigated whether consumers feel that the industry in 2020 has the right priorities and whether they are likely to switch to a provider that is better able to meet their needs.

It also sought to discover what consumers were demanding from their service providers and, most importantly, just how much they have come to rely on connectivity during lockdown, as well as how important they consider broadband, compared with other utility services.

Respondents ranked broadband as the third most important service in their lives, beaten only by electricity and water, and comfortably ahead of council services, banking or even gas. Quadient suggested that time spent online may contribute to this: across both home and mobile connections, respondents spent more than seven hours a day online – five hours on home broadband, and the rest on mobile.

And there was a marked increase in such usage. The survey revealed that more than three-fifths (61%) of respondents said they were using online services more during the pandemic.

As consumer reliance on broadband has increased, so has the impact of any outages. While keeping the lights on and services running during the lockdown has been a top priority for both consumers and service providers, this has not always been possible. Covid-19 has had a significant effect on people’s broadband, with 61% of consumers relying on online services more during the pandemic than they did previously, and only 3% using them less.

This, in turn, was likely to translate into more time spent online and even more consumers ranking broadband as an essential service, and it also meant even more pressure on service providers, said Quadient.

The study revealed that one-third of consumers suffered a bad internet connection during lockdown, representing 8.5 million UK households. Quadient stressed that the effect of these outages can be significant, from disrupting work, home schooling or planned entertainment, to cutting off people who were isolating from their friends and family.

As a consequence of such outages, Quadient said it had seen a change in what consumers think is most important in a service provider. It found that the most important quality consumers look for in their home broadband provider was service reliability, with cost not far behind. And while cost wins out for mobile data contracts, service reliability was still important, ahead of factors such as the range of services available, and any benefits and discounts on offer.

Crucially, one-third of home broadband customers said being able to fix problems with their connection quickly was one of the most important qualities in a provider. Quadient regarded communication as a key part of this, and said customers need to be able to inform their providers of any issues quickly and simply and receive updates on when the issue will be resolved.

The survey showed UK broadband consumers were more ready and willing to switch to another telco provider if their expectations were not met. Just over two-fifths (42%) of respondents said they had switched broadband provider in the past year, were planning to, or wanted to do so but considered it too difficult. At the same time, 81% were confident that switching would be easy if they wanted to, or have experienced how easy it is.

Internet access has arguably never been more important to UK consumers than during the lockdown. Despite gas heating more than 80% of UK homes, the research showed consumers would rather stream a movie than keep themselves warm, said John Hoggard, principal, global utilities & telco at Quadient.

“When a service is this important, providers must deal with any connection issues quickly and effectively – and the customer experience plays a key role,” he said. “With many people still remaining at home, it’s likely the number of connection problems and customer support requests will remain high.

“Making sure obligations to existing customers are not overlooked while new services are developed, and giving consumers access to all the tools they need to provide prompt service and clear, timely communications, will be essential in retaining customer confidence and ensuring telcos can meet the expectations placed on them.”

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