KMPG has released a new report on customer service in the prepaid mobile industry worldwide that has found that providing excellent customer service across the board is the key to keeping customers loyal and reducing churn.
The company undertook a study of the global prepaid market — which it estimates is valued at US$770bn/year — to understand the customer service levels of mobile operators in different markets, finding that it varied enormously by market and by operator.
KPMG conducted the study across 106 providers of prepaid mobile services in 25 countries, including South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.
The findings are grouped into five customer experience areas, aimed at identifying the innovations, trends and better practices in customer experience across the retail, contact centre and online channels, as well as in the product offering and the top-up experience.
Tanja Ferreira, head of customer solutions at KPMG, says the most notable finding of the survey is that “managing the end-to-end customer experience is increasingly important to winning and retaining customers”. This is particularly true for emerging markets like South Africa, which is becoming more competitive making winning new customers far more costly than retaining existing customers.
KPMG found that African markets differ markedly from the rest of the world, in part because prepaid customers are so much more common on the continent than elsewhere in the world.
The survey found that most customers buy airtime or bundles using retailers, ATMs and online banking and seldom through operators’ own branded retail outlets.
Johan Smith, head of KPMG’s Africa telecommunications group, says that although operators in Africa “have found more innovative ways of taking Sims and top-ups to the market through informal channels, this does mean there are fewer direct points of contact at which to manage the complete customer experience”.
“The survey highlighted that customers also associate their experience of going through the informal channels with the brand of the mobile operator,” he says. “The onus is then on the operator to invest in broader programmes focused on driving consistency in the customer’s experience with the brand, its products and services, regardless of the channel being used.”
For instance, Smith says the majority of prepaid customers belong to lower income groups and those in rural areas may only ever interact with mobile operators’ brands through informal retail channels.
Furthermore, although consumers are able to contact operators using their call centres, Smith bemoans that lack of indication of how long a customer is likely to have to wait before speaking to an agent. He says there is also no “cross-selling” taking place, which he argues is a missed opportunity.
“Generally, the first interaction that a customer would have with an operator is when they register their Sim and often this is not a pleasant experience — we see long queuing, lack of product knowledge and complex pricing plans as some of the key challenges,” he says. “Additionally, many people in Africa carry multiple Sim cards, so when it comes to topping up they look at differentiators from a pricing and benefits perspective.
“Structuring deals or benefits that are more appealing, yet still competitive and profitable, only adds to the mix of complexities that operators in Africa are faced with in what seems like a never-ending quest of delivering a competitive customer experience and where operators should be differentiating themselves.”
The survey also found that interactive voice recording menu systems for most mobile operators are “too long” and require an excessive waiting time before being able to speak to a consultant.
“While this study benchmarked the prepaid market, the lessons gained are just as valid for all the other services,” says Smith. “Today, consumers don’t need a reason to leave an operator, but they do need a compelling reason to stay with one. As the number of available mobile product and service options increase, delivering a best-in-class customer experience becomes less straightforward. However, it undoubtedly needs to be a top priority to win and retain customers.” — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media