Due to the outbreak of coronavirus, many people are trying online services for the first time – video calling shows the largest uptick, with 18% of consumers trying this for the first time, ahead of online shopping (9%) and watching catch-up TV (9%), according to new research.

Coronavirus prompts marked shift in UK households’ digital habits

According to EY’s survey of 2,000 UK consumers, many consumers are increasing usage of services they already have – 29% have used TV streaming services more often, 30% report an increase in home working via collaboration applications and 35% are making more mobile phone calls.

Adrian Baschnonga, Global Lead Telecommunications Analyst, EY says: “We are seeing a step-change in demand for digital connectivity and content in the wake of coronavirus, as household behaviors adapt to these challenging times. Elevated levels of home working alongside a broadening range of online behaviours underline the importance of robust networks now and in the days, weeks and months to come.”

News quality is front of mind

The research also reveals that news quality is a priority among households at a time when news consumption is on the up: half of consumers have looked at news content more often since the crisis began. PSBs are benefitting from the desire for quality, with 40% of consumers relying more heavily on them for news content and 77% believing they are coping well with the crisis since it began.

Evolving customer support needs

The new wave of digital demand is also apparent in households’ evolving needs in terms of customer support: nearly half (46%) would be happy to use automated customer service and virtual assistants to ensure quick access. This comes at a time when many customer support functions are under strain – close to one quarter (24%) of consumers who have accessed a customer service centre during the crisis have had a poor experience. In addition, 23% of respondents are concerned that businesses may not be able to keep their personal data safe during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, broadband and mobile network providers are perceived to be coping well by 75% and 73% of consumers respectively, with only 7% and 5% voicing negative perceptions. However, other industry actors rank further down: only 54% think social media platforms are faring well while and just 45% have a positive view of print media performance.

Customer loyalty and network quality

This good news for telcos and TV providers is echoed by consumer indications of loyalty. 89% of households are unlikely to switch broadband provider and 93% are unlikely to switch mobile and pay TV provider due to the coronavirus situation. At the same time, more than three in four households think their current packages are sufficient to meet their needs during the crisis (77% for TV and streaming services, 79% for broadband packages and 81% for mobile packages).

When asked about specific actions their service providers should take to help with the COVID-19 situation, ensuring reliable and resilient performance ranked as the top consideration for broadband providers (42%) and mobile providers (40%). Concern around network underperformance is lower but still material; one-quarter are concerned about a reduction in the quality of their broadband service since the start of the crisis.

However, these considerations aren’t translating into higher demand for new forms of connectivity: 11% of households recognise the need to upgrade to full fibre broadband, while only 8% say the crisis has made purchasing 5G mobile more appealing.

Positive sentiment but more work to do

Praveen Shankar, EY’s Head of Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) for the UK & Ireland, says: “We may have not acknowledged enough the vital role telcos have been playing since the start of the COVID-19 situation. From ensuring that the digital infrastructure can keep the UK connected, to ensuring consumers can access critical online services by lifting data caps or adjusting their packaging and pricing – operators are indispensable.”

He continues: “Consumer sentiments towards TMT providers during the crisis are positive at this stage. But with rapidly changing demands in an increasingly volatile landscape, they need to continuously engage with their customers and respond with both agility and focus.”

The insights from the online survey of 2,000 UK consumers, conducted in March 2020, open the door into the nuances of today’s digital household, since the spread of COVID-19.

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