London — Self-service – where a customer uses an app or website to service their own needs – is more widely accepted outside of Africa. The potential cost savings are large if it can be done successfully. Russell Southwood looks at progress with self-servicing apps in seven key markets.

Want to top up your minutes or your data bundle but don’t want to go into your nearest MNO outlet? Want to check the level of your bundle? Have a query but can’t bear waiting on the line to the call centre? Fed up with call centre staff who aren’t helpful?

The self-service app was designed for those MNO subscribers who answer yes to all or some of these questions. They can combine m-payment, top up and queries for the person who is confident in using their smartphone. From the operator’s point of view, the more customers service themselves, the less they have to pay for call centre and store staff. The other thing you can do is to set up AI processes to be able to offer app users products and offers that fit their pattern of consumption.

In the African context, there is very little public research on how customers see self-service. In South Africa, according to reports from CRM News, in 2013 only 11% of customers expressed an interest in self-service across all industries. By March this year that same figure had risen to 81% and 67% said specifically that they would prefer to self service than talk to a company representative.

However, using a self-service app in telecoms terms implies the user has: a) a smartphone; b) some confidence in using software driven, online processes; and c) has the literacy – both reading and writing and technical – to be able to handle b).

The tables use Android phone downloads as these are the phones with the overwhelming market share in nearly all African countries. These are compared in table one to the latest subscriber figures available.

In Table 1 below, the My Vodacom app in South Africa is fairly exceptional because a quarter of all its subscribers have taken the time and trouble to download it. Neither MTN or Cell C come anywhere close, perhaps reflecting that the majority of their subscribers are from lower LSMs.

In Nigeria, My MTN is the self-service app winner but with a much lower percentage of 6.2% of all subscribers. Neither Glo nor 9Mobile have made much of an impression with their self-service apps. In Ghana MTN and Vodafone are the market winners for their self-service app but the percentage hovers around 5%. Airtel Tigo has always had a majority of subscribers from lower end demographics. Orange et Moi in Senegal fits the same pattern. Airtel in Tanzania has only attracted a very low percentage of its subscribers.

Table 1: Detailed snapshot / Table 2: Less detailed snapshot

On the basis of the data above, self-care apps are very much a work in progress outside of South Africa. It is also worth bearing in mind that the number of people who regularly use apps once they have downloaded them is often a much smaller percentage of the total downloads. African MNOs (and potentially their customers) have every incentive to digitalize their relationship with their customers.

In Brief

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Oppo smartphones officially launched in South Africa

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