At the start of the month, I tweeted this:
When I was signing up, I only got 200 minutes to make calls, I think. Later on, I'd see guys getting microwaves and electric kettles just for signing up. Now, new guys get a whole month free. I'm not even hurt 😭. I shall revisit. pic.twitter.com/ohWsTfiJHd
— The Unsullied (@echenze) March 2, 2018
True. When I was signing up for Safaricom’s home internet service last year, I received 200 minutes for making calls that were meant to last a month. I appreciated the kind gesture. However, my heart would sink in subsequent months as others who were signing up got what I considered as “better offers”. That was Safaricom’s way of doing things. Incentives.
It’s been done before. I remember getting an Orange CDMA modem when I was in second year for Kshs 4,500. The modem came with a whole month’s unlimited data. I did not have internet at home and school Wi-Fi was, well, school Wi-Fi. Those who’ve gone to any Kenyan college know what I am talking about. You are best sorted by yourself and not the public hotspots that dot the campus. My expectation when I got the modem was not much given Orange’s spotty network coverage back then. I just planned to get the most of the one month unlimited internet (Safaricom had just discontinued its offering) then go back to being stingy with the little I could afford to get for my Safaricom 3G modem which always got the job done. True to my word, that modem is gathering dust somewhere at home, 6 years later, and Orange has since not only rebranded to Telkom Kenya but also shunned its CDMA network for 3G and 4G. But I got value for my money since I would’ve spent more (than the Kshs 4,500) on data bundles for the kind of things I indulged in.
Where my Twitter share concerning the incentives for those joining the Safaricom Home fibre network comes in is because much as I am an existing user of the service, there’s not much that my service provider of choice can do with regards to advancing me an offer without being labelled as “anti-competitive” by the regulator and other relevant bodies, if any. Going forward, things may even become more steep. Sure, some practices, more so by players with a significant share of the market, serve to entrench their market position and their continued hold of the same but wouldn’t we leave in droves just the same way we came in if the service deteriorated or became the exact opposite of what we signed up for?
A casual glance at my Twitter feed at different times of the day always has someone somewhere complaining about terrible internet from an ISP. So, given choice and options what would stop the same user from going where they are getting better service at the same, or lower, price?
The same is the case for mobile money services. Sure, when it comes to mobile money, M-Pesa is a trailblazer and the equation may not be balanced any time soon as everyone else tries to catch up but what are the other players doing different to entice us? I would be open to trying out an M-Pesa competitor that is much better than what Safaricom gives me. I find it interesting that I had never bothered to try out any other mobile money service from the main players in the market before last year. I have had SIMs from the other network operators for quite some time.
I had a Yu SIM upon leaving high school and an Orange SIM two years later. I made sure to register both SIMs when I got them (long before it became a mandatory legally-enforced requirement to do so). I carry with me Airtel’s Visa card, meant for online shopping, that I got for free during either the 2014 or 2015 (I am not too sure of the exact dates) annual BAKE blog awards (because Airtel was a main sponsor). I’ve never used that card, to date. That decision has nothing to do with anything that Airtel may be doing wrong but simply because I find that whatever arrangements I have work just fine. The Yu SIM I am talking about was one of two that I got for free in 2009-2010. One, when I bought a DVD at Nakumatt Likoni and another handed to me by a street vendor in Bamburi. Yu had good deals back then that would appeal to anyone, more so broke people like yours truly was at that time. As soon as I was done with the free 500 minutes that I had received from Nakumatt, that was the end of that relationship.
This is a simplistic way of looking at things but, essentially, this is what we (as customers) stand to lose in the wake of the recommendations made to the Communications Authority of Kenya in the survey it had commissioned. One of the recommendations reads:
“At least five days before launching a new tariff, loyalty scheme or promotion,
Safaricom should provide a justification that the proposals can be replicated by a reasonably
efficient operator, for which the key parameters (market share, cost structure etc) will be
defined by the CA.”
As a customer, I don’t have any issues with that since I am all for the best deal I can get, anything that spares me a coin. But, should my ability to get that good deal be impeded by the fact that no other service provider is able to match what the one I currently subscribe to or prefer is able or willing to offer just so that I am not snatched by another?
As can be seen from my personal examples, incentivizing without being able to match the service doesn’t do much. My not using any other mobile money platform other than the ones that belong to Safaricom and my bank has nothing to do with the people I’d be sending money to being on those platforms (so, nothing to do with platform lock or what we call a “walled garden effect”). It is simply about the value I get as a user.
Internet? I want it fast and first, end of story. Whoever is able to give that to me has my wallet, it’s that simple. Of what use is paying Kshs 3,000 or thereabout for home internet that only works when it wants (I’ve been there, done that)? And why should it be wrong for someone else who sees the opportunity and wants to entice me to use their service(s) to do so? Mobile money? I just want reliability. I was decrying Google’s decision to go with a Pay Bill number for the ability to pay for my apps using M-Pesa the other day. Has anyone come out to tell us that they are working on something better?
Until service providers start thinking of giving me as a consumer the best that they are able to, they won’t have my attention. I often share my experience from the various services that I use, on Twitter. The one constant takeaway is always that so-and-so should do better. It’s what they ought to do and, if anything, the regulator should be on their case for not doing the same hence jeopardizing their own chances of winning the market. I don’t think there’s any serious player, dominant or not, who would sit pretty waiting to be disrupted. Everyone has to do their part and those that are doing so very well and winning the customer as a result shouldn’t be punished for it.