South Africans are not satisfied with their mobile network providers, particularly the biggest provider, Vodacom.
The Please Call Me battle between Nkosana Makate and Vodacom as well as the service provider’s attempts to skirt new data regulations by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (Icasa) when it introduced a fee to rollover data, are the leading reasons why consumers were unhappy.
This is according to the 2019 South African Telecommunications Sentiment Index released on Monday by BrandsEye, which analysed social media posts by consumers about the four major networks over a three-month period from December 2018 to February 2019. Over half a million posts regarding Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom were retrieved from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as well as other consumer sentiment sources such as Hellopeter.
The researchers at BrandsEye then took a random sample of close to 55 000 posts that to carry out a sentiment analysis with a 95% confidence level with an overall 0.8% margin of error. These posts are not only plugged into algorithms and spreadsheets to provide rankings but are also sent to a large community of real people who provided context and evaluated the online mentions.
Overall the barometer found that consumers were “highly dissatisfied” with their mobile service providers with net sentiment scoring -45.3%.
To put this in context, when compared to BrandsEye’s sentiment index for the banking sector, overall sentiment only stood at -7.5%.
Please Call Me
Negative consumer opinions towards Vodacom were not only the highest out of the big four but outstripped the industry average, placing it at the lowest ranking with net sentiment of -53.5% while on the opposite end Cell C’s -36.9% was highest among the providers in review.
“The Please Call Me case was a key contributor to the negative conversation about Vodacom,” states the index report.
In January Gauteng Education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi criticised Vodacom’s response to allegations that it had failed to honour the Constitutional Court’s order regarding Makate’s compensation for the Please Call Me invention and urged customers to cancel their subscriptions.
“Direct references to the issue accounted for approximately 36.8% of Vodacom’s overall negative conversation. Excluding this theme, net sentiment towards Vodacom improved by 8.8%, standing at -44.7%,” said the report.
The index explored eight primary themes including network, ethics and reputation, customer service and pricing.
Here, Cell C faired favourably in terms of customer service, products, and ethics or reputation. While Vodacom and MTN vastly outperformed their competitors when it came to network but the disappointed when measured on products and ethics or reputation.
Despite impressing with good network, the two largest service providers did not fare well on the data. While the overall industry sentiment was -71.3%, both Vodacom and MTN’s negative sentiment was higher than the industry average at -79.7 and -78.2 respectively.
The data criteria included items such as affordability, special offers and compensation for lost time or costs as well as the recent Icasa regulations, which protect customers from losing expiring data.
“Telkom’s affordability and Cell C’s compensation gave them an edge in the data battleground,” according to the report while Vodacom’s Summer Gigs promotion which offered free data with every purchase saw it come out on top in the special offers category.
Half of the conversation around the Icasa ruling had to do with Vodacom, this focus was spurred by the fact that it was the only mobile network provider who wanted to charge customers to transfer or rollover expiring data.
“Consumers accused Vodacom of finding loopholes to avoid complying with the spirit of the new regulations,” the study observed. “Consumers also noted that in some instances, these rollover fees actually exceeded the cost of a bundle, therefore deterring consumers from benefiting from the regulations.”
Even when Vodacom backtracked on its plans to introduce fees, and announced that it would reduce its out-of-bundle charges by 70%, it did not do much to subdue the negative customer feedback when Vodacom said the discounts would be accompanied with increases in other tariffs.
One social media user noted: “Dear Vodacom, I don’t care about out-of-bundle fees, I never go out-of-bundle. What I do care about is data rollover fees which is a new brand of f****y aimed at maximising your profits.”
The study also found that one out of 10 consumers threatened to leave their service providers with affordability being the top reason to switch to a new network followed by customer service.
“It is hoped that the findings of this South African Telecommunication Sentiment Index will trigger telecommunication leaders’ interest to dig a bit deeper into the relationship between their companies and their customers,” noted Dr Jeff Yu Jen Chen of the Gordon Institute of Business Science.