Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Safaricom Scared! The Inside Scoop

It seems even giants can be rattled.

Since Bharti/Zain welcomed the birth of Kenya's second republic with the lowest call charges across mobile networks, their counterparts on Waiyaki way (Safaricom) have been as busy as bees. I can now exclusively reveal through my inside sources the happenings at Safaricom these past three weeks, some of which are utterly shocking.


1. Shutting down the Facebook Page
Even before Zain introduced their game changer tariffs, the official facebook page for Safaricom http://www.facebook.com/#!/SafaricomLtd?ref=ts was peppered with negative comments from users. After Zain's tariff launch however, it seems people went full time on #chukifm on the Safaricom facebook page, complaining on every single comment from Safaricom. Sample some posts from users below:


"...as long as u guys stil continu stealin our credit usin ur unlimited internet shit,u suck in evrthn u do.actualy,u stink!"
 "MASAA YA KUIBA...i want my 21 mb of free data and 50/- that u stole...nktesticles! "
It got so bad that the fellows in charge of the Facebook page (I assume it's marketing/PR department) wanted to shut it down. Probably for the same reason their twitter account twitter.com/SafaricomLtd went quiet for over a week. Apparently the CEO Michael Joseph (MJ) had to intervene that the site not be shut down, as he argued that it provided good market research on what the consumers felt about the company.

However, it appears that later on the marketing fellows did get their way (partly) as all August posts and comments from visitors were deleted from the facebook page. It's as if Safaricom never existed in facebook cyberspace in August 2010.

2. Intentional hanging up on Customers
At 16 Million plus lines with only 800 customer service (CS) personnel at any one time, it's understandable that the Safaricom prepaid help line 100 would be hard to get through. Over the years Safaricom has continuously invested in customer care, changing their systems, hiring more staff, and building an ultra-modern customer care call centre in Mlolongo. However all that effort seems to go down the toilet based on prevailing attitudes of customer care staff who have admitted to this blogger that they hang up the phone on problematic clients.

Since some(all) calls are recorded to be reviewed later, the CS staff will not NKT before they hang up, but have developed artful methods of disconnecting that on later review it will seem that it was either accidental or unintentional. And good luck to you if you decide to call back to speak to the same CS staff (it's almost impossible to get through and almost impossible to be reconnected to the same agent.

Personally I use email to complain, customercare@safaricom.co.ke, my legal background, means I am more assuaged with the documented chain of evidence that email provides.

3. New Billing System "Overcharges" (read Steals) with Knowledge of Top Management

After they launched their new tariff Masaa Ya Kubamba, most of us expected to significantly cut on our airtime expenditure. For those with data enabled phones however it has been an entirely different experience. On September 5th after noticing irreconcilable differences in airtime I purchased and service received, I contacted Safaricom customer care. They replied explaining that it was an error with the new billing system, specifically stating:
"The process explained below is the data service billing principle. However, the process of reserve and refund should be seamless. Reserve is done ranging from KSh 2 to KSh 16, on termination of the session, any unused amount is refunded back. Hence even with as low as KSh 2, you can still be able to access internet.
 
We apologize that during this time, there were delays in execution of the billing process principle, a problem that has since been resolved"
A few days later I got several "refunds" from Safaricom for airtime. However when I asked for a statement to prove that they had really refunded the airtime and that they had not "overcharged" me on other occassions, they deflected, ignored, stonewalled, and finally told me to get it from a retail centre at a cost of KES. 500.

My sources tell me that statements are made difficult to access because top management is acutely aware that customers are rampantly "overcharged" and is wary of accepting liability. This also is the number 1 reason why CS staff hang up on customers.

4. Staff morale at an all time low

Despite record-breaking profits and growing client base, my sources report that morale of Safaricom staff is at an all time low. There are several reasons for this:

1. MJ is a slavedriver
Now I personally think there is nothing wrong with pushing your employees to deliver their maximum output. However MJ takes it to another level and has previously fired an entire team from the manager down for goofing up. Those most at threat are people in Data and Mpesa divisions, who live under constant fear of the systems going down as it may mean the end of their jobs.

2. MJ is leaving 
As much as he is feared, he is also loved and respected. My sources all seemed very fond and fiercely loyal to the American who has built Safaricom into the giant it is. Staff are now worried about the future of the company (which many of them are owners of) with the changes at the top. No one really knows what to expect of Rob Collymore and whether he has what it takes to battle with Bharti.

3. Renewed Competitors.
Everyone at Safaricom, though they won't say it, is scared stiff of Bharti. Unlike the previous competitors, Bharti has the financial muscle, technical savvy, and marketing experience to make life for Safaricom very difficult. Word around the water cooler is that bigger companies have been toppled and Bharti has the qualities of a giant killer (although it's also a giant itself with over 190 million subscribers worldwide and the world's fifth-largest mobile phone company). Their $1.5B Africa deal to outsource computing technology, customer and other services to IBM (signed in Kenya no less by both CEOS) was a serious wake-up call to Safaricom on how serious Bharti is.

Orange have also taken a good nibble of the market with their KES. 100 unlimited call offer for 1 month, and Yu seems to have wrapped up the under 18 market segment who provide the greatest pool of new subscribers.

No one is polishing their CV up just yet, but my sources tell me that its only a matter of time before we see a mass exodus of highly trained Safaricom staff to the competition.

Keep your bookmarks locked on this site as I give you more inside scoop on the happenings at Safaricom

5 comments:

J said...

I believe Michael Joseph is South African, not American.

The Bharti deal was for Africa wide operations and not just Kenya - and over a 10 year period.

Anonymous said...

Sad u say some of the things u do. Sad! I sincerely think u r paid to do this. I wish there was an ounce of truth in what u r saying. A J noted, pls do ur homework first before feeding us on drivel.

startupkenya said...

@J

Actually he is a US citizen, though he was raised in South Africa. You can confirm this on their website. http://www.safaricom.co.ke/index.php?id=433#c1363

Thanks. I've also made the clarification that the IBM deal is Africa wide.

@Anon

Thanks for the comments, and sadly I am an uncompensated blogger. I'd only wish that someone would pay me to blog :).

What do you particularly find untrue/sad in my post?

LexLuther said...

Personally I don't care if he is South African or American or Martian. We have t o give him props for the work he has done at Safaricom. Can't wait to see the drama unfold over the next few weeks.

Patmos Pete said...

The third message from heaven...
If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.