EE customers now have to pay for the privilege of getting to the front of the phone queue to speak to customer services, or face a potentially long wait on the line.
The telecoms provider, which was founded in 2010 through the merging of Orange and T-Mobile, has begun asking EE, Orange and T-Mobile pay monthly and Sim-only customers who phone to speak to customer services whether or not they'd like to pay 50p/call to be put to the front of the queue.
It says on its website the queue jump initiative is "ideal if you're in a hurry", but it may leave those who choose not to pay frustrated by longer waiting times (see our Cheap Mobiles guide to compare, switch and get cashback).
The controversial move, which was introduced on 6 August, came into force on the same day the provider also began charging Sim-only customers who joined after 6 August, 25p/call to speak to customer services.
O2, Three Mobile, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone all confirmed to MoneySavingExpert.com they don't have a paid-for queue jump service, neither do they charge Sim-only customers to call customer services if they do so via their network's special dialling code from their handset.
'Prompt customer service should be standard'
MoneySavingExpert.com's consumer expert, Steve Nowottny, says: "Mobile phone companies should be offering prompt customer service as standard, rather than acting as though it's a luxury they can charge extra for. Unfortunately many customers in a hurry may will now fear they're going to have to wait even longer unless they pay to jump the queue.
"Ultimately, this may come back to bite EE – some customers have already told us they plan to switch provider. EE should be focusing on improving its call-handling and answering the phone quicker rather than coming up with new ways to charge customers extra for the privilege."
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How much does it cost to call customer services?
When MoneySavingExpert.com asked the five biggest mobile providers how much it costs to call their respective customer services, it also became apparent that EE is the only provider to charge its pay monthly and Sim-only customers for calling outside of its normal working hours.
EE, Orange and T-Mobile customers are charged 50p/call for calls made after 8pm on weekdays and after 6pm on weekends.
The table below shows how much each provider charges when you dial its customer services code from your handset. Calls made to customer services using the full phone number may incur different costs, so check what these are before dialling.
|EE (i)||Standard hours: Free, 50p/call after.||25p/call.||Standard hours: Free for pre-6 August joiners, 25p/call for post-6 August joiners. 50p/call after.|
|O2||Free.||Free for 'Big Bundle' customers, 25p/call for everyone else.||Free.|
|Orange (i)||Standard hours: Free, 50p/call after.||Free.||Standard hours: Free for pre-6 August joiners, 25p/call for post-6 August joiners. 50p/call after.|
|T-Mobile (i)||Standard hours: Free, 50p/call after.||25p/call.||Standard hours: Free for pre-6 August joiners, 25p/call for post-6 August joiners. 50p/call after.|
|EE's standard hours: 8am-8pm weekdays, until 6pm weekends. Non-standard hours: 8pm-10pm weekdays, 6pm-8pm weekends. (ii) Charge only applied if they speak to an advisor.|
What does EE say?
"EE's goal is to set the highest standard for customer service in the telecoms sector. To support that ambition we're investing significantly in our retail stores, contact centres and account management websites and apps.
"We've already committed to returning over 1,000 roles to the UK from overseas call centres, and have already opened two new UK centres. To contribute to this and other investments in service we have introduced some small charges for certain customer services."
Additional reporting by Nick Durrant.