Telecoms: Customer Satisfaction Survey Springs Up Surprises

In a competitive market where businesses compete for customers, customer satisfaction is seen as a key differentiator and increasingly has become a key element of business strategy. The difference between those that simply survive in business and those that excel is keeping abreast of, and adjusting to the ever changing attitudes and expectations of the customers. There was a time when the choices available on where and who to deal with was limited. At the time, power belonged to the business owners, customers had nowhere else to go and thus customer satisfaction was not so important.

Today, customers are becoming increasingly more demanding, less tolerant and very critical when their expectations are not being met. At the moment, customers have a lot of choices on where and who to deal with. As a result, the power has now shifted to the customer. If they feel you cannot satisfy their expectations they will simply vote with their feet and deal with someone who will. It is one thing for a company to feel that it is rendering the best services to the customers, but it is entirely a different thing if the customers think the company has not done well. Interestingly, it is the customers’ perception or experience that will guarantee further patronage of services rendered by business owners.  Therefore, it is essential for businesses to effectively manage customer satisfaction.

Nigerian telecommunication subscribers seem to be one of the most dissatisfied set of customers. Telecoms operators are perceived as largely insensitive to quality of service issues. Service quality is commonly seen as a prerequisite and determinant of competitiveness for establishing and sustaining satisfying relationships with customers. Service quality is an important indicator of customer satisfaction. Attention to service quality can make an organisation different from other organisations and gain a lasting competitive advantage. Investigation reveals that eight out of every 10 subscribers often complain about poor services. The level of unreliable service has led many Nigerians to use more than one line as sales of dual SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) phones are on a record high.

Our Survey
A Customer Satisfaction (CS) survey carried out by MarkMonitor Nigeria Limited, publishers of FinIntell, attempts to delve into the psyche of some GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) subscribers and produced some surprises as well as some expected performances. Our Investigation which cuts across 12 States in the six geopolitical zones namely: Lagos, Ibadan, Edo, Imo, Enugu, Anambra, Rivers, Kano, Katsina,  Sokoto, Niger and Abuja for over six weeks showed that most of the leading service providers believed to have the best strategic advantage over other networks fell below consumer satisfaction in most indices measured. While we acknowledge that there are a wide range of factors that influence subscribers’ opinion, the survey regards each respondent’s perception.

The survey covered over 2,000 respondents’ opinions in six categories:

  • The Most Stable GSM/CDMA Network
  • The Best Responsive GSM/CDMA Call Centre
  • The Cheapest GSM/CDMA Network (calls)
  • The Best GSM/CDMA Provider of Broadband Services (speed)
  • The Best GSM/CDMA in Promo Innovations
  • The Best GSM/CDMA in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Summary of Findings
The GSM Service Providers: In the GSM subsector, MTN Nigeria emerged overall favourite, beating the remaining GSM service providers to be rated best in four out of six categories:

  • The Most Stable GSM Network: MTN (29.45%), Globacom (26.45%), Airtel (24.05%), Etisalat (20.05%).
  • The Best Responsive GSM Call Centre: MTN (29.57%), Airtel (28.08%), Etisalat (27.58%), Globacom (14.77%).
  • The Cheapest GSM Network (calls): Etisalat (43.70%), Airtel (26.80%), MTN (15.00%), Globacom (14.50%).
  • The Best GSM Provider of Broadband Services (speed): MTN (32.68%), Etisalat (31.68%), Globacom (23.77%), Airtel (11.87%).
  • The Best GSM in Promo Innovations: Etisalat (36.60%), MTN (26.20%), Globacom (23.80%), Airtel (13.40%).
  • The Best GSM in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): MTN (49.02%), Globacom (25.73%), Etisalat (15.32%), Airtel (9.93%).

The CDMA Service Providers: In the CDMA subsector, Starcomms was overall best, topping in four categories out of six:

  • The Most Stable CDMA Network: Starcomms (46.70%), Visafone (39.40%), Multilinks (9.70%), Zoom (4.20%).
  • The Best Responsive CDMA Call Centre: Starcomms (43.03%), Visafone (40.02%), Multilinks (12.73%), Zoom (4.22%).
  • The Cheapest CDMA Network (calls): Starcomms (40.00%), Visafone (35.50%), Multilinks (17.30%), Zoom (7.20%).
  • The Best CDMA Provider of Broadband Services (speed): Starcomms (49.10%), Visafone (32.30%), Multilinks (11.30%), Zoom (7.30%).
  • The Best CDMA in Promo Innovations: Visafone (49.60%), Starcomms (35.20%), Multilinks (9.10%), Zoom (6.10%).
  • The Best CDMA in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): Visafone (42.20%), Starcomms (33.20%), Multilinks (12.50%), Zoom (12.10%).

The Industry
The telecommunication sector is one of the major drivers of growth in the Nigeria economy, contributing 22.77% to the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country as at the second quarter of 2012. The sector currently has a total of 138 million connected mobile lines (103 million active lines) both on the GSM and the CDMA networks.

The law of competition which the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), regulator of the telecommunications industry, put in place to allow natural market forces promote business sustainability has contributed immensely to the growth in the sector.

Nevertheless, in spite of the growth being witnessed in the highly competitive sector, services rendered by the operators to the subscribers are far from being satisfactory.

Cases For The Shoddy Services
While the regulator seems to be battle ready in enforcing guidelines, the major issue of poor QoS to consumers who bear the cost for keeping the network running appears unchanged.

Poor QoS has been considered the albatross of the telecommunication industry and it is characterised by call drops, occasional service outage and network congestion, among others.

In the meantime, some factors have been identified by operators as reasons for the persistent poor QoS. They include:
Inadequate power supply –for instance, MTN generates up to 80% of its power requirements, expending billions of naira annually on diesel alone.
Lack of adequate security –leading to indiscriminate vandalisation of telecommunication facilities; and inability of companies to carry out routine maintenance and emergency repairs.
Incessant multiple regulations and taxations from different agencies and levels of government.
Delay in getting clearance for deploying infrastructures, especially base transceiver station (BTS) and Right of Way (RoW) for laying fibre optic cables.

Call Completion/Drop Rate Target
In January this year, the NCC sets 98% call completion rate for the GSM operators in the country, while it sets a 96% call completion rate for the CDMA operators. Call completion rate is the ratio of successfully completed calls to the total number of attempted calls.

Under the technical standard for the KPI report, the regulator also set two per cent call drop rate for both the GSM and CDMA companies. Call drop rate is the number of dropped calls divided by the total number of attempted calls.

The targets, according to the NCC, are part of the new QoS threshold that mobile operators must meet as contained in the new KPI guidelines.

Recent Sanction
The CS survey shows that all telecommunication operators must improve their services as the level of their services still function below 50% in all categories, including the top rated operators.

The unsatisfactory performances of these operators informed the recent sanction meted out to them by the NCC.  The communication regulator fined MTN, Etisalat, Airtel and Globacom a total sum of ₦1.17 billion for poor Quality of Services (QoS) rendered to their subscribers in the months of March and April 2012. In the cumulative fine, MTN and Etisalat paid the sum of ₦360 million each, Airtel paid ₦270 million, while Globacom paid the sum of ₦180 million.

The NCC had waived penalties for the months of January and February following pleas by the mobile operators to give them time to improve their networks after they were found operating below the specified thresholds.

The commission explained that the penalties became necessary this time as the four operators failed to meet the minimum standard of QoS again, including other Key Performance Indicators (KPI) set for them at the beginning of the year. Consequently, the NCC invoked paragraph 13 & Schedule 3 Paragraph 2 of its QoS Regulation 2012, which provides that any company which contravenes this provision will be liable to pay fine. The operators’ action also contravened Section 104 (a) of the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003.

New Guidelines To Ease Operations
Following several complaints from mobile operators, the Ministries of Works and that of Communications Technology, few weeks ago, agreed on new guidelines to ease the deployment of telecommunication infrastructure. The new guidelines encourage operators to share infrastructure to reduce cost of operations and eliminate multiple facilities dotting the landscape.

The Minister of Communication Technology, Omobola Johnson, and her counterpart in the Ministry of Works, Mike Onolememen, have assured operators that they will now be granted RoW permits within 30 calendar days after application. The RoW rules will guide laying of fibre cables on federal highways.

The Federal Government pegs the chargeable RoW access fee for laying of ICTSP ducts and cables at ₦145.00 per linear metre and ₦20.00 per linear metre as annual maintenance access fee, subject to periodic reviews at five year intervals or whenever compelling circumstances demand such reviews.

The long dispute between the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) and the NCC, which usually leads to the shutdown of some BTS in the country by NESREA, has also been resolved. This was achieved through the intervention of Mrs. Johnson and the Minister of Environment, Hajia Hadiza Mailafia. It has now been agreed that no base station would be sealed by any agency without reverting to both the NCC and the Ministry of Environment.

It is expected that the new guidelines by government and the perspectives of subscribers through the CS survey will give the mobile operators opportunity to improve their services to consumers.

There are high expectations already that the CDMA sector in Nigeria will be given a new lease of life following reports that Multi-Links, MTS and Starcomms have concluded merger arrangements that would give birth to a strong network operator called CAPCOM. About $200 million is said to have been injected by core investors into the new firm.

Our Recommendations

  • To overcome the quality of service conundrum, we advocate that the market be opened up for investment opportunity in telecoms infrastructure.
  • Nigerian telecommunications sector is relatively a virgin land for investment in fixed land lines which have not experience significant growth. Over 90% of telecommunication growth in Africa is from the mobile subsector.
  • Investment in the establishment of telecommunication Cable Company, especially the fibre optic cables, will be a worthwhile venture in the sector for data transmission and storage.
  • Stakeholders in the industry should do all things possible to promote and uplift CDMA technology among mobile subscribers to avoid total collapse of the subsector.
  • Mobile operators should redevelop and improve on value added service (VAS).
  • Operators should focus on aggressive penetration of the core Northern states and the underserved rural areas for expansion and increased subscribers’ base.
  • There are two billion people on the Internet out of the seven billion world population, and there are too few on the Internet in Africa. This means there is still room for investment in the broad band subsector of the industry in Africa.
  • More corrective measures should be put in place to checkmate telecoms lousy services and protection of consumers’ rights.