MeetMTN – MTN Uganda Executive Management Town Hall Meeting

Well 2012 is upon us, and the incubmbent US President Barack Obama, has started his battle for a second term in office, so that he can complete the change that he promised the American people. The battle for his first term was epic, first against Ms. Hillary Clinton, which intially changed from a David vs Goliath story to a battle of titans that he won. The one against the Republican was a massacre as Mr. John Mccain shot himself in the foot and head one campaign after another.

Why all this about President Obama, well one of his campaign tactics was town hall style meetings in different towns, and constitencies in order to connect with the people in the ground, and hear what they have to say directly.

Teleport straight to Uganda the Pearl of Africa, home to great beauty among other things, as well as to multi-national corporations which are running a large chunk of the core economy activities. Well these corporations have been facing a backlash with regard to service delivery over the last few years (which was terrible), the wrath of most was directed to UMEME the national power distributor due to the incessant power shortages which sort of brought the economy to its knees in 2011. At the height of the backlash, UMEME started to reach out to the populace to inform and educate the general public who did not understand their roles, challenges and strategies for attacking the rampant power problem. One of these events was a Tea Party for social media enthusiasts – bloggers and tweeps covered here http://ssmusoke.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/umeme-tea-party-quick-and-dirty-review-and-perspective/.

Well MTN Uganda, the largest telco by market share, numbers and revenues, has also reached out using a similar strategy this time called MeetMTN, where tweeps and bloggers were invited to meet the MTN executive management to discuss issues pertaining to service delivery and what is being done to work around the known issues.

Here is a summary of the major issues raised during the meeting, and responses from MTN executives who attended:

1. Provision of an API for Mobile Money and development of a partner ecosystem – information on when an API will be provided for mobile money as the largest provider and one with the largest reach. From the recently completed startup weekend, 12 of the 13 startup ideas depend on Mobile Money for payments. However no details of the availability of an API for 3rd parties were given citing a need not to commit to predefined dates. .The API is coming soon

2. Staff Attrition – there are rumours in the grapevine that there is a higher than normal attrition rate of talent over the last quarter, and whether this is one of the root causes of the recent outages and lowered quality of service delivery. The CEO mentioned that MTN leverages its regional strengths, but focuses on developing the local talent within the countries that MTN operates.

3. Service Health Dashboard – whether its possible to provide a public dashboard on the health of different services, inspired by Google approach. Also whether it was possible to spread information on service slowdowns and outages through different channels, Facebook/Twitter/Website/SMS, Radio/TV and customer service centers for extended service outages.

4. Lottery Games – there was a game which involved amassing points by answering questions for a chance to win UGX 10,000 (~US$4,000), and one of the attendees played the game using his family resources, and his wife almost divorced him. He was wondering how many points were needed to win the prizes so that he would be contented. The executives thanked him for playing and wished him better luck next time.

5. Unsolicited, Spam and Junk SMS messages plus hidden charges from content providers licensed by MTN and the company itself – There are many SMS messages for caller ring back tones, both from MTN and licensed content providers both as spam and also unknown activations which charge user numbers. We were informed of a blacklist code to enter I seem to have forgotten it, but this is not publizied … similar to US “Do Not Call Registry”

6. Does MTN Sell Customer numbers to content providers – MTN does not sell numbers to content providers, however these numbers are collected as part of normal usage for example promotions etc which may be done by friends, relatives. Ms. Maureen Agena of Text-to-Change also provided her organization’s experience with collecting targetted numbers which corroborates the information and policies from the executive.

7. Postpaid Service upgrade – customers on post paid services cannot upgrade data bundles in case they run out on a pay-as-you go service once the post paid bundle runs out. The executive informed us that the billing platform for all services is converged therefore this should be cleared in the very near future.

8. Hoax Promotions – there are cases when a promotion sale of phones or devices is announced, but they are not available because they were gobbled up by MTN staff. Management promised to look into this

9. IPV6 Migration – internal testing is in progress, but roll out to all customers is not confirmed until the services are confirmed as stable

10. SME Pricing – there seem to be no plans geared towards the SME sector as the current plans are either consumer (too expensive for SME at retail rates), or Enterprise (capex and opex costs too high for SME)

UPDATES – from Reader Feedback:

11. Simcard registration process and charges – there are claims of some agents charging for sim-card registrations, bu there is no charge for sim-card registrations. Also MTN intends to use this exercise as a “Know Your Customer” exercise and to deal with the spam/junk SMS message problem highlighted above.

12. Mobile Hotspots – the internet is not usable in a few parts of the country, and it would be better if there were hotspots at least in the urban areas, so that customers do not need dongles but just connect, and pay for usage. The technical team informed us that this was something that they were considering.

13. Internet Bundles using airtime once they expire without approval – currently once the Internet bundles expire the user’s airtime is charged which is the default option. There are ways around this and MTN intends to educate its customers on how to use these options

14. Slow Speed of the Website – the website is too slow, actually one of the slowest in Uganda, and the website self service features do not work. The website is currently being upgraded for speed and features, and a new one will be unveiled soon (BTW this is very embarrassing for multi-national telcom company).

Overall the interactions were excellent, and the available MTN staff were knowledgeable of subject matter they were discussing, which left a ray of hope that finally the behemoth is listening to its customers. Obviously the gift packs at the end made the trip worthwhile too. In closing I would like to say again as I did on Twitter:

“The only way @MTNUGANDACARE can support #startups and #enterprenurs is to provide a #mobilemoney #API #MeetMTN”

If I missed anything, just let me know …

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