Report: Half of the UK’s 5.6 million SMEs want to dump their broadband provider

  • Damning verdict on reliability and customer service
  • Small businesses quickly adapted to remote working and other pandemic-induced changes
  • Their broadband providers didn’t

Napoleon Bonaparte is often cited as the man who, before missing the 1815 from Waterloo and later finding himself unexpectedly on a one-way boat trip to St Helena, derisively called the British “a nation of shopkeepers”. In fact, it wasn’t 'Boney' who came up with the insult (one that amuses the Brits to this day), but one Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac, an all-but-forgotten French revolutionary, who coined the derogatory phrase back in 1794. Despite wars, pestilence, economic slumps, a lot or rain and a bit of sunshine, nothing much has changed in the way the British and French regard each other (hardly a day goes by without an insult crossing the English Channel, either in one or both directions) and little has changed in the British private sector economy since. 

SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) still account for 60 per cent of the jobs in Britain and for 50 per cent of the turnover of the UK private sector. They are a collective force to be reckoned with and politicians and governments know it. Covid-19 notwithstanding, at the start of this year there were still over 5.6 million SMEs operating in the UK, employing 16.3 million people and the numbers are on the rise. Between them, British SMEs account for a total turnover of £2.3 trillion a year. This is not small beer: SMEs are absolutely vital to the UK economy.

It’s interesting to learn, then, that they feel so badly done by where their broadband providers are concerned that over half of them plan to leave their current supplier as soon as possible. That in excess of 2.8 million small businesses are so aggrieved should be of major concern to CSPs and DSPs as they face a potential churn rate of enormous proportions and the salutary lesson of being on the receiving end of a punch in the revenues.

The surprising figures are revealed in a new report commissioned by ’Sky Connect’, Sky’s specialist B2B division that focuses on partnering with SMEs to provide them with a better broadband experience all round - from purpose-built business products through to excellent service and simple pricing with no hidden fees. The fact that over half the UK’s SMEs can’t wait to sever connections with their existing broadband providers is bad enough, but the reasons for their disenchantment are even more shocking.

During the successive pandemic lockdowns and sudden shift from office work to home working and with all the disruption that entailed, the UK’s networks (on both the domestic front and for big companies and corporations) held up extremely well under unprecedented pressure and increased demand. However, that was not true where SME’s are concerned. An astonishing 77 per cent of SMEs have reported slow broadband connectivity and services throughout the entirety of 2021 and, as if that in itself isn’t sufficient reason to give up on a broadband services provider, grievances have been compounded by awful customer service, poor communication, outages, unacceptably poor upload and download speeds and continuing inability to resolve problems.

SMEs showed more resilience than big organisations but were let down by broadband companies

The work undertaken on Sky Connect’s behalf by Censuswide, the London-headquartered market research company, reveals that 33 per cent of SME respondents cited the inability to communicate with customers and suppliers because of unreliable broadband as the main reason to change suppliers. However, 32 per cent said they will be voting with their feet because of reduced productivity. The same percentage of respondents said they have lost customers as a direct result of unreliable broadband.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that so many SMEs are in the mood to dump their broadband service provider and go elsewhere. Those able to demonstrate genuinely reliable connectivity and prompt, properly responsive customer service have a massive opportunity before them, especially given that 73 per cent of SMEs have plans to invest in full-fibre connectivity as soon as it becomes available. What’s more, 74 per cent said they would be more likely to recommend a reliable and responsive business broadband provider if it also offers offered 4G or 5G backup. It should be an open goal but given past performance some broadband providers are likely to miss it.

Regardless of, or perhaps because of the pandemic, during the past 12 months 74 per cent of SMEs have been spending to adapt their businesses to deliver digital services and are willing to invest more in broadband security and digitising customer offerings and services. It goes to show that service providers, whether through smugness, ineptitude or having been seriously impacted by the effects of Covid-19 themselves, have provided the majority of SMEs with less than optimum services and need to up their game if they are to retain valuable customers. 

The SMEs obviously have some tales to tell and many have told them to Censuswide and Sky Connect. However, the research report does not go so far as to name and shame the villains of the piece, and perhaps it should. As Kevin O’Toole, Managing Director at Sky Connect said, “Broadband is not something businesses will - or should - be thinking about day to day, but it’s noticeable as soon as it isn’t up to standard, and can have damaging consequences. As SMEs continue to adapt to an increasingly digital world and deliver additional online services, more than ever before, broadband providers must prioritise reliability to enable small businesses to focus on what really matters to them.”

The naming of those service providers that have demonstrably and provably not been reliable would help SMEs dispensing with troublesome broadband providers not to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire and make the same mistake twice: Caveat emptor and all that...

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