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It’s all about the PR, Buddie!

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This is a Guest Post and does not necessarily reflect the thoughts and opinions of Techzim. We have a strong filtering process of what makes it to our blog and are confident that you’ll enjoy the article below.

Ostrich Can't hear you
credit: enriquedans.com

Last night, I was taken aback by the way that Econet Wireless was handling, or rather not handling, its very serious service delivery crisis. Since Saturday evening, subscribers have been expressing frustration and anger at the strange and unexplained disappearance of their airtime. From the people I have spoken to, people who had topped up their accounts with as much as $5 found, upon trying to make calls, that their balances were down to $0.

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Kapoof! Just like that!

I was not personally affected by the issue, but I know enough people who have been seething since then, uncertain about where or how their hard-earned money disappeared – and more importantly, having no access to Econet staff for verification of what exactly had gone wrong.

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I cannot confirm anything from the hotline or telephone customer care side of things, but I did try the 111 customer service line and was cut off two minutes into the call because there wasn’t an available representative to handle my issue. I would gladly have held the line for longer, but alas, was not allowed to do so and was unceremoniously cut off.

From a social media perspective, subscribers were left without any sort of communiqué about this crisis for almost 24 hours as they took to the mobile service provider’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to vent their frustrations.  Econet has 185,000+ Facebook and 3,500+ Twitter followers, which is by no means a small feat.

All one has to do to get a sense of the magnitude of people’s frustrations is to sift through some of the comments on offer from Econet’s page;

“Guys honestly what u dngaint fair if we dnt get our airtime refunds trust me u gnaluz sum valued customers ,haaaamsadaro so tipeimaridzedumhani”

“An apology from econet is insufficient for my disapeared airtime, i don’t need an apology i need my airtime.”

“I for one am dissapointed especially yesterday’s service.$3 of my etym was chowed away without any explanation from your service.Refund our money back….that was absolute robbery.”

Similar sentiments were shared and directed at Econet’s Twitter account, although in lower volumes.

The fact that no Econet representatives were present on any of the company’s social media platforms at any point in time to allay customers’ fears was disastrous and conveys a lack of concern for clients’ emotions. Moreso, it builds a case for Econet’s competitors, particularly Telecel which has been steadily building its market share across Zimbabwe for the past couple of years. No doubt, Econet still enjoys the lion’s share of customers across all three mobile phone service providers with figures of over 8 million subscribers; Telecel is reported to have a subscription base of 2.5 million. With Econet reaching something of a plateau in market gains, Telecel’s resurgence (the company added 1 million subscribers last year) represents very real competition for the mobile giant which had gone unchallenged for about half a decade, the most recent challenge to its market leadership (before Telecel’s resurgence) being that mounted by NetOne up until the mid-2000s.

Last night, Econet finally broke its silence and posted an apology to its customers, asking them to bear with the company as engineers worked to resolve the issue. Since then, there hasn’t been any further news and interaction with customers who, at the time of writing this article had posted over 2,700 comments in response to Econet’s communication. Posts are also still streaming in on the page’s wall.

From a technical perspective, this is a major crisis for Econet. But from a public relations (PR) perspective, it is a catastrophe. One of the golden rules of PR – especially for a company as significant as Econet – is to always report your own bad news. The act of being proactive in reaching out to clients at a time when they need the greatest reassurance that their concerns are being met is a basic tenet of a sound communication strategy which places a premium on the public relations function of a company.

And as we move more into the social media realm, there is no better channel (apart from services that can be rendered via the mobile phone itself, eg. bulk SMS) through which to disseminate information and show a substantive presence than to have some visibility on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

It is complacency that many start ups and companies in Zimbabwe must guard against. It is a given that our sectors are not really as competitive as they should be; some have been captured by singular entities even.  But be that as it may, complacency must never override the pursuit of excellence and quality customer care, for it is the people – and their interests – who are serviced by the various products that are out there. And people, when offered options, can abandon those services.

The onus too is on the competition to be seen with its hands up and ready to be counted.

I feel too that Telecel missed a big trick by failing to intervene during Econet’s silence, as that was a golden opportunity for the company to push its products to a highly dissatisfied Econet clientele via social media. I have often seen Telecel’s social media team find witty and fun ways to engage in product placement during events like #ComedyThursday on Twitter.  One man’s crisis is another’s opportunity – and this was most definitely an opportunity for Telecel to ride of the back of Econet’s misfortune.

Lastly, I don’t think that Econet – even with its deeply religious foundations can still afford a holiday, even if it is Easter Sunday, a very important date in the Christian calendar. Extending the analogy of Easter and the events thereof, some subscribers even took to renaming Econet’s Buddie brand ‘Judas’ for the perceived betrayal they suffered.

I, as well as many other customers received the Econet SMSes informing us that the company would work shortened hours during Easter with the exception of Easter Sunday.

Sadly, crises don’t avoid holidays.

And sometimes, that lesson is learnt the hard way.

This guest post was authored by Fungai Machirori. Fungai is a journalist, blogger, poet and writer. She is also the Founder and Managing Editor of Her Zimbabwe.


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29 thoughts on “It’s all about the PR, Buddie!

  1. And you wonder where Makandiwa and Angel’s “miracle airtime” come from… next week it will be your bank accounts missing money and later on…alas more “miracle money”.

  2. Please find the funds to hire this guest author! I could get used to this quality of writing…

  3. Very good perspective but let me just say there is nothing religious about Econet, those roots in religious you mentioned are meant to deceive people.

    Once you open a bizness which is after profit, then your should not claim any christian values because you are after profiting from whatever means available and thus what econet is good at.

    l dream of one day when we have proper regulator who have iron teeth and know how to use them plus a ministry which doesnt run to every available hotel booking reserved for it.

    A long time ago Potraz told us that they have aquired state-of-the-art qos machines to monitor things like this, what are they doing with their toys?

    1. Potraz is also a business man, in fact all regulatory authorities in Zimbabwe actually record profits at year end!!! Do the digging u will see how awkward it is, especially for a country with barely enough infrastructure to sustain its own population…

  4. I’ve come to the conclusion that econet is good at ripping off people and better at getting away with it, you wonder how and why the DPM is fond of the company and defends it. Losing money is never a good thing losing your customers trust is even worse…

  5. Not refunding the subscription and not responding to calls. ECONET INSPIRED TO RIP YOUR WORLD

  6. As a former Econet employee, I feel for those who have to deal with customs. They need to respond fast, as they should, but the bureaucracy you need to cut thru just to get a simple message out would shock many of you. Looks easy from the inside, but believe me, it’s not easy for those guys. They need to ease the leash they have on employees, allow them to express themselves more, within (wider) guidelines of course.

  7. I feel that Econet has long taken people for granted. Manje they have been caught napping by Telecel and a lot of us former Econet faithfuls are migrating. I also find their customer service very difficult to get through most times. Econet’s communication and PR depts. need to up their game and quickly. You have made your millions but you stay on top by being good to your clients.

  8. Not refunding the subscribers and not responding to calls. ECONET INSPIRED TO RIP YOUR WORLD

  9. Its so surprising to find that the world we are living in does not leave room error and patience.
    Where are we heading really, i hope all you guys your phones, computers, fridges and stoves never fail.

    1. For a company making so many million, yes i do expect them to put money back into their systems to make sure they are robust, but its not about that. Its about failing to acknowledge a problem and leaving customers feeling robbed. Im sure if econet had responded and apologized quick, most people would have been patient.

  10. As long as we only complain and not take action nothing will ever happen. People complain about terrible service, exorbitant tarrifs and all by Econet but still buy airtime, continue using the service and complaining all the way. Until they start seeing their subscriber base dropping, nothing will ever be done. They just don’t see the competition. They are like mahwindi they know no-matter how much they are hated commuters will always board their kombis.

  11. Nice article Fungai!!

    By the way Telecel did take advantage of Econet’s demise, at least that what I gathered from twitter last night… They were witty enough not to attack Econet directly though just RT-ing all the nasty one, LMAO!

    Hopefully Econet comes back with a vengeance and run a promo to appease the masses, for now I will stay loyal to Econet mainly because my number is ancient…as old as me and I can’t afford to start dishing out a new number again…

    1. Thanks for that. You say they were taking advantage last night… I wrote the article on Monday and by that time, Sunday had gone pretty much to waste. That was the moment for Telecel to go in for the jugular. Reactive, rather than proactive, social media doesn’t quite do the job.

  12. I love attacking the animal called Econet because of their heartlessness, but i think the guys here did a good job, lets just drop their lines (Ini rangu asi handirase)

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