When I first set foot in the vibrant city (8 to 11 million inhabitants depending whom you ask) of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2004, I immediately realised I was in for a challenge. As newly appointed Customer Care Director I knew a lot about my business and a lot about mobile telecoms, but not about how this works in this massive country in Africa.
After all my work related travels across Europe, Middle East and Africa I now believe that what customers want from a telecoms operator is the same no matter where they are. With this short story I like to share with you what I believe is the number 1 need of any telecoms customer.
To get to know the working terrain I travelled across the country and even reached the most difficult to reach places, hidden behind thick forests. One day, as we were driving through one of the villages that recently got network coverage, I saw this man standing there, under one of our (faded by the always burning sun) umbrella’s on a hill, holding his phone up in the air, stretching his arm as high as he possibly could. When walking up to him, I noticed he was actually having a conversation on the phone with someone. The person shouting on the other side of the line and him shouting back to cross the arms-length distance between him and the phone he held in his hand. This man was seeking a place where he could communicate, a place where our network provided coverage so he could talk to his family member in a distant city.
Now I am based in the UAE. Normally, I follow the same route every day and I drive through the same places, sometimes, even multiple times a day. Mostly, I am on the phone, handling a business call or at the end of the day a personal call with a friend or with family. Every time, at the same spot, my conversation gets cut off.
Whether it is 2004 or 2014, whether you are in the land of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, or in the magical city of Dubai, the first and foremost expectation of that man on the hill and me in my Mini is exactly the same: we want to be able to communicate on our mobile device.
So the same principles apply. The voice and data networks are the heart of the operator’s business. It is the reason for existence. Customers want access to a reliable fast network wherever they are, whenever they need it.
There is a lot of great work going on in the area of Customer Experience Management. As an operator, it just depends to whom you talk what the answer is to the question: “What is Customer Experience Management?” When speaking with a technology vendor, sure it is about new technology: providing more insights in customer behaviour or automating processes or location based services etc. When speaking with Marketing Consultants, it is about Customer Intimacy, CRM, Loyalty programs, Customer Value Development, segmentation and innovation. When speaking with strategy consultants it is about levers to pull, positioning, competitor analysis, KPI’s to measure, insights in behaviours. The list goes on. All these perspectives are true, valid and useful; it just depends from which angle you approach it.
As management of an operator, it is not easy to make the right decisions for your business. To me Customer Experience is about fulfilling the fundamental needs of potential and existing customers. Access to a reliable network wherever whenever, is the first.
Inge Nieuwenhuis is consultant at Inque Business Consultancy.