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28 March 2021

Are SA telcos treating their customers fairly on social media?

Network providers fail to respond to 47.3% of customers in need of support.

Forming part of financial market conduct regulations, Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) is an outcomes-based regulatory and supervisory approach designed to ensure that regulated financial institutions deliver specific, clearly set out fairness outcomes for financial customers.

While the framework is not currently applicable in the South African telecoms space, compliance may become mandatory in the future as local network providers continue to delve into the financial services space, offering products ranging from cell phone insurance and funeral cover, to e-wallets and personal loans.

This is why, in the 2020 South African Telecoms Sentiment Index, BrandsEye categorised social media conversation and complaints according to the six TCF outcomes to assess telcos’ conduct performance.

90.7% of social media complaints included TCF outcomes

Interestingly, the bulk of priority complaints fell within one or more of the six outcomes of TCF, which highlights the applicability of the framework for the telecoms industry beyond its financial services offering. It also shows that the industry has a long way to go in treating customers fairly.

To put the previous statistic into perspective, TCF complaints warranting a response from network providers accounted for nearly a quarter of all online consumer conversation (24%), which equates to nearly half a million consumer mentions in 2020.

Telcos failed to response to 50%

Cell C and Vodacom replied to the largest proportion of TCF complaints, while Telkom neglected three quarters of the TCF-relevant complaints it received on social media.

Turnaround time requires attention

Turnaround time was the main source of TCF complaints relating to culture and governance; disclosure; performance & service; and claims, complaints & changes, while also having a major contribution to complaints around the suitability of advice. Improved responsiveness would therefore not only boost consumer sentiment, but also assist network providers in reducing the TCF risk they would face if the framework were to be implemented in the telecoms industry.

TCF outcomes by network provider

When comparing network providers on this basis, Vodacom faced the most risk relating to reports of vanishing data, as this often led to accusations of unethical behaviour, while MTN saw the highest prevalence of product suitability and disclosure complaints, which largely revolved around its data prices and data expiring or depleting abnormally.

Cell C’s high incidence of complaints around the feedback provided by brand representatives also reflected in its relatively high volume of complaints around advice suitability. It appeared both were driven by the frequency with which Cell C’s social service agents engaged with customers. Meanwhile, reports from Cell C users struggling to cancel their contracts reflected in its relatively high incidence of complaints around outcome 6. rain customers complained of poor performance and service

While all providers saw the bulk of their TCF complaints relating to product performance and service, rain had the highest proportion of complaints for this outcome. This aligns with other findings in this study that speak to rain customers dealing most often with both poor service responsiveness and network quality.

Call centres a major pain point

BrandsEye CEO, Nic Ray, notes that call centres were the most discussed channel for all six outcomes; however, complaints around culture & governance and suitable advice mentioned call centres the most. “We saw that customers who struggled to get resolution through the call centre often questioned their provider’s ability to deliver service and referenced feedback provided by call centre agents.

“Similarly, customers often referenced the feedback provided by in-branch staff in their TCF complaints, denoting the importance of call centre and branch staff training in complaint handling. Meanwhile, customers often cited information provided in emails and on network providers’ websites when raising complaints about disclosure,” adds Ray.

Commenting on the index results, Ica van Eeden, Customer and Marketing Associate Director at Deloitte Africa says that the industry cannot continue with service delivery in its current construct. “We have reached a point where something has to give. What then should network providers do?

“It’s not just a simple digital transformation exercise of moving things to self-service channels, or an automation opportunity to implement bots and AI, or even placing this at the door of the service operation with more pressure to find ways to handle rising volumes and cut costs,” says van Eden, who believes telcos need to start with a deep understanding of the root causes of service requests.

“Only once a good understanding is gained of the issues that trigger interactions, can new digital tools, omnichannel opportunities, automation and service bots offer benefits to reduce the service complaints and increase the customer sentiment with the brand,” she concludes.

Access the full 2020 SA telco report overview, click here.

Contact us to read the full report

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