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SA telcos fail to deliver customer satisfaction on social media

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 10 Jun 2024
Telecoms customers continue to grapple with service providers not meeting their basic service needs.
Telecoms customers continue to grapple with service providers not meeting their basic service needs.

South Africa’s telecommunications industry continued to experience significant challenges in resolving customer complaints posted across social media platforms in 2023, lagging behind other industries, such as banking, insurance and retail.

This is according to the latest South African Telecommunications Sentiment Index, conducted by PwC South Africa, in collaboration with data-as-a-service firm DataEQ.

The annual index is compiled from social media data and reflects the net sentiment of local consumers towards their telecoms service providers.

The report assessed 1.6 million public mentions of Cell C, MTN, Rain, Telkom and Vodacom − from 1 January to 31 December 2023 − to benchmark consumer sentiment on social media and provide data-driven insights on how to improve customer experience.

The report analyses consumer complaints across the insurance, retail, banking and telecoms industries. Telecoms customers continue to grapple with the service providers not meeting their basic service needs, says PwC.

Customer service accounted for 27.7% of all industry conversations across social media, with a negative sentiment of -87.7 % (2022: -90.6%), it finds.

Customers are left dissatisfied by a lack of efficient feedback and issue resolution, particularly when contacting call centres. The industry made little progress from the prior year in addressing this key customer pain point.

Network coverage complaints remained prevalent, with a negative net sentiment score of -18.8%, the report reveals.

Other consumer complaints that topped the telco list across social media included connectivity issues, non-responsive call centres and interruption of in-app financial services.

This year, Rain emerged as the sole provider of good customer service, taking the top spot in operational and reputational net sentiment. Engaging campaigns played an important role, helping boost Rain’s net sentiment by more than 16 percentage points.

With 335 days of load-shedding in 2023, consumer perception of network quality did not improve, driving operational risk. Operational sentiment was negative across the board, signalling an industry-wide issue with the telecoms sector, with plenty of room for improvement across crucial business activities, such as customer service and network availability, notes the index.

DataEQ telecoms lead Liska Kloppers explained in an interview with ITWeb that while network quality complaints are often impacted by external factors like load-shedding, a significant share of negative client sentiment is being driven by the telcos’ inability to meet basic customer service needs.

“Load-shedding had a huge impact on the ability of the telcos to deliver on their mandate. In terms of responding to customer queries online, there is a lack of responsiveness, and as a result, they rank much lower than other industries.

“Social media makes brands more accessible to their customers and we've seen banking and insurance industries leading the way in having service teams actively working on these platforms.

“Part of the reason the telecoms sector lags behind in this area is due to customers’ growing need for connectivity, to be able to conduct multiple functions, including banking, studying and working. As a result, the continuous ability to provide an uninterrupted service becomes a lot more demanding and consistent on telcos than the services offered by the other industries.

Call centres rated among the most complained about channel, suggesting that despite the growing availability of digital channels, telecoms companies continue to rely heavily on telephonic support.

“However, this support is proving inadequate, with customers turning to social media channels as an alternate to resolve their issues,” adds Kloppers.

DataEQ telecoms lead Liska Kloppers.
DataEQ telecoms lead Liska Kloppers.

When comparing the five telecoms operators’ public net sentiment ranking, Rain was the only one to achieve a net positive score and see a year-on-year improvement, with a net sentiment of 9.2%.

This year, the dismally performing telcos were not named in the report. The worst-performing telco received a net sentiment of -45.9%.

The banking industry was rated the best-performing sector, with a net sentiment of 23.5%, while the insurance industry followed, with 16.1%, and the retail industry was rated third, with a net sentiment of 8.8%.

“The South African banking industry achieved the highest net sentiment. This was predominantly driven by reputational positivity. The industry also received the lowest complaint ratio among the markets in review.

“There has been significant progress in the industry's digital experience as the capabilities of self-service functionalities continue to enhance customer experience, but the shortcomings are still driven by customer service.

“Local insurers owed their second-place ranking to the growing use and positivity seen on Hellopeter, and the beneficial impact of value-added services. South African retailers saw increased interest in quality, convenience and supporting local,” notes the report.

Due to the increased competition across all sectors in the country, customer service is a key differentiating factor that consumers are constantly questioning in terms of overall value, it states.

AI opportunity for improvement

Despite their poor customer experience performance, financial services offered by telecoms exhibited varying degrees of performance in the report, with mobile money driving positive interest, compared to insurance, which drove risk and complaints. Overall, financial services remain a key area for growth and should be a future focus for telecoms, the report suggests.

Telecoms companies should leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance customer service, it adds. AI-driven tools are designed to efficiently handle basic or routine customer inquiries, provide instant assistance and streamline support processes, improving overall customer satisfaction.

Elmo Hildebrand, PwC Africa telecoms leader, believes telecoms providers should adopt AI solutions to better meet customer demands, empower employees and reduce total costs, to grow revenue.

“There is an opportunity to reduce the strain on these channels. This can be done through the implementation of AI-powered services, which would aid with efficiently resolving large volumes of low-touch queries and streamlining back-office operations, such as billing, through hyper-automation to reduce manual intervention and rework.

“Both of these interventions free up service agents to focus on inquiries and complaints that require a human touch, leading to more efficient and effective customer service.”