In 2013, KPMG undertook a 'mystery shopping' study on the $US770 billion global prepaid market to understand how mobile operators in various key markets across the world are performing in the area of customer experience. The survey revealed key learnings that could differentiate players in the market and that the customer experience varies dramatically by country, service provider and channel.

In Search of a Better Customer Experience is the outcomes report of this global customer experience study that was conducted across 106 providers of prepaid mobile services in 25 countries - including South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya – and multiple channels across the value chain to identify better practices and trends in the prepaid mobile market.

The findings of the survey are grouped into five customer experience areas, aimed at identifying the innovations, trends and better practices in customer experience across the retail, contact centre and online channels, as well as in the product offering and the top-up experience.

According to Tanja Ferreira, Head of Customer Solutions at KPMG, "Most notably, the survey revealed that managing the end-to-end customer experience is increasingly important to win and retain customers – this is particularly true for an emerging market such as ours, which is becoming more competitive and winning new customers is far more cost intense than retaining existing customers."

The African market, however, does differ from the rest of the world – for instance pre-paid services are far more dominant and pervasive than contract services on the continent. With this, top-up transactions most commonly occur within the retail, ATM, kiosk and informal networks scenario. Very seldom do customers top-up their airtime through a visit to an operator branded retail store or by customer call centre, and not all operators in Africa offer an online top-up service.

"While operators in Africa have found more innovative ways of taking SIMs and top-ups to the market through informal channels, this does mean there are fewer direct points of contact at which to manage the complete customer experience. The survey highlighted that customers also associate their experience of going through the informal channels with the brand of the mobile operator – the onus is then on the operator to invest in broader programmes focused on driving consistency in the customer's experience with the brand, its products and services, regardless of the channel being used," says Johan Smith, Head of KPMG's Africa Telecommunications Group.

For instance, the majority of prepaid customers belong to lower income groups and are often still faced with challenges of access – those in more rural Africa have a hard time travelling to areas where there is a branded retail store or other means to access services, or have little to no access to the Internet. Added to this, while consumers are able to contact their provider through available customer call centre channels and there are no waiting times indicated on the Interactive Voice Response or IVR systems, there is also no cross-selling taking place – a great opportunity missed.

"Generally the first interaction that a customer would have with an operator is when they register their SIM and often this is not a pleasant experience - we see long queuing, lack of product knowledge and complex pricing plans as some of the key challenges," adds Smith. "Additionally, many people in Africa carry multiple SIM cards, so when it comes to topping up they look at differentiators from a pricing and benefits perspective. Structuring deals or benefits that are more appealing, yet still competitive and profitable, only adds to the mix of complexities that operators in Africa are faced with in what seems like a never-ending quest of delivering a competitive customer experience and where operators should be differentiating themselves."

Similarly to the rest of the continent, in South Africa pre-paid SIM cards make up about 80% of the mobile market, influenced by the socio-economic climate and fuelled by large scale unemployment and affordability.

Ferreira says, "The majority of the pre-paid SIM cards are bought at supermarkets and/or at retail stores, etc., where tellers have poor product knowledge and not much assistance can be provided for SIM activation. On the other hand, across operator or partner branded retail stores, knowledge of products and services amongst sales consultants for different channels varies significantly between almost no knowledge, to very good product knowledge. Generally, however, the first interaction a customer has with the operator is when they need to register or RICA their SIM card and this is often still a tedious experience for the customer."

When reviewing the South African customer contact centre experience, while there was no indication of waiting time when calling a call centre, the survey did find that the IVR system menus are too long - with the option of talking to a consultant used as a last choice on the IVR menu – where call-back options are hardly used and first call resolution is low.

"While this study benchmarked the prepaid market, the lessons gained are just as valid for all the other services offered by players in the market. Today, consumers don't need a reason to leave an operator, but they do need a compelling reason to stay with one. As the number of available mobile product and service options increase, delivering a best-in-class customer experience becomes less straightforward. However, it undoubtedly needs to be a top priority to win and retain customers," concludes Smith.

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