Cellphone industry not the worst in terms of customer service - but almost

26 May 2020 - 16:33
Customer satisfaction towards the big three cellphone networks in SA is lower than ever, says new research.
Customer satisfaction towards the big three cellphone networks in SA is lower than ever, says new research.
Image: 123RF/ Ion Chiosea

When it comes to customer satisfaction in South Africa, only one industry ranks lower than cellular network providers - medical schemes.

That was one of the key findings of the South African Customer Satisfaction Index for Mobile Telecommunications Services, conducted by customer experience firm Consulta during the second half of 2019.

The company surveyed just over 2,500 pre-paid, top-up and post-paid (contract) customers who made use of voice and data cellular products. Interestingly, across the board, contract customers were the most dissatisfied and had the most complaints.

“This suggests that these customers are given the least attention in terms of value, quality of products and relationship with their provider,” said Ineke Prinsloo, Consulta’s head of customer insights.

“This should be a red flag, given that contract clients are what we view as ‘bankable’ business for network operators.”

Once tied into a contract, she said, “it seems that there is a distinct level of neglect that creeps into the customer experience and service for these customers”.

“It is a dangerous position to be in, as these customers feel like hostages. They are unable to move their business or get their complaints resolved, so they will be the first to move their business when they can, and in their wake will do immeasurable damage to the brand reputation in terms of negative word of mouth.”

The survey results revealed that the networks - Vodacom, MTN and Cell C - were struggling to differentiate themselves on “unique, customer-centric needs and offerings”, instead preferring to compete directly with each other by seemingly targeting identical markets and segments.

“This battle is especially damaging to Cell C, which continues to trail behind Vodacom and MTN on customer satisfaction. It is difficult to see how Cell C will escape its current troubles without clearly understanding and appealing to a more niche portion of the market,” said Prinsloo.

The networks’ obsession with competing with each other on price and network coverage had come at the expense of customer satisfaction and loyalty, leaving the industry vulnerable to new entrants, substitutes and brand switching, as consumers are increasingly looking for alternatives. 

The good news for the big three networks is that all of them recorded improvements in satisfaction since the 2018 measures, but the bad news is that customer expectations have consistently declined over a four-year period. 

“This is cause for concern as declines in customer expectations have been proven to foreshadow inevitable drops in perceived quality, value and ultimately overall satisfaction,” said Prinsloo.

Mobile data continues to remain a contentious issue, with customers frequently complaining about their respective network’s data network quality and giving particularly low perceived value ratings (less than 70 for each network). 

“This, coupled with a lack of differentiation, gives new players an opportunity to make inroads and attract customers who are looking for a more customer-centric offering that is better suited to their needs.” 

The incidence of consumer complaints about the industry is 32% - “exceptionally high” compared to other industries, said Prinsloo. “Ideally, complaints should be below 10%.”

MTN’s complaint incidence is the lowest in the industry at 30.3%, an improvement on the previous year’s score of 33.4%. The company also has the highest complaint resolution rate at 69.1%. Vodacom has the highest complaint incidence across the industry at 34.4%, followed by Cell C at 31.9%. 

“In terms of complaint resolution, Vodacom scores 58.4 and given that incidence is 34.4%, this suggests that a large portion of customer complaints are being poorly resolved,” said Prinsloo.

Meanwhile, customers of cellular service provider Rain have complained of low speeds and intermittent connectivity on their 5G packages in recent weeks.

“It’s been this way for the past month,” tweeted Wasim D.

“Support acknowledged network issues exist, but no talk of discounts for woeful network performance. Better off cancelling and waiting for stability on their network. Useless to brag about affordability when service is c**p.”

Rain CEO Willem Roos told TimesLIVE that the company had experienced “some specific issues” on its 5G network, “which we have clearly acknowledged”.

“We have also experienced high volumes, which has impacted our customer service … but we have made good progress in resolving these issues.”

And it’s a “yes” to refunds, added Roos.

“Rain would certainly not hesitate to refund any customer who is unhappy with our service and where we cannot remedy the problem.”

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler.


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