Enhancing Customer Service in South African Telecom

Heydon Hall, Chief Information Officer at DFA,

In today’s interconnected world, the South African telecommunications sector finds itself at a crossroads. According to a recent survey by PwC, it’s evident that customers are increasingly dissatisfied with the level of service provided by telcos. In 2022, a staggering 90% of South African telco customers expressed their discontent, positioning telcos as the second-worst performing sector in terms of sentiment.

The consequences of these negative experiences are significant. More than 55% of respondents in the survey indicated that they would cease purchasing from a brand, regardless of the name behind it, if they encountered a series of negative experiences. This is a sobering fact for an industry that relies heavily on customer loyalty. Moreover, 32% of respondents stated that they would switch to a different brand if their experience proved inconsistent.

Heydon Hall, the Chief Information Officer of DFA, emphasizes the importance of customer retention as a key strategy to avoid losing customers due to unfavorable experiences. “Bad customer experiences lead to churn; it is as simple as that – customer retention is key,” he says.

While experts often segment sentiment by sector, Hall argues that most companies are essentially engaged in selling similar products or services. Consequently, he suggests that it is vital for every brand to prioritize delivering the best customer experience and sentiment by integrating streamlined processes, technologies, operating models, and communication channels.

In the telecommunications industry, customer decisions are significantly influenced by factors such as price, quality, and the quality of customer service. Customer service, in particular, is at the center of approximately 45% of all telecommunications-related conversations, with the majority leaning towards negative sentiments. Customers commonly complain about slow response times, inconsistent communication, and a lack of clear solutions to their issues.

Hall underscores the importance of digital transformation in the service industry. “While many providers grapple with the integration of various systems and navigate economic challenges, it is crucial to prioritize a streamlined go-to-market strategy, efficient service and support structures,” he says. The adoption of an integrated digital approach, coupled with technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and customer-focused platform technologies, is now becoming more critical than ever.

Francois Swart, the Chief Technology Officer at Vumatel, acknowledges that digital transformation is a powerful force compelling industries to rethink their approach to meeting customer demands. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures have accelerated the adoption of digital systems across all sectors. The development and application of AI in business process tools have also made significant strides. However, Swart emphasizes that AI and bots should be viewed as tools that augment the capabilities of human employees rather than replacing them.

Hall adds, “By incorporating AI-powered tools into customer service teams, companies can engage with customers on a personal level and leverage data for more efficient issue resolution.” This approach allows businesses to provide personalized interactions at scale, reinforcing the human need for connection and empathy.

To remain competitive, telecom companies must embrace cutting-edge AI technologies and automation tools, allowing them to better understand their customers’ needs and improve their own service delivery and performance. Swart believes that the telco industry can learn from the successful practices of other sectors to accelerate their journey.

The commitment of companies to improving customer service is evident in their substantial investments in this area. Swart notes, “With the implementation of Salesforce CRM across the group, MAZIV is well-positioned to meet and exceed customer expectations while laying the groundwork for future advancements in AI capabilities and tools.”

In conclusion, the South African telecommunications sector is standing at the cusp of a transformative era driven by digitalization and AI. The imperative to provide top-notch customer service cannot be overstated, and the industry’s future success hinges on its ability to harness these technological advancements while ensuring a seamless and empathetic customer experience.