Feature: What telecoms companies did for Customers during COVID-19 lockdown

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by Oluwatosin Ojebisi

The telecommunications
sector had been adjudged to be one of the highest beneficiaries of the COVID-19 Pandemic. People had no choice than to work from home which necessitated the use of data and the restrictions on movement made people send a lot of money on voice calls as well. In fact, the shares of MTN on the Nigerian Stock Exchange soared during this period.

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Ade was asked if he benefitted from his network provider during the lockdown? His response was, “Which benefit? The free Short Message Services (SMS) they gave me, I couldn’t use it. Free calls would have been better. I prefer to call, I hardly send text messages. Ade uses MTN by the way. This can be no truer as it was reported that the company would provide subscribers with up to 300 free SMS messages per month, which is broken down to 10 free SMS per day for 30 days.

Meanwhile, MTN Nigeria is at the forefront in the fight against the pandemic and ensuring that the government is equipped with data and connectivity necessary for effective communication and monitoring of the Virus. But the layman may not know this because all they need is more data to browse Youtube or watch Netflix and airtime to call boo or bae.

Amongst the offerings of MTN to the government include; partnering with Nigerian Centre Disease Control (NCDC) and providing its staff with access to voice and data services, telephones and toll-free lines in order to coordinate their response.  Supporting government with communication systems, analytical response management. Dedicating a channel that will help in the distribution of health information to all their subscribers, (This explains the unsolicited text messages that floods our line).

Finally, SMEs that are unable to pay March invoices will enjoy uninterrupted services through April. Commitment of N500 million by MTN Foundation towards addressing emerging medical needs.

However, other telcos are not left out in Corona-tribution. Airtel for instance offered free SMS to customers across all networks worth over N1B as well as free data for customers to access educational and health sites worth about N500m. It did not end there, as they also partnered with leading e-learning platforms to offer data-free access to their sites, empowering young Nigerians to benefit from quality education during the COVID-19 period.

Also, another notable Corona-tribution came from 9mobile as they garnered support for the health and education industry by providing free access to health and educational website for its customers. They also enabled access to selected websites to ensure that customers and Nigerians remain connected and have more access to basic essential services which they require.

Where is our very own indigenous Globacom in all of these efforts to support the customers? The Grand Master did not come to play, for them, it is either you go big or go home. They chose to go big by launching “Glo Stay Home Plan” which provides user an automatic 20 per cent more data (depending on the amount of data subscribed to) when the customer tops up his data, this will aid remote working, allow customers reach out to loved ones and entertain themselves during the lockdown.

Guess who is smiling to the bank? You and I know the answer. However, Nigerians have burning questions like; how long will the free messages and data last for? Why can’t telcos reduce data tariffs? Can a lasting solution be provided for the snail-speed data service? Amongst others questions.

However, it is evident that before the implementation of these various offerings, proper research was not conducted, if not, the telcos would know what the burning desires of the tech savvy users. Although, MTN gladly reported that over one billion free text messages were sent by customers within the first four weeks of introducing the 300 free SMS, but that would not take away the underlying issues.

For what it’s worth, the impact of COVID-19 has rendered several people jobless and without funds, they will be unable to pay for data subscription. What this then mean is that with the little they can squeeze out, they want more with the new “work from home” arrangement.

Honestly, an average person right now is swooned by COVID-19 reports and other related matter, hence will not be psyched to browsing through the NCDC website but rather take a break from the already saturated media platforms by enjoying an entertaining timeout on Netflix.

Away from these, in this uncertain times telcos are not proving to be thought leaders. They operate the same generic template of providing solutions to customers. I recommend that proper market research and evaluation be done and informed decision be taken to gain the trust of users going forward, truth is there are a lot of disgruntled users but without a better choice, they will continue to manage, which has brought us all to this point. Also, an increased bandwidth to avoid network congestion would be helpful at this time.

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