Africa Mobile Operators Customer Service Awareness Day: Data & Mobile Money - Afrinnovator
Last night I saw some interesting tweets about some very important questions around customer services issues with Safaricom Kenya. Salim lead the charge with his post about Mobile Money Statements- he makes excellent points about both the ease of access and the pricing of statements to access a year’s worth of M-PESA records. His claim is valid, whilst Salim has not disclosed why he needs such statements going so far back, I can think of many reasons why based on personal banking principles E.g. 1) Tax or 2) Prove Credit Worthiness to make a purchase or loan 3) Keep great personal financial records!
I’ll save some side discussions for another post about why these very reasons are why the likes of Gates Foundation are pouring millions into Africa to study the effects of mobile money on financial inclusion and why mobile money startups that offer some of these very features are so interesting..
Back to Salim’s complaint & M-PESA- Is there a logical reason why it costs so much to access these records, beyond the simple database query and data storage and cost to deliver a stament by e-mail? It is because M-PESA is actually operated by UK under Vodafone, Sagentia or IBM that charges Safaricom to use its database or at least makes it hard to? Is M-PESA infrastructure so antiquated it can’t perform these data query demands at scale? These might be one technical and cultural/business reasons . The other one and most likely reason could be simply poor customer service. Lets see Safaricom react- on this, I declare, Africa Mobile Operators Customer Service Awareness Day.
Next!…Safaricom Data Bundles
Erik Hersman released a post this morning about how Safaricom handles data bundles and their renewal. A lot of people also feel this pain inc. myself who in the last 3 months traveling in and out of Kenya and Tanzania and the need to stay connected on data is a real issue. People travel and they want to know how that their data bundles are handled correctly following an absense of a week or so. Safaricom seems to be trying to maximize data revenue by changing the expiry terms resulting in you losing data balance. The change itself without proper notification is bad enough a customer service issue yet alone the expiry terms. Transparency and fair rules is the need here.
Mobile Operators face cut throat competition, Safaricom is slowly losing marketshare to upstarts in Kenya. Meanwhile in Tanzania, it is more competitive that ever, Airtel, Vodacom and Tigo are neck and neck. The balance all these mobile operators have to strike is to maintain their Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) via innovation, new services (like mobile money!) and customer service vs maintaining the growth. We are reaching a point in time in Africa where saturation of mobile services is on the horizon, and “multi-siming” is a reality with very low switching costs to not only own multiple phones (I own 2 phones, inc. one 2 simcard samsung). I offer you these charts to highlight the challenges operators face. Basically- growth ARPU through services and data, not voice and text. And they should be doing it without robbing customers too.
In Tanzania, I noticed an even more serious problem with how they handle data bundles. First off, they have constantly been changing and its not even transparent. For instance Cheka Internet vs Bomba keywords to activate bundles has been really confusing of late with multiple expiry dates. However, the most serious offense by Vodacom is how they don’t alert you in time by SMS that you have low data and hence quickly transition from bundle to regular high pay per MB usage. You basically find out once your airtime has totally run out, up to $5-10 worth before you get the SMS saying “you are running low on data”- it should really read “haha- we just screwed you and took all your airtime!”. Contrast this with Airtel Tanzania, the service I use and am loyal to: each data bundle has an associated expiration date that is 1 month out and you can queue them up! For instance, right now I have 179MB left on the current and two 400MB bundles that follow after that. The network sends me an SMS well in advance (about 50MB left) when my bundle is low and all the other bundles status too in one tidy data SMS reciept (in fact I am amazed they can fit so much info into the SMS!). As a result, my usage is actually pretty consistent and I love Airtel over Vodacom for internet services. I probably spend about $20/month and have no plans to use any other network for mobile internet. I am a retained and happy customer, if Airtel did data roaming well, they might even make more from me during my travel if they kept their seamless across multiple country brand promise. Meanwhile, Vodacom- I only use it for M-PESA and where they have good reception over Airtel in rural areas of Tanzania. Internet- if I can avoid it….
Mobile Operators need to go from “Growth Mode” to “Retention/Loyalty Mode” fast and customer services is one area they have to beef up. Otherwise the likes of Erik and Salim, who I am pretty sure are on the high ARPU segment will start to defect to other competitive services. What is interesting in Kenya is that Safaricom’s dominance makes it hard to do this like the days of using Internet Explorer on Windows – they have a lock on mobile money with M-PESA. What makes Salim’s and Erik’s complaint so relevant is that they hit right at the heart of the growth areas of Mobile Operators in Africa (Mobile Money and Data)- should they not be focusing on improving those to retain high value customers who have an influence?
Do you have a a compaint? Make it be known on Africa Mobile Operators Customer Service Awareness Day!