The Chief Marketing Officer of MTN Nigeria, Mr. Rahul De, spoke to Raheem Akingbolu on the telephony and data consumption pattern of the average subscriber, MTN’s commitment to customer satisfaction, and how positive experience can enhance the growth of a telco brand. Excerpts:
MTN has a special name in the telecoms industry with the highest consumer loyalty, what do you think is the strength of the brand?
We are humbled by the love and affection shown to us by over 180 million Nigerians because directly or indirectly, the MTN brand has been able to touch the lives of Nigerians in tangible ways. Over the years, we have consistently assessed our weaknesses to enable us meet the needs of our teeming customers. We don’t pride ourselves to be the best on all fronts however we have continuously strived to improve on our services most especially on our network to enable Nigerians enjoy the basics. From time to time, we keep investing millions of dollars on our network because superior customer service is the future of any serious-minded business Gone are those days when businesses had competitive advantage on products and services alone. The future is about giving excellent consumer experience and value enhancing products and services to drive brand stickiness with customers. Our pro-consumer approach is centred on keeping consumers in mind in all we do before putting any product or service out there in the market. The focus is to develop products and services that are relevant and easy to understand so we can add value to each customer we interact with across board.
Recently the brand was named the most valuable brand in Nigeria. What is the significance of this to the brand?
First, we need to thank everyone who has made this possible especially our consumers and those who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes. We were very humbled by the award. I must say our efforts on new innovations paid off substantially. We introduced unique services such as the Yello box- a mobile electricity service powered by Lumos. The service provides electricity through solar energy and the bills are paid electronically via the mobile phone. We also launched an agricultural application to track livestock. All these were geared towards creating differentiated data services that would enhance the lives and businesses of our customers. More so, we have also contributed immensely to the society through our CSR causes especially in the areas of Mother & Child mortality, scholarships for university students including scholarships for the blind. We have also equipped some schools with digital libraries so that students can gain access to latest information in their fields of study. We have been active in rural projects to provide basic amenities to Nigerians. Our mission is to make lives brighter and it’s important we play our part in all ramifications to ensure our customers are happy with our services and the contributions we have made to the society. By receiving this award, It shows that Nigerians appreciate what we have done and this is dedicated to our customers and all Nigerians.
The market is growing everyday and Nigerians are becoming more sophisticated. What are the plans for the future to sustain this?
This is also part of our strategy. If you look at the consumption pattern of an average telecoms user, five years ago, it was more on calls and sms. However in the last two years we are seeing a lot more people consuming data than voice. They consume data because of three things: information via the internet; the use of lifestyle applications such as facebook, whatsapp, Instagram, snapchat and lastly, entertainment. Prior to now, going to the cinemas was the only channel available to watch movies. Today, you can access movies on your smartphones. In addition, we’ve tried to bridge the digital divide between those who use data and those who do not through content, pricing and service delivery. Our focus is to offer data at pocket-friendly rates and also roll out our networks (3G/4G) as fast as possible so that consumers can enjoy a seamless data experience. We are one of the few telcos in Nigeria with 4G. Not every Telco can afford 4G and the advantage is that, you don’t need a 4G-enabled phone to access 4G speeds. You can enjoy 4G through Wifi. So if you have a 4G enabled modem in a home, everyone can tap into it to enjoy 4G speeds. So people don’t have to upgrade their handsets every six months, but you can upgrade your speed and experience with the same handset. That is only possible where network roll-out is fast. So we are trying to roll-out networks in more remote areas at least with the basic 2G and then 3/4G. The second part is the customer experience. That deals more with education because a lot of people want to consume data but don’t know what to consume on the internet especially the mass market demographics who are first time users of smartphones. So internet education is crucial at the bottom of the pyramid and we are partnering with the likes of Google and Facebook to drive internet education. Also, we have gone digital because that is the next big thing especially in the areas of content i.e entertainment, gaming, music etc. On music, we are the largest distributor of digital music for both local and international songs through MTN Music+ – an indigenous music app launched in 2014. Our partner- Hauwei just signed a contract with Sony Music for the delivery of over 3m international songs on Music+. This we believe will make Music+ compete with the likes of Deezer, Spotify and Apple comparatively.
In recent times, there are areas where service disappears for days. What’s responsible for this?
Like I said, we are constantly upgrading our network, with huge investments on site roll-outs and system upgrades. Usually, upgrades on the network are done between 12-5am and not all areas are upgraded at the same time. More so, we have issues with vandalism and fibre cuts. This invariably, causes service disruptions. However, we proactively inform our customers through text messages on these outages so they are abreast with the situation. These service disruptions can be very inconveniencing and we do acknowledge that however it is for the better. Our data experience has improved significantly and we believe it will only get better. We sincerely want to thank all our customers for their understanding and loyalty. This has made us strive continuously to deliver on excellent experience on our network.
MTN is a brand that has consistently remained vibrant. Where is the confidence coming from? Why are you not intimidated despite market surge?
Brand confidence comes from internal and external sources. We derive our external confidence from customer insights because we understand their usage patterns, passion points and their expectations from us as a brand. This informs how we strategize to improve on key performance areas we are perceived to be weak. Internally, our confidence resides in our commitment to investments in key business priorities that deliver on improved service experience. This builds confidence amongst customers and the investment community. In MTN, whether we experience growth or not, we still invest whenever it is required because we need to be pro-consumer at all times. Telecoms is all about experience. Whenever customers’ have positive experiences, they talk about it endlessly telling friends and relatives and this fuels our confidence given the positive feedbacks we receive.
In the area of CSR, the company’s foundation is over 10 years now and despite the odds, rather than slowing down, the foundation is getting stronger. Why that commitment to CSR?
Our commitment to the Foundation has been consistent because we have kept the board separate. The MTN board is different from the Foundation’s board. The Foundation is a completely independent organisation, although the funding is from whatever profits we make each year. As mentioned earlier, the MTN Foundation champions some unique causes like the reduction of mother and child mortality rate, youth empowerment and arts & culture. The fulfilment we get is derived from wanting to do things for the betterment of the society. It has nothing to do with our core business. If you’ve noticed, MTN foundation activities are specifically tailored towards pressing societal needs and the preservation of our cultural heritage. Most of these projects done in the rural communities are done via nominations from the indigenes of those communities and this brings the brand closer to the people.
MTN tends to recruit celebrities as brand ambassadors. In what way has this impacted on the brand’s equity?
I would say it has been a very positive experience in several dimensions. Firstly, we are the only brand that has successfully developed budding local talents to become international artistes through talent hunt platforms such as Project Fame. Secondly, 70% of Nigeria’s population are youths and going by that demographics, we have been able to win the hearts and minds of Nigerian youths by associating the brand to artistes the Nigerian youths follow and appreciate. The focus has been geared towards building a youthful brand that will enable young Nigerians to express their passion. That was why we created a proposition called MTN Pulse and using a key icon like “Falz the bad guy” as an ambassador has been very beneficial to the brand. Thirdly, we are the first brand to distribute music digitally and this is a major feat. Previously, artistes could only monetize their songs through physical CDs. We have the largest base of callertunez and as mentioned earlier, Music+ is also another avenue where music is being monetized. So gone are those days when artistes only rely on CDs and stage performances to eke a living. Artistes can now make money through streaming and downloads. This is a major achievement for us and we are proud of being a major contributor to the Nigerian music industry and its attendant ecosystem. As a result, recording studios are mushrooming all over the place and this is bringing in an influx of talents thereby growing the Nigerian music industry expansively.