Chief Executive Officer at Spectranet, Mr. Ajay Awasthi, spoke with Emma Okonji on the company’s new data plan, investment strategies, and the need for Internet Service Providers to meet customers’ needs through investments, diversification. Excerpts:
What needs to be done to further accelerate broadband penetration in Nigeria from its current level of 33 per cent penetration?
Nigeria has actually made rapid strides in broadband penetration. The regulator 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 fibre networks poses a key constraint in offering high quality broadband services. Similarly, the tower companies can do better by addressing the issues of tower downtime by improving the quality of infrastructure on-the-ground like diesel and generating sets.
Digital transformation is cutting across the globe. What is the contribution of ISPs to help Nigeria key into digital transformation, where everything including household devices will be connected to the internet?
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have stayed at the cutting edge of innovation. Spectranet, for example, launched 4 G LTE technology in Nigeria way back in 2013. I am 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, massive machine type communications, and ultra-reliable and low latency communications.
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 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.
At Spectranet, 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.
Most times your service delivery depends on infrastructure companies (InfraCos) like tower companies, payment gateways, and optic fiber leasing companies. How do you factor in downtime on account of service deficiency from these InfraCos?
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 taken 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 in multiple fiber routes to build redundancies. This obviously leads to higher cost of operations, but at Spectranet we chose to walk-the-talk, which is all about putting customers first.
What is the level of your investment in walking-the-talk for the sake of your customers?
Our investments are huge, and that has been our dream, to deliver 100 per cent uptime when infrastructure companies are committing much lower uptime. However, we are doing our best within the ecosystem to provide high quality, top notch experience to Spectranet customers. I am happy to share that our uptime investments are far superior to many in the industry. We have a commitment to our customers and we create our own benchmarks against the backdrop that Spectranet as a brand, is positioned high in customers’ mind on a parameter like reliability.
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 our data 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.
In this era of the digital engagement with customers, why are you doing the physical outlets. What significant message do you want your customers to take from this?
Firstly, the customer engagement with the service provider is most often non-linear and through multiple channels. Secondly, the customer base contains different segments of customers- some of them find it convenient to interact through digital channels like Spectranet App, AI powered Chat Bot, while others are more comfortable with calling up at the call centre or walking into a brick and mortar Spectranet Experience Centre.
We believe a complete switch over to digital access channels will take a while. At present, balanced development of an omni channel footprint helps us customise our touch points, which is the basis of the convenience of a customer.
Spectranet was one of the first ISPs to launch 4G LTE internet service in Nigeria. What are the peculiar trends in customer usage behaviour that you have observed?
At Spectranet, we understand data users’ behaviour much better and have seen it evolving since 2013 when we first launched 4G LTE services in Nigeria. While the GBs usage has grown 100 per cent between 2016 and 2019, we have also noticed a significant shift in the usage behaviour from day-time to night-time driven by Youtubers, online videos, and students undertaking massive open online courses.
Despite the challenging business environment, Spectranet has been recognised with industry awards. What are your strategies to maintain the leadership position?
We are a company driven by ethics and with a deep sense of commitment towards proactively serving the needs of customers. Be it being the first to recognise the changing trends in data consumption and offering relevant products, anticipating and eliminating their pain points or walking that extra mile, is a challenge. I’m immensely thankful to our employees who don’t hesitate to go beyond the call of the duty to lend that ‘X’factor to our service delivery. I believe our esteemed customers reward us by staying loyal and committed year after year. The rewards we get; are just a recognition of the trust the customers have in Spectranet services.
How does Spectranet manage to stay ahead of the curve in delivering customer service?
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, which we call 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 which has to do with 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 (CSE) to the chief executive officer (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.
You have spoken in the past about customer service excellence and how it can be a strong differentiator in the market place. Would you like to let us know what specific initiatives Spectranet has taken in this context?
It is a journey we embarked on 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 organisation 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’ mind-set to deliver what can be termed as excellent customer service that is 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.
During our last discussion you spoke about improving the customer service quotient of the organisation. What has been the progress?
Before starting on an arduous journey, it is good to assess your capabilities. In this case, it was important to measure the customer service quotient (CSQ) of the organisation, its employees and assess the gaps. Based on the first score, the team defined the next milestone and a set of measures to achieve that – like training, imbibing the culture of putting customers in the centre of decision making, smoothening inter-functional working with others. We, as a team, have done well in this respect and have been able to improve our CSQ quarter-on-quarter.
How do you differentiate your customer service from other operators?
Excelling in customer service is a part of the organisation’s DNA. How else one can, otherwise, explain huge costs incurred on account of having our own vans with diesel generating sets mounted on them to ensure the power to our network equipment is restored immediately, without depending on the tower company. So, at a very high level, we fundamentally differentiate ourselves from other operators through the way we approach customer service – which is proactive, personalised and respectful– placing disproportionate emphasis on respect for the individual. This philosophy drives the organisation to treat our customers with utmost dignity and place huge emphasis on finding a speedy solution to a pain point.