Are the terrible teens finally over for broadband providers?

The broadband sector is like an eighteen year old. It’s technically an adult and has an adult’s responsibilities, but doesn’t always act like it. Broadband, has become an essential service. More and more of what we do relies on us having a decent broadband connection. Like it or not, it’s a sector that needs to mature.

It’s now commonplace to hear broadband being referred to as essential; akin to electricity, gas and water. For example, the Government recently included the right to a minimum level of broadband speed in the Digital Economy Bill. But, there are times when it seems the industry hasn’t realised what is clear to everyone else concerned. Broadband is not ‘like an essential service’; it is an essential service.

I’ve worked in customer-focused industries my whole career, but my years with SSE have taught me how vital a customer-centric culture is when operating in an essential sector. Customers can choose who they buy your product from, but they have to buy it from someone.

As a result you have an obligation to take care of your customers, especially the vulnerable. Historically, broadband was seen as a luxury, so it’s not surprising that systems designed to identify and address vulnerability aren’t commonplace. But, as customers start relying on an internet connection for vital services, medical equipment for example, initiatives like our no-disconnection lists – which started in our energy business – must become the industry norm.   

SSE is used to operating in a highly regulated, essential sector. We have systems in place to get to know our customers, identify vulnerability and adapt the service we offer. Vulnerability comes in many forms and so it’s important we can offer a service that suits individuals’ needs. That’s why we’ve launched programmes giving staff dementia awareness training, a SignVideo service to help British Sign Language users communicate with us and LanguageLine for customers for whom English isn’t their first language. This behaviour should be commonplace in the market.

No company, or industry, is perfect. SSE doesn’t always get it right, but we know we have a duty to go further for our customers. If we don’t, not only is it wrong, but we know that as more suppliers join the market, customers will vote with their feet.  Increased level of political, regulatory and media scrutiny mean there’s nowhere to hide if you aren’t acting in the interests of customers.

Ofcom has said customer service and protecting vulnerable customers is a priority; it recently published the major providers’ customer service performance and is also considering re-writing the rules governing how providers treat customers. While this mainly focuses on current rules it’s entirely possible this could go further if providers don’t show willingness to improve on their own.

There comes a time when teenagers have to learn how to act like adults. If they don’t start taking responsibility, it won’t take long for the world to give them a fairly nasty shock.

About the author

Will Morris Group Managing Director, Retail

Will Morris is Group Managing Director of SSE's Retail business, having joined the company in 2012 from Intercontinental Hotels Group, where he had been Chief Operating Officer. Will has spent 22 years in blue chip customer facing service businesses - including British Airways and the Walt Disney Company - both in the UK and internationally. At SSE, Will has Management Board-level responsibility for our business in energy supply and energy-related services, working towards the long-term goal of making SSE the number one supplier of energy and related services.

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