I wasn’t planning on writing this but two things changed my mind. First, as I was working on another article, I came across this quote;
Unfortunately, telecoms brands continue to struggle to earn the respect of consumers, with average reputation scores for providers brands right at the bottom of our sector league table. Consumers love their devices (brands such as Samsung and Apple get very good scores), but service providers are generally considered to have poor reputations. Scores are slightly lower than the previous year, and little evidence that the sector’s reputation is poised to improve significantly.Brand Finance Telecoms 150 2020
I saw that and thought, “well this is pretty interesting, maybe I’ll explore this subject later.” Shortly after that, a friend of mine tweeted the following;
I wonder which company would win the Most Hated Company award in Zimbabwe. No. 1 is given but what would the top 5 look like.
— Learnhard Sengere (@leosengere) July 14, 2020
Instantly, I knew which company he was referring to and that was the second and final sign I needed to get my pen out.
I think it’s fair to say that telecoms companies are hated. Locally, we have Econet which I’m sure is among the most hated companies in Zim at the moment. NetOne and Telecel are tolerated only because they are the only hope for dethroning the most hated company and not because they are necessarily offering a superior service.
In neighbouring South Africa, I remember watching on Twitter as DataMustFall trended almost half a decade ago and most of the tweets suggested that the South African populace wasn’t fond of their mobile network providers.
Outside of Africa, providers like AT&T and Verizon aren’t necessarily any more popular;
Rather than fuel vigorous competition and lower prices, the rise of these giant companies has meant that Americans are paying inflated costs for poor service.Sheelah Kolhatkar describing American mobile network companies
Ok, we’ve established that these companies are generally not popular. Why is that the case? Well, it’s a host of issues really;
Quality of service
The reason why consumers are not fond of these companies is simply because the service more often than not does not line up with the quality of service on offer.
The aforementioned Brand Finance 150 report cited this as a major point of concern;
Service quality appears to be a particular frustration for consumers. If this can be improved, and websites and apps made slicker (thus reducing reliance on customer service), satisfaction and thus loyalty should improve.
The business model disruption brought about by Over The Top services (WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook etc) has cut into telecoms operators margins significantly and as a result, the companies are investing the bare minimum into customer support to remain profitable.
Our sources of revenue are exhausted. Technology is changing everything . . . we have to build our own road forward.José María Álvarez-Pallete, chairman and chief executive of Telefónica
What happens when you try to call ZOL, TelOne, Econet customer support? More often than not you’re left frustrated because of the time it takes you to get assistance. At the time of writing, I have an Econet problem that’s 10 days old and hasn’t been resolved.
The customer felt connected to the iPhone but not to a particular network. The networks didn’t differentiate themselves.Chris Gent – former Vodafone chief executive
“I do what I want, cause I’m popping”
Because it costs so much to invest in the infrastructure necessary to become a player in the telecoms sector, there are naturally few players. This means consumers rarely have many other options to jump ship. By extension mobile network operators are not kept on their feet since the threat of users leaving is minimal.
This is why in one press conference earlier this a certain executive for an ISP mentioned that if customers were not happy with constant barrage of maintenance updates that were being undertaken they can jump ship.
The truth is consumers can rarely jump ship. Using Zim as an example, in most areas where ZOL offers fibre internet, TelOne offers ADSL/LTE instead and vice-versa. That means if you’re not a fan of ZOLs service of late, you can’t switch because your preferred technology isn’t offered in your area. Whilst this is great for consumer retention – it doesn’t make consumers happy. It’s like your kidnapper expecting you to be happy because he buys you pizza from time to time…
Will this change anytime soon?
Not necessarily. Being the issue is a business model issue it’s here to stay. The cost of investment in telecoms is high and because that’s the case the cost to access the service will continue to be high whilst customer support is the bare minimum, to make ends meet.
Of course, locally this will be more pronounced because our economy is on a seemingly unending journey down a bottomless pit – which means telcos have less wiggle room. But as a bald dude who turned into a meme once said, “tough times never last, only tough people”.