MTN: It's time to go
By Levi Obijiofor
Friday, 25 January 2008
The news in the telecommunications industry last week was the emergence of Glo Mobile as the leading service provider in Nigeria. For years, telecommunications business in Nigeria was dominated by MTN. For years, MTN Nigeria has served its customers a range of telecommunications cocktails comprising tantrums, extreme mood swings, headaches, heartaches, intermittent finger trembling and insomnia.
For years, subscribers to MTN services had had to put up with unprecedented arrogance and disrespectful treatment by staff of this telecommunications behemoth known as MTN Nigeria. This is what usually happens when a service provider operates in a near-monopoly environment. Now that serious competitors have entered the market, subscribers have been provided with attractive options. And they are voting with their feet against MTN's substandard services.
Anyone who was in Nigeria in December 2007 and much of January 2008 would have experienced the worst telecommunications service provided by a company since the introduction of mobile telephony in Nigeria. Here are some of the bizarre experiences. You dial a mobile phone number and the call goes to an unintended receiver. You speak with someone on your mobile phone and you hear other people discussing on the same line. This is not something that is associated with mobile phone business in this age of new technologies.
With MTN Nigeria, anything is possible. You dial a mobile phone number and before you complete the dialling, one of the following messages flashes across your mobile phone screen: "Call end. No response"; Call end. Dropped"; Call end. No answer", etc. Add to these the phenomenon of your receiver's voice dropping off constantly. In the first decade of the 21st century, customers of MTN Nigeria should not have to put up with this nonsense.
MTN Nigeria is in business to provide a service. It has the obligation and social responsibility to provide that service to the satisfaction of customers. If it cannot do so, it should relinquish its licence. No lousy excuses would do. Any organisation that holds a licence to provide telecommunications service to the satisfaction of its customers must adhere to the conditions of that licence and meet the standards expected by the industry watchdog and the customers. MTN Nigeria was granted a licence to provide telecommunications services to the Nigerian public. It has failed.
The change of market leader in the telecommunications industry in Nigeria must be attributed to improved services provided by Glo Mobile which have led to growing customer satisfaction and mass migration to the company's services. Equally significant, the displacement of MTN Nigeria as the market leader must also be blamed on persistent dreadful and shameful services offered by that company. In a competitive market, poor service delivery constitutes the fastest route to business perdition through customer dissatisfaction.
MTN Nigeria must learn a bitter lesson about the consequences of poor service delivery. Business organisations that treat customers shabbily should expect a payback from their clients. It may not happen overnight but it will happen. Inferior telecommunications services coupled with poor customer relations have combined to drag down MTN Nigeria from its leadership position. And if the company continues in its errant ways, in particular the unfair treatment of subscribers, chances are that it could fold much earlier than anticipated.
The downhill slide of MTN Nigeria is proof that business organisations that fail to renew their services and regularly evaluate their performance will die. This is not a prediction. It is a statement of fact.
The displacement of MTN Nigeria by Glo Mobile confirms the long-held public opinion that MTN Nigeria has continued to engage in activities that reflect corporate irresponsibility. It is time the telecommunications industry watchdog ÔÇô the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) ÔÇô and the National Assembly which supervises that watchdog, brought MTN's poor professional performance to an end through the revocation of the company's operating licence. That licence should be awarded to another company or it should be tossed into the sea. In the era of new communication technologies, Nigerians deserve much better services than they are currently receiving from MTN Nigeria.
When he spoke with reporters in Lagos last weekend, NCC chief executive Ernest Ndukwe said the NCC was committed to helping telephone subscribers get value for their money. This is an indirect acknowledgement from the NCC that telecommunications companies in Nigeria have been providing substandard services and yet they continue to reap huge profits. According to Ndukwe: "We want consumers of telephone services in the country to enjoy the services and also enjoy their money's worth. We are putting a number of programmes in action this year to achieve those desires. More operators are expected to launch services this year and this will increase competition and translate to better value and choice for the consumer. 2008 will be a good year for telecoms in Nigeria."
Ndukwe did not explain how the NCC would compel telecommunications companies to improve their services or how the companies would compensate subscribers for poor services other than urging telephone subscribers to take action to force companies to lift the standards of services. Although the NCC has the power to force telecommunications operators to improve the standards of their services, it is ridiculous that the NCC, as the watchdog of the industry, has abandoned its moral and legal obligation to check the dubious activities of telecommunications companies in Nigeria. The National Assembly and the NCC must be reminded that a marked improvement in the standards of telecommunications services offered to subscribers in Nigeria would require more than rhetoric.
The farcical performance by MTN Nigeria and other telecommunications companies cannot continue forever. In the highly competitive telecommunications market, MTN Nigeria just cannot be allowed to continue its business-as-usual approach to service delivery. Meeting the telecommunications needs of Nigerian customers must remain the priority goal of all companies operating in the industry. After all, telecommunications companies are in business because of their customers.
What is particularly nauseating about the customer relations disaster within MTN Nigeria is that no one in the organisation seems to care about subscribers' complaints about grossly inefficient services. We must keep in mind that, as former industry leader, MTN Nigeria rakes millions of naira in profits from its customers. Why, for goodness sake, can't the company use part of its huge profits to improve the quality of services provided to the subscribers?
MTN Nigeria has continued to roll in the mud of inefficiency and to treat subscribers with contempt partly because neither the industry watchdog (the NCC) nor the National Assembly has been bold enough to ask the company to lift the standards of its services or face the revocation of its operating licence. In my judgment based on the quality of services provided by MTN Nigeria, the licence granted to the company should be revoked. I stand to respond vigorously to any public relations twaddle from MTN Nigeria following the publication of this article.
There is no way MTN Nigeria can convince anyone that its awful performance should be blamed on heavier-than-usual telecommunications traffic in December or indeed at any other time of the year. In the past, the company had pleaded (as part of its basket of excuses) a surge in consumer demand and the overloading of its facilities. But this particular excuse does not impress. That sluggish defence flies in the face of reality for a number of reasons. The company ought to be aware of the capacity of its equipment to handle any unexpected rise in telephone traffic. It is a measure of the level of management confusion and organisational inefficiency that MTN Nigeria has continued to manufacture excuses for its appalling performance every year.
MTN Nigeria has performed and continues to perform far below public expectations. There are other more competent service providers in the industry and other capable organisations seeking licences to enter the market. These organisations deserve to be encouraged and empowered through legislation. Competition is sorely needed in the telecommunications industry in Nigeria. It is the only way that subscribers can get value for their money.
I have often wondered why a significant number of Nigerians carry two or more mobile telephones in their hip pockets. Now I know why.