By OKUTTAH MARK, BUSINESS DAILY
Telecoms operator Safaricom on Wednesday moved to tighten its grip on the voice calls market with the promise to pay subscribers for any disconnection that occurs while they are making local calls.
The promise effectively means Safaricom has strengthened its network enough to use quality as a differentiating factor in the marketplace where it is embroiled in a bare-knuckle fight for customers with resurgent rivals.
On Wednesday, Safaricom unveiled a suite of products, key among them –Safaricom guarantee – that commits to refund customers up to one minute talk time if their calls get prematurely disconnected while speaking to other Safaricom subscribers.
In the event of a call drop, Safaricom subscribers will get a Short Message Service SMS notification and thereafter receive a minute’s worth of airtime compensation.
Bob Collymore, the Safaricom chief executive, said the firm has in the past invested billions of shilling on infrastructure upgrade but realised it did not mean subscribers were getting quality service from end to end.
“We have in the recent past invested an average of Sh30 billion a year to build the best network for Kenya, but we are aware that there is a great deal of opportunity to enhance the experience on our network,” he said.
Safaricom’s decision to compensate customers for poor quality calls is also in line with the Constitution and the Consumer Protection law that requires suppliers of goods and services to automatically compensate consumers where the services or goods do not meet the required quality or standards.
It was not possible to establish the number of drop calls on Safaricom’s network, but the promise which came into force immediately opens the giant telecoms operator to a floodgate of class action suits should it fail to materialise.
Stephem Mutoro, the chief executive of Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek), lauded Safaricom’s offer as proactive even as he urged the telecoms firm to make it permanent after the stated 90 days of piloting.
“This is an initiative that ought to be made permanent. Should they renege on the promise to compensate customers then automatically they will lose public goodwill and attract compensation suits,” Mr Mutoro said.
Safaricom’s launch of the product was attended by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) director-general Francis Wangusi, Information secretary Joe Mucheru and principal secretary for Broadcasting and Telecommunication Sammy Itemere – giving it the official stamp of approval.
Mr Wangusi, however, denied that his presence amounted to an endorsement of Safaricom’s product but was in support of the proactive stance the operator had taken in dealing with the issue of service quality.
“I have not come here to endorse the Safaricom product. However, the mobile operator’s initiative is a proactive measure to ensure its customers will get better quality service,” Mr Wangusi noted.
Mr Mucheru said Safaricom’s commitment was a clear demonstration of the faith that the telecoms operator has in its network and the company’s quest for the rollout of new products that meet consumer needs.
Safaricom’s move comes at a time when the CA increased the penalties for poor quality services to subscribers. The operators have been paying a flat rate of Sh500,000 for non-compliance – a price that has been seen as too lenient.
The three telecoms operators are now required to pay a penalty equivalent to 0.2 per cent of their gross turnover for offering poor quality services to consumers.
The CA’s latest quality of service report shows that none of the three mobile operators met the required quality standards threshold in 2014-2015.
The CA report says Airtel, Safaricom and Telkom Kenya fell short of the 80 per cent quality mark – a target they failed to meet for the third year in a row.
The report also noted that out of the eight parameters, all operators met the handover, call set up time and signal strength thresholds. There was also a remarkable improvement on the quality of speech for all the operators.
Safaricom also introduced my-subscription service that allows its customers’ to view their active subscriptions (Data, SMS, Skiza and Premium Rate Services).
The move is in response to unscrupulous content providers who have been enlisting unsuspecting subscribers to their services or fail to unsubscribe them when they want to opt out — ultimately depleting their airtime or data bundles.
Safaricom also introduced a service that enables its customers to control data bundles usage and allows them to restrict browsing on out of the bundles rates.
This article was originally published in the Business Daily.