South Africa’s telecoms companies face significant consumer sentiment challenges

6th June 2024

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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The latest South African Telecommunications Sentiment Index, undertaken by PwC South Africa in collaboration with DataEQ, has revealed that the local telecommunications industry continues to face significant challenges related to consumer sentiment.

An assessment of 1.62-million public mentions about Cell C, MTN, rain, Telkom and Vodacom from January 1 to December 31, 2023, found that, with a negative Net Sentiment score of -18.8%, local consumer sentiment toward telecommunications service providers lags other industries such as banking, insurance and retail.

The yearly index shows that operational sentiment is negative across the board, signalling an industrywide issue with crucial business activities such as customer service and network availability, said PwC Africa telecommunications leader Elmo Hildebrand.

“While complaints over network quality are often impacted by external factors like loadshedding, a significant share of negative customer sentiment is being driven by telecommunications companies’ inability to meet basic customer service needs.”

Customer service, accounting for 27.7% of all industry conversation, had a negative sentiment of -87.7% in 2023, as customers were left dissatisfied by a lack of efficient feedback and issue resolution, particularly when contacting call centres.

A communication channel analysis points to a key channel dependency on the traditional service model, explained DataEQ telecoms lead Liska Kloppers, noting that call centres remained the most complained about channel.

This suggests that, despite the growing availability of digital channels, telecommunications companies continue to rely heavily on telephonic support, which is proving inadequate with customers turning to social media channels as an alternate to resolve their issues.

To better meet customer demands, empower employees and reduce total costs to serve and grow revenue, Hildebrand said that providers should adopt AI-powered solutions and services.

This will inlock an opportunity to reduce the strain on these channels and assist in efficiently resolving large volumes of low-touch queries and streamlining the back-office operations, such as billing, through hyper-automation to reduce manual intervention and rework.

These interventions will free up service agents to focus on inquiries and complaints that require a human touch, leading to more efficient and effective customer service, he said.

Meanwhile, the index found that Rain emerged as the sole provider with a net positive score, unanimously taking the top spot in both operational and reputational Net Sentiment.

“Engaging campaigns played an important role in this feat, helping boost rain’s Net Sentiment by more than 16 percentage points,” the South African Telecommunications Sentiment Index noted.

Hildebrand also pointed to the varying performance of the financial services offered by telecommunications groups, with mobile money driving positive interest and insurance driving risk and complaints.

Overall, financial services remain a key area for growth and should be a future focus for telecommunications companies.

According to the index, the industry was flooded with campaigns which contributed to the positivity, with campaigns such as #JustMoMoIt, #DoMore and #AllYouNeedIsMoMo from MTN Momo particularly popular.

“Telecommunications companies are doing their bit to solve digital and financial inclusion, and it is clear that customers respond well when their most pressing problems are solved,” he added.

As the industry forges ahead, telecommunications companies need to place a keen focus on closing the customer sentiment gap, said PwC Africa Telecommunications, Media and Technology industry leader Nana Madikane.

“As telecommunications industry leaders navigate this age of continuous reconfiguration and reinvention, they need to address a multitude of strategic areas vying for their focus. And in this vein, it is key to remember who is at the heart of their future business successes: the customer.”

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter



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