TalkTalk risks becoming the Ryanair of broadband

Even by its own, usually wilfully upbeat, assessment, 2010 cannot be said to have been a very good year for budget broadband provider TalkTalk.

If it doesn’t clean up its act – or at least its PR – in 2011 the company risks becoming Ryanair. That is: reviled by consumers, distrusted by competitors and constantly at odds with regulators. And all minus Michael O’Leary.

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A bad year

If you’re looking for an example of how not to deal with a large, customer-enraging black hole in your organisation, look no further than TalkTalk over the past year.

First, TalkTalk simply denied there was a problem.

This came as a surprise to people, many of them ex-Tiscali customers, who were being charged for TalkTalk services that they never had or signed up for services they never wanted.

Finally, after being dragged kicking and screaming onto consumer programmes like the BBC’s Watchdog TalkTalk balefully put the problems down to an error in their billing systems inherited from Tiscali.

Facing an Ofcom fine, in the final quarter of 2010 the provider lost 25,000 customers.

Finally, just as it had dragged itself over the year’s finishing line, TalkTalk managed to pick up a wooden spoon for customer service from the Daily Mail (beating off Mail punching-bag HMRC).

What next?

To regain trust it’s vital that TalkTalk concentrate on improving services for their remaining customers. In fact, the provider admitted as much as part of its mea culpa to the Mail.

Still, so far it’s showing a very O’Leary-like pursuit for new customers – repackaging (if not exactly increasing) its rosta of sign-up incentives at a pace that would make other providers blush.

TalkTalk has enough resources to make a good impression. If nothing else its £6 million deal with the X-factor proves that. Here’s to a year that’s more Dermot than Michael, though!

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Julia Kukiewicz is editor of consumer information site Choose. The site offers market research and debate into the home media and mobile and personal finance industries, as well as covering rights issues for consumers. Follow Choose for more on twitter at @choosenet.