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Losing Customer Loyalty: Lessons from MTN

My second year of teaching in Johannesburg was 1998. I was soon to discover a passion for business, and have the fire of positive psychology lit deep inside. I was, however, first approached to drive a stressed colleague to a place of recuperation, in Ficksburg, and was given the school’s mobile phone for the journey. It was an Ericsson, and that was my first experience with mobile technology. I was sold on it instantly and within 6 months signed my first contract, securing my own Ericsson. I chose MTN, because their network and service seemed a cut above the Vodacom offering, and their campaign connected with me.

Within a short period of time, innovation and competition between the service providers caused voicemail to become a free service. It wasn’t long until I married my delightful wife, and she joined me on MTN prepaid, using my previous phone. My first upgrade phone was a Nokia 3210, as I recall. It infuriated me at first, with its predictive text (T9), but was the beginning of a revolution I was soon pleased to be part of. And MTN offered the best deals to enable me to stay current and in touch. SMSes became communication currency, and as I began consulting, business travel was therefore less expensive. The next Nokia&(Sony)Ericsson models in our family were forgettable, but decent, culminating in a P1i. These came with ‘Please call me’ innovation, along with bundled airtime & smses. The network was thriving, and my calls to 808 were answered swiftly and seamlessly. Any concerns were sent through to Retentions, who had additional muscle to resolve issues, and did so effectively. When MTN bought a stake in Irancell in the late 00’s, I found myself in Tehran, training their Customer Care Managers for their first Call Centre. The team was exceptional, and the results spoke for themselves. How the Mighty have Fallen!

Fast forward to 2011 – still with MTN – and Samsung’s Galaxy S2 shook my world, finally competing with the ground-breaking iPhone. With my business running on Google Apps, Android was a natural choice, but changes at MTN saw contracts change, though these included data bundles, the new social currency. Calls were occasionally dropped, but it wasn’t too serious. Both my wife and I had MTN contracts. And 2013 was the dawn of the S4…and the end of my wife’s association with the brand. She ported to another network, after Retentions were unable to convince her to stay. An attempt to have MTN broadband at home was also aborted, but I was still coping with the S4,& even added a tablet through MTN. It is now 2015, and the launch of the S6 has come and gone, along with my loyalty. I pre-ordered an S6 Edge, though we would be going away the day after its launch, surely not an issue? After numerous calls to the call centre(unanswered -“we are experiencing high call volumes”), I resigned myself to waiting. Twitter failed to deliver any traction, nor did Hello Peter, usually a forum brands care about. One laughable Direct Message(DM) from @MTNzaservice on Twitter even asked if I had been sorted out (No)…and that was the last I heard from them!When Cricket South Africa made similar faux pas, they resolved these quickly, and received their due accolades. MTN clearly doesn’t care what the public think, or need, from them. They do seem to now focus on territories north of our borders. How long until these lands experience how capitalist at the expense of service this organisation has become? If my experience in Rwanda last month is anything to go on, it won’t be very long. Brands who actually service their customers and listen to their concerns will be eating MTN’s lunch, so to speak.

Though eligible for an upgrade since April, I am now waiting for my contract to expire, so that I can port to another service provider, though the grass appears no greener elsewhere. I hold out hope that perhaps MTN can regain its soul, for it is worth saving. I have lost faith, for now. Perhaps FNB’s new VNO will provide sufficient access beyond data, with a reasonable level of customer care? Ironically, Telkom, once the hated parastatal behemoth to be avoided, is wooing customers through…service. Titanic apparently received 6 warnings of imminent danger, and chose to ignore these, believing she was “unsinkable”. But the “unsinkable” happened. Ultimately, organisations that ignore their customers are not sustainable.

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