On the Telco industry…

As Sheryl has mentioned, mobile phone users in Singapore now have the freedom to switch telcos without paying a levy. It’s definitely about time the IDA did something about levies! Seven years ago, UK telco customers were already retaining their numbers at no charge. Which goes to prove that you don’t just need the technology; you need an open mindset to make it work as well.
But I still don’t think I’ll switch networks. I’ve been getting annual discounts from SingTel for the past few years, and personal calls from customer services once or twice a year asking for my feedback. Surprisingly everyone’s been prompt and courteous. Also I believe SingTel still has the best coverage, though I’ve heard Starhub has cleaned up its act a little.
Another thing is, my default SIM card can hold lots more data. My colleague who’s on M1 and using the same phone model as I am, had to upgrade her card, which now is able to hold 30-40 text messages – which is still half the capacity of mine. My father was also stranded in South Africa a couple years ago, unable to call home, because he assumed that if SingTel offered roaming there, M1 did too. A quick call to M1’s Customer Service department confirmed that they didn’t.
Despite this, I believe the local industry has far to go. In the more developed UK market, each telco had more distinct brand personalities and I don’t recall price wars being as rampant in newspaper advertisements as they are over here.
The players were the (then) big boy, Vodafone, BT’s Cellnet (now called O2, which you have probably seen plastered on some English Premier League uniforms). Then there was One-2-One (now called T-Mobile), the cheapest by far. Loads of friends started off with them, then switched to either Voda or Cellnet because they kept on getting dropped calls and poor reception. Sounds familiar?
Then, there was Orange. Some people think I’m silly to feel loyal towards a company. Believe it or not, I still do. Orange was the newest kid on the block, but a year after I graduated I heard that they had overtaken Vodafone as the largest player in the market. Their prices weren’t the cheapest, and they weren’t on the GSM network which many Singaporeans preferred. But they put great thought into every step of the branding, marketing and customer relations experience, without making the effort look obvious.
What I loved about Orange was the way they pampered me. I’d get a cool Orange lifestyle magazine (that didn’t need to use the word ‘Lifestyle’), and their rewards system was the most intelligent by far. I could do almost anything with my points. I collected enough of them (3000+) after three years, which allowed me to adopt either an endangered rhinoceros or orangutan. Or buy one acre of Brazilian rainforest. Or go skydiving. Or rent a boat. That sort of thing.
Occasionally Orange saw the need to adapt particular handsets to suit its technology, so instead of the Nokia 6110 we’d get the 6110e. I’m not too sure what difference this made, but I quite liked having a beautifully designed user’s guide for your phone.
And I liked it when I made a call to customer services. The rep would answer crisply with a, “Good morning Miss Tan. How may I help you?” Their system was sophisticated enough to put my name to a number, even in the mid-90’s.
Moreover, their price plans were clear and frightfully simple, so I was dead certain of what I was paying for. Things which I still have to pay for seperately in Singapore, were a given with Orange, such as roaming. I also had free itemised billing, meaning they would tell me who I called, exactly which district they were in, which other networks were involved, and how much each individual call would cost. I could switch talk plans immediately without paying a surcharge, which was useful as a student going on three-month holidays. And if I didn’t use up my allocated talktime for the month, it would roll over to the next month.
Apart from what I’ve mentioned above, there are specific things that local companies can improve on. First, simple marketing approaches. Drop the words ‘excellence’ and ‘value-added services’. I’ll decide for myself, thank you very much. Most of the time, your rivals are offering exactly the same thing. And why call something ‘value-added’ when I have to pay more to use it?
Also, I wish they’d do away with the greeting, ‘Dear Valued Customer’. If your technology was really so sophisticated as you claim in your e-newsletter or website, why can’t you use my real name instead? Also, websites that still look like sales pitches, chock full of price-slashing deals with confusing navigation, really do not help.
Advertising-wise, I don’t think much of cheap digs at rivals. Remember that old SingTel ad, with the big red and small orange umbrellas? Let your network performance and your customers do the talking!