Africa mobile operators strategy shifts to subscribers
Officially, Africa has the second largest mobile phone usage in the world after Asia and the growth seem unstoppable bearing in mind only 30% of continent population owns mobile phones. Over the past two years, mobile network operators in sub Saharan Africa immediate focus is to improve customer service that has been in dire state. This has become the mantra in telecommunications industry in Africa although there is plenty of room for improvement. Complaints to the telecommunications regulators have ballooned in recent years as the complexity of products has grown and at the same time customer expectations have risen. In Tanzania two years ago, Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority came under heavy criticism due to poor network coverage and congestion. Luckily that public ire has bore fruits as the situation has dramatically improved. In some west Africa and Southern African countries governments have been forced to intervene. Major operators, hands on hearts, have sworn to do better. Definitely Telco’s are not doing this as an act of charity. Most of them have learned the hard way that bad customer service is expensive to provide. This has resulted to bad volumes within the business like complaints that raise cost and promotes expensive customer churn. A PR specialist told me recently that what is bad for customers is bad for the telecom operators as well.
So why haven’t Africa mobile network operators already achieved the win-win outcome of better customer service? There are plenty of reasons. Many operators’ legacy IT systems just weren’t designed to cope with the rapidly changing multi-product nature of the modern telecommunications business and this is prominently evident in Kenya where Safaricom, the leading network operator risks losing operating license after Communication Commission of Kenya made it clear that without improvements on its system the regulator will not renew the license that expires around European summer next year and similar challenges are common in other countries. Problems worsen where stove-piped business units fragment the operators’ view of the customer and add complexity to the task of customer management like has been the case with network operator in Kenya. Most of mobile phone operators in Africa still don’t fully know what data they have, where it is, or how to get it to front-line customer service. Those that do, they often don’t have the business processes to use this information to respond to customer needs in real time.
Me think that solving these problems requires a multi-pronged strategy of IT investment and business re-engineering that is, unsurprisingly, hard to execute. This has to be done while the business is running at full tilt, without disrupting the services the business provides. By working with different executives in Africa’s telecom industry, I have gained insights into the challenges facing network operators in the continent of 1 billion people, one of the fastest growing market globally. Customer service has to be pre occupations to any management that want to thrive in business although it takes time for significant and quantifiable change to flow through. To tackle the problem, Africa telecoms strategies should focus on three main channels namely the simplification, customer service improvement, and cost savings all related. Africa mobile operators should know that bad volumes in the company are drivers of cost, and are often caused by poorly designed processes. It is very clear that there are no silver bullets where attention could be focused and most mobile network operators in African countries are going through a painstaking process of process re-engineering and IT investment. Such improvements are off a base of poor customer service and a lot of work remains that need to be accomplished. Where there’s muck there’s brass and if Africa mobile network operators are to succeed in cleaning up their customer service act, then African mobile users will be winners as well.