It’s not often the CEO of a JSE-listed company walks onto a stage in front of analysts and investors dressed in jeans and a button up shirt with no tie or jacket. But that’s exactly what Pieter Uys did on Monday morning at Vodacom’s annual results presentation.
Even Vodacom’s chief financial officer, Rob Shuter, was dressed in jeans. And we all know how conservative bean counters tend to be.
“We have taken the last six months to turn the company on its head. It’s a new shirt and new colour and let me tell you the colour is the tip of the iceberg,” Uys told the audience.
His presentation began with a light-hearted image of a red heart with a smiley face, again a rare sight on corporate PowerPoint slides.
Uys says he wants to give the company a new focus and turn its attention to customer service and his choice of dress was a statement that he wants to give the 17-year-old Vodacom a younger and edgier feel.
He has moved out of his plush office into an open-plan environment in what he describes as part of a plan to flatten the management structure.
“I have set up three television screens in the office that show all of our customer care centres and I can watch and make sure that everything is running smoothly,” he says.
He relates a recent incident where he saw on the screen that one of the centres had a long queue of people. He called the manager to find out what was going on. “It worked. The queue disappeared,” he laughs.
Vodacom is facing more competition than ever thanks to the launch by Telkom of 8ta, SA’s fourth mobile operator, and a reinvigorated Cell C.
Uys used Monday’s presentation to reveal Vodacom’s key strategic focus areas for the year ahead. Almost all of them involve an increased focus on customer service. Astonishingly, he gave out his e-mail address during his talk, encouraging customers to e-mail him directly with their concerns.
The first area of focus is improving the experience for customers — from fault reporting to network quality, and from in-store service to the speed of response to queries.
The second involves driving up the number of Internet users on its network. Uys says Vodacom is investing R7,7bn in network infrastructure this year, a 25% increase on last year. It’s working with its parent, the UK’s Vodafone, to drive down the cost of smartphone devices in a bid to get more people online.
The third area of focus is on employees. Once a month, they will be tasked with working in the call centre or at a Vodacom retail outlet so they can be in direct contact with subscribers. It is also investing in training for all staff.
It’s also streamlining costs and strengthening partnerships with government, vendors and retailers.
Vodacom in SA is as strong as ever, despite a three percentage point decline in its market share, which Uys ascribes to a mass customer deletion in April last year. “We had to delete 3,5m customers off the network because we discovered that the Sim cards were not active. They were being kept alive through the call-forwarding function and generating revenue, but no one was ever receiving those calls and messages,” he says.
Vodacom has fewer customers listed on its SA books than it did in 2009, but Uys says net additions over last year are still up by 1%.
The group’s average revenue per user in SA is still growing. SA subscribers now pay on average R157/month (from R132 previously), with prepaid subscribers averaging R87/month (up from R70) and contract customers R404 (down from R447).
As competition in SA’s mobile market intensifies, Vodacom is sending a clear message: in the growing war for subscribers, it’s ready to do battle. — Candice Jones, TechCentral