Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Safaricom Scared! The Inside Scoop

It seems even giants can be rattled.

Since Bharti/Zain welcomed the birth of Kenya's second republic with the lowest call charges across mobile networks, their counterparts on Waiyaki way (Safaricom) have been as busy as bees. I can now exclusively reveal through my inside sources the happenings at Safaricom these past three weeks, some of which are utterly shocking.

1. Shutting down the Facebook Page
Even before Zain introduced their game changer tariffs, the official facebook page for Safaricom!/SafaricomLtd?ref=ts was peppered with negative comments from users. After Zain's tariff launch however, it seems people went full time on #chukifm on the Safaricom facebook page, complaining on every single comment from Safaricom. Sample some posts from users below:

" long as u guys stil continu stealin our credit usin ur unlimited internet shit,u suck in evrthn u do.actualy,u stink!"
 "MASAA YA KUIBA...i want my 21 mb of free data and 50/- that u stole...nktesticles! "
It got so bad that the fellows in charge of the Facebook page (I assume it's marketing/PR department) wanted to shut it down. Probably for the same reason their twitter account went quiet for over a week. Apparently the CEO Michael Joseph (MJ) had to intervene that the site not be shut down, as he argued that it provided good market research on what the consumers felt about the company.

However, it appears that later on the marketing fellows did get their way (partly) as all August posts and comments from visitors were deleted from the facebook page. It's as if Safaricom never existed in facebook cyberspace in August 2010.

2. Intentional hanging up on Customers
At 16 Million plus lines with only 800 customer service (CS) personnel at any one time, it's understandable that the Safaricom prepaid help line 100 would be hard to get through. Over the years Safaricom has continuously invested in customer care, changing their systems, hiring more staff, and building an ultra-modern customer care call centre in Mlolongo. However all that effort seems to go down the toilet based on prevailing attitudes of customer care staff who have admitted to this blogger that they hang up the phone on problematic clients.

Since some(all) calls are recorded to be reviewed later, the CS staff will not NKT before they hang up, but have developed artful methods of disconnecting that on later review it will seem that it was either accidental or unintentional. And good luck to you if you decide to call back to speak to the same CS staff (it's almost impossible to get through and almost impossible to be reconnected to the same agent.

Personally I use email to complain,, my legal background, means I am more assuaged with the documented chain of evidence that email provides.

3. New Billing System "Overcharges" (read Steals) with Knowledge of Top Management

After they launched their new tariff Masaa Ya Kubamba, most of us expected to significantly cut on our airtime expenditure. For those with data enabled phones however it has been an entirely different experience. On September 5th after noticing irreconcilable differences in airtime I purchased and service received, I contacted Safaricom customer care. They replied explaining that it was an error with the new billing system, specifically stating:
"The process explained below is the data service billing principle. However, the process of reserve and refund should be seamless. Reserve is done ranging from KSh 2 to KSh 16, on termination of the session, any unused amount is refunded back. Hence even with as low as KSh 2, you can still be able to access internet.
We apologize that during this time, there were delays in execution of the billing process principle, a problem that has since been resolved"
A few days later I got several "refunds" from Safaricom for airtime. However when I asked for a statement to prove that they had really refunded the airtime and that they had not "overcharged" me on other occassions, they deflected, ignored, stonewalled, and finally told me to get it from a retail centre at a cost of KES. 500.

My sources tell me that statements are made difficult to access because top management is acutely aware that customers are rampantly "overcharged" and is wary of accepting liability. This also is the number 1 reason why CS staff hang up on customers.

4. Staff morale at an all time low

Despite record-breaking profits and growing client base, my sources report that morale of Safaricom staff is at an all time low. There are several reasons for this:

1. MJ is a slavedriver
Now I personally think there is nothing wrong with pushing your employees to deliver their maximum output. However MJ takes it to another level and has previously fired an entire team from the manager down for goofing up. Those most at threat are people in Data and Mpesa divisions, who live under constant fear of the systems going down as it may mean the end of their jobs.

2. MJ is leaving 
As much as he is feared, he is also loved and respected. My sources all seemed very fond and fiercely loyal to the American who has built Safaricom into the giant it is. Staff are now worried about the future of the company (which many of them are owners of) with the changes at the top. No one really knows what to expect of Rob Collymore and whether he has what it takes to battle with Bharti.

3. Renewed Competitors.
Everyone at Safaricom, though they won't say it, is scared stiff of Bharti. Unlike the previous competitors, Bharti has the financial muscle, technical savvy, and marketing experience to make life for Safaricom very difficult. Word around the water cooler is that bigger companies have been toppled and Bharti has the qualities of a giant killer (although it's also a giant itself with over 190 million subscribers worldwide and the world's fifth-largest mobile phone company). Their $1.5B Africa deal to outsource computing technology, customer and other services to IBM (signed in Kenya no less by both CEOS) was a serious wake-up call to Safaricom on how serious Bharti is.

Orange have also taken a good nibble of the market with their KES. 100 unlimited call offer for 1 month, and Yu seems to have wrapped up the under 18 market segment who provide the greatest pool of new subscribers.

No one is polishing their CV up just yet, but my sources tell me that its only a matter of time before we see a mass exodus of highly trained Safaricom staff to the competition.

Keep your bookmarks locked on this site as I give you more inside scoop on the happenings at Safaricom

Friday, September 03, 2010

10 Things I hate about Safaricom

Since my post on why I won't be ditching my Safaricom line any time soon, I've been getting a lot of love from Big Green affiliates broadcasting the post. What these fellows should have been doing is sorting out the many issues with their products and services. Since everybody likes lists, I'm going to put up another one today - on the 10 things that I really hate about Safaricom.

1. Masaa ya Kubamba tariff.
Surprised? Don't be. This is the most annoyingly complex product Safaricom have ever devised in their evil labs. First of all, how to determine what you'll be charged based the card you use to top up might make sense to the financial division, but it is absolute torture to the consumer. To make matters worse it isn't clear what happens if you top up 100, use 50 then top up 30 with M-PESA, sambaza 80, redeem bonga points, okoa jahazi, receive 100 through sambaza: what tariff are you on?

2. Okoa Jahazi
They should call this product Tuna shylock, at 10% interest for 3 days this is a ridiculously expensive product, and the fact that it works sometimes makes it a huge #fail as an "emergency credit" product.

3. Internet Bundles
Since Safaricom launched the Virtually Unlimited Internet service (*544#) of KES.8 per 10MB all other internet bundles stopped making sense. Why would I pay KES 1,000 for 300MB when I can simply top-up my number with KES 240, subscribe to *544# and wait one month as my internet bundles accumulate to 300MB? However, Safaricom (cleverly or not) has ensured that subscribing to 544 is a nightmare - there is never an immediate response to subscription and its almost impossible to know whether the subscription has gone through, failed, or if you are already subscribed.

4. M-PESA API (or lack thereof)
As a sometimes developer, I'm frustrated that Safaricom has failed to open up MPESA to developers through a well-documented API. The knuckle-head who makes these decisions at SCom should realise that this would explode the functionality and popularity of M-PESA.

5. Cost of an SMS
It's KES 3.50 on net and 5.00 off net! Enough said.

6. Calling Safaricom from VOIP.
Why is this still so expensive? (that's a rhetorical question to the squeeze-profits-out-of-hapless-suckers bosses at SCom). I'd love to use Gmail Voice Calls, or even Yello from Access Kenya and IzzyTalk from KDN but the cheapest is KES.8 per minute. Come on guys, interconnection fees have been reduced, let's bring down these charges.

7. Kama Kawaida
At some point SCom told us that if we were in Uganda or Tanzania, we would enjoy the same tariffs as if we were in Kenya (hence the "kama kawaida" slogan). Anyone who has travelled to TZ or UG and used their SCom line knows this to be a damn lie. And if the promotion was cancelled, an appreciate a warning message when I cross borders (i.e. that I'm on international roaming, and international rates apply)

8. Safaricom Live (formerly known as Safaricom Broadband formerly known as Safaricom Bambanet)
If you google "Bambanet", you'll see my post where I lambasted Safaricom for their internet through modem product, could it be why they changed the name? Well it's a new name, but they still got enough problems. Right now, what I hate most is how the software installed with the modem can never give you a true and accurate picture of how many MBs you've downloaded or uploaded.

9.Network clarity
I know that I've previously said it's just good enough, but I still want to pull my hairs out when I have to spend 15 seconds of airtime saying "Hello.... can you hear me....hallo....can you hear me know?.."

10. Insufficient credit messages.
Anyone who has ever tried to send a text message to Safaricom when they have insufficient funds can immediately identify with me, why this can be one of the most annoying things about Safaricom. Not only do they send you a text message telling you that you have insufficient credit, but they send you three such messages in quick succession. I mean, come on! This has been going on for ever, you can't tell me that there isn't a Safaricom engineer who can fix this??

I've just realised that I can go on and on, but let me hear from you. What do you hate most about Safaricom?