In the days of the gladiators in the colosseums of the ancient Rome, it is a sin to floor your opponent and not strike him dead to the euphoric noise of the spectators. To the crowd, it’s entertainment; but to the tangling duo or groups in the arena, each appearance is a fight for life. In the more open battles of the old, capturing slaves as spoils of war was the fashion – the more the captives, the more the net worth and influence of the victorious side. The slaves may keep their identities, but any relationship to their land is only in memory unless of course there is a counter attack or a rescue mission. What a crazy world of war!
In the world of commerce however, it has always been a war to outsell competition through better volume or an outright “hijack” of others’ customers. It’s a dog eats dog world! But to me, it becomes more embarrassing when each time a customer intends to engage in a transaction he must pass by his former dealer, look him in the eye and shouts to the ears of whoever: “I used to be ABC’s customer, now I’m with XYZ”! And that is what mobile number portability – about to come live in the Nigerian telecoms space – is.
Mobile Number portability (MNP) is a service that enables subscribers to switch to another operator (for whatever reason) for telecoms service but still retaining the mobile number he/she is known with. It resembles the roaming service, but here the subscriber has nothing again to do with his erstwhile provider – no customer care contact, no recharges, no real call routing – he’s now “a spoil of war”. Of course, there has always been churn in the industry, but then the discontented subscriber(s) are still counted as part of the subscriber base of the losing vendor; and that is one of the issues Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) wants to reduce – multiple lines ownership. The ultimate objective anyway, is to push the operators to deliver excellent quality of service to their teeming subscribers.
When this concept was introduced to us – the G8 – in a training ten years ago; we contended that it might not likely take off in Nigeria not just because we were concerned of the political will or anti-competition spirit, but because we were looking at the technical implementation from the so called indirect routing perspective – the one once adopted by the UK regulator where calls to a ported subscriber must pass through the donor operator – an expensive and inefficient approach. Over the time, we have come to appreciate the direct routing approach where an independent vendor does the back end job of ported subscribers administration. It’s the approach chosen by the NCC as stated in the Commission’s MNP framework of March 2012. It’s less expensive, more efficient, scalable and should be less fraud prone.
In a market of 109m active lines, with MTN alone having 43% of the market share, Globacom having 22%, Airtel with 20% and Etisalat taking the remaining 14% as at December 2012 (data from NCC); you can imagine how hard fought the war must be. How do they retain their own subscribers, and of course, get more from others?
- Listen more: It now becomes more imperative for operators to give some listening ears to their subscribers in order for them to appreciate what the customers are contending with as per service. Feedback posts, and the resolve to follow through is now a must. The feedback from subscribers should not be seen as ‘usual’ complaints; when you listen well, you are likely going to see the gold in the rants.
- Communicate more: This is likely the greatest weapon available to each of the operators in the ensuing war. Even though subscribers desire 100% availability and hitch-free quality of service, they know that machines handle the back end transactions of switching and routing and as such are likely to fail anytime. Each system failure will, and should, not drive subscribers across the competition; but that is only when there is honest communication between the operator and the customers. Ignoring the customer base when there are issues show how much value the operator place on them; and of course the subscriber will also like to show how much he values the operator. Ironically, as NCC stipulates, the operator can not lobby the subscriber back once he initiates the porting process, and the customer cannot come back until after 90 days of “enjoying” the other side.
- Better customer service strategy: Closely related to the issue of communication is that of customer service. We have seen subscribers churning just because customer service could not explain or justify some 5 kobo deductions on their blackberry service, they felt the arrangement was some salami approach on their credit balance. Would you blame them? Empathy, knowledge of the products and systems, readiness to help, and good manners are what subscribers expect when they dial customer service.
- Better value added service (VAS) products: This may endear the subscribers more to their brands and make it a bit difficult to switch even when they have the urge. Products with good use cases and not just business cases will go a long way to retain subscribers. The new Glo’s Super-trader, MTN’s InfoSearch and Etisalat’s EasyAdz products are potential winners.
- Revamp technical quality of service: Without doubt, the readiness of each of the operator to put real life in their QoS units will win them some good points in the war. Proper optimization of both radio and core part of the network will give some assurance of backline solidity. Workable business continuity and disaster recovery plans should give some comfort. Ignore these and and see your cards falling from behind.
Since none of the operators has any choice than to enter the colosseum of portability; their strategy may not be about winning the war, but it must be about not losing it. Else……….
Share your thoughts on the number portability issue and paths operators may follow.