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‘Price war in telecoms industry is destructive’

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Ajay Awasthi


Ajay Awasthi is the Chief Executive Officer of Spectranet 4G LTE, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Nigeria. In this interview, Awashti spoke on how destructive price war could endanger the telecoms industry. He disclosed how the firm is investing in customer service, amid other germane industry issues. Excerpts by ADEYEMI ADEPETUN

What needs to be done to accelerate broadband penetration in Nigeria?
Nigeria has actually made rapid strides in broadband penetration. The NCC has played a key role in proactively driving this through relevant policy interventions. While a lot has been achieved in terms of penetration, a lot more needs to be done to improve the basic quality of available broadband services in terms of consistency and reliability. Non-availability of affordable/reliable metro and national optic fiber networks poses a key constraint on offering high quality broadband services. Similarly, the tower companies can do better by addressing the issues of tower downtimes by improving the quality of infrastructure on- the- ground like diesel and generating sets.

What are ISPs doing to help Nigeria key into digital transformation going on across the globe?
ISPs have stayed at the cutting edge of innovation. Spectranet, for example, launched 4G LTE technology in Nigeria way back in 2013. I’m sure, the same will happen for the introduction of the latest 5G technology. This technology will be instrumental in driving the transformation to a digital world through applications driven by enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), massive machine type communications (mMTC) and Ultra Reliable and Low Latency Communications (uRLLC).

This leap into a digital world, however, needs to be preceded by a massive effort to improve availability of infrastructure like metro and national optic fiber network, far more granular availability of tower infrastructure and significant improvement in tower uptime (to near 100 per cent).

There has been a price war on data plan among ISPs and MNOs in recent times, where prices of data are slashed repeatedly. How will this help the Internet data market to grow?
War of any kind is destructive by nature. A price war is no exception. It is a short-sighted ploy to gain market share. In the near term it may be touted as a “customer friendly “ move but over a period of time a price war results in significant destruction of value for the industry, forcing the players to degrade quality of services. A price war is not sustainable in the longer term and a lose-lose proposition for both the operators and the customers. The hapless customers finally end up at the receiving end and are made to suffer through poor quality of service.

For our firm, we stay committed to provide high quality, high speed broadband to our customers. We believe in delivering a superior customer experience through better understanding of their needs and through differentiated tariff plans backed by excellent customer service.

Customer service is another challenge in the telecoms industry, what can be learnt from Spectranet?
At Spectranet, we constantly remind ourselves that Customer Churn is just one bad experience away. This bad experience can be on account of a delayed online payment transaction, an unsatisfactory response from an AI powered Chat bot (we call it EVA) or even a slight delay in retrieving a forgotten log-in user Id! We call these bad experiences “customer pain points” and assiduously work on getting down to the causative factors and addressing these. Proactive customer service (anticipating customers’ needs and pain points) is like a religion at Spectranet. The focus always is on eliminating these pain points or bad experiences by staying ahead of the causative factors.

A critical factor which drives proactivity is the design of Customer Service Delivery (CSD) organisation and the hierarchical distance from the front-end Customer Service Executive to the CEO. At Spectranet we have managed to keep just two layers between CSE and CEO and that helps significantly in staying tuned to customers’ requirements.

How can customer service excellence be a strong differentiator in the market place?
Using Spectranet as an example, we embarked on the journey early last year. The first step was to sharpen our understanding about Customer service excellence, define it in simpler terms and articulate the various steps leading to excellence.The idea was simple – if we understand it well, we can deliver it well! The whole organization need to understand “Customer service excellence” in the same manner and then each employee needs deliver it in a form which is the most relevant to the customers.

The second step was to align all the external stakeholders like Tower companies, lease line companies who play a critical role in ensuring network uptime- a basic requirement towards delivering excellence in customer service. The third and the most critical step we undertook was to bring about a transformational shift in the employees’ mindset to deliver what can be termed as excellent customer service –proactive, uncomplicated, personalized and based on deep respect towards the individual. Though, we have heard all of it before, it’s the implementation which needs rugged perseverance on the part of the team. While we talk, team Spectranet is undergoing this transformation.

Infrastructure challenge is a serious issue in the industry, how manageable is this now?
Frankly, we face serious challenges at the ground level due to erratic service from Infracos. In order to ensure that our customers are not pained, we have to build back- ups. For example, we have Diesel Generating sets mounted on vans which are rushed to the respective sites facing downtime due to power outage, to power up our network equipment! In order to guard against downtimes due to fiber cuts, we invest on multiple fiber routes to build redundancies. This obviously leads to higher cost of operations, but at Spectranet we choose to walk the talk- Customer first.

Spectranet recently launched new Spectra-cular Data plans for the customers? What is unique about these Data plans and how will these benefit the customers?
In a rapidly evolving Data market like Nigeria, the subscribers most often get confused by extremely complex and difficult -to-understand Data plans offered by various operators. The core idea behind the launch of these plans is to offer Data users superior value through simple, uncomplicated data plans packing in either bonus night time GBs or Unlimited Night time browsing. Our subscribers in all usage categories can now enjoy seamless Day-Night access to Internet without having to worry about paying exorbitant charges. Spectra-cular Data Plans empower subscribers to “Do More” and “Save More” with reliable and affordable Internet.”


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