By Daniel Hunter
Small businesses can now access information and advice to help them make the most of communications services, following the launch of a dedicated online portal from Ofcom.
The site — www.ofcom.org.uk/adviceforbusinesses — includes advice specifically tailored for businesses on choosing or switching to a new provider, as well as information on navigating and negotiating contracts, and resolving complaints with a provider.
It sets out clearly Ofcom’s role and the rules communications providers must follow when dealing with business customers, offering advice on landline telephone, broadband, mobile and postal services. A summary of the rights of businesses, both large and small, is also available.
Plan for small and medium-sized enterprises
This forms part of Ofcom’s SME Plan - work to help ensure that the communications market is delivering for small and medium sized enterprises. Ofcom wants SMEs to be able to benefit from competition and innovation in the market wherever possible and receive regulatory protection where necessary.
The launch of the business portal coincides with the publication of in-depth research to understand how SMEs use communications services, and the quality of experience they receive. This showed that the majority of SMEs (85%) feel well served overall by the communications market.
One in six (17%), however, did not feel well informed about how communications services could help their organisation survive and grow, while around a third (34%) did not have confidence in identifying which new products and services would be valuable to their business.
Some SMEs have also experienced problems in terms of the provision and reliability of communications services. To further explore these issues, Ofcom is today asking SMEs and communications providers to give their views on current levels of availability, choice and quality of communications services for SMEs.
Research on SMEs
Ofcom’s SME experience of communications services research gauged the views of 1,500 SMEs across the UK to measure their usage of and attitudes towards communications services. Key findings were:
Satisfaction among SMEs
· More than eight in ten SMEs (83%) felt that communication services were fundamental to their business, and 85% considered their business needs were well catered for by the communications market.
· Levels of satisfaction with communications services were generally high among SMEs - 93% for fibre broadband, 90% for smartphones, 88% for standard landlines, 87% for cable broadband, and 85% for standard mobile phones. SMEs’ satisfaction with ADSL broadband, however, was lower than for other services (77%).
Availability of services
· A minority of SMEs (15%) claimed their growth has been affected by a lack of suitable services.
· Rural SMEs were more likely to face service availability issues; 21% of SMEs in remote rural areas stated they could benefit from additional services compared to 8% in urban areas.
· Some 71% of SME fixed internet customers were satisfied with the speed of their connection, while 73% of SME mobile users were satisfied with signal reliability and 75% with geographical coverage.
Quality of service and complaints
· Three quarters of SME landline customers (75%) had no problems with their service in the past 12 months.
· Among the quarter (25%) that had experienced problems, the most common issues were poor service reliability and poor customer service.
· Eighty-five per cent of those who had experienced problems complained to their provider. Of these, the majority (69%) considered their complaint had been either fully or partly resolved.
· Fifty-eight per cent of SME internet users had no problems with their service in the last 12 months.
· Of the 42% that encountered problems, the most commonly reported issues were poor service reliability, followed by slow download or upload speeds.
· Seventy per cent of SME internet users who had problems complained to their provider. Of these, around two-thirds (64%) considered their complaint either fully or partly resolved.
· Sixty-one per cent of SME mobile phone customers said they had no issues with their service in the past 12 months.
· Among the 39% that did, the most common problems related to poor coverage, followed by phone calls dropping out mid-conversation.
· Around half (51%) of SME mobile phone customers that had faced problems complained to their provider. Of these, just under half (44%) considered their complaint either fully or partly resolved.
· Most SMEs who had switched in the last two years found the process very or quite easy (77% of landline switchers, and 87% of internet and mobile switchers respectively).
· Many landline (48%), internet (37%) and mobile (41%) switchers experienced some problems.
· The most common issues given were receiving bills for a cancelled service, temporary interruption to their service and the process taking longer than expected.
Protecting the interests of SMEs
Ofcom is today (Thursday) asking for views on whether the current provision of communications services is meeting the needs of SMEs.
This evidence will help Ofcom to further identify particular issues in terms of the availability, quality and reliability of services and develop policies to address them where appropriate. Subject to responses, which must be received by 2 January 2015, Ofcom will outline any next steps in spring next year.
This is part of a detailed programme of work to ensure that the communications market is delivering for SMEs.
Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Ofcom is committed to supporting and protecting the interests of the SME community, a critical sector of the UK economy. We’ve already identified that SMEs are not benefitting as consistently as they should be from high quality digital communications. In particular, there is a greater need for more widespread availability of high-speed broadband and reliable mobile coverage.
“A significant programme of work is under way to ensure the communications needs of SMEs are better met. As part of this, we are today asking SMEs to share their first-hand experiences of communications services to help us further identify problems and tackle them.”
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