8 Aug 2010
One of the worst things you could do as a brand is not deliver on your brand promise. Ufone has tried to position itself as the harbinger of impeccable customer service in Pakistan. It has come up with its own version of the ten commandments, the first one of which is ‘Service First’. Even the brand name implies a customer-focused entity. This ‘Service First’ strategy was launched back in 2005 and a few months back the management celebrated the fourth anniversary.
So one fine day, we decided to test Ufone’s brand promise and not surprisingly, Ufone fell way short of expectations, even more so than those telecoms who don’t claim to provide good service.
Here’s what happened:
The most basic package Ufone is offering is for Rs.150 with the option to add the bells and whistles later on. In addition to that, it had launched a subdued version of mobile+connection packages that are so common in the Western market. Currently it has discontinued that package but is still offering the mobile at only Rs.1200.
The only catch: you can’t run the mobile on any other service. So you have to invariably buy an Ufone connection.
Of course you can unlock the code from one of those mobile specialists in the mobile market akin to what people do with the ones brought from abroad, but the cost of this ‘bare-minimum’ mobile from Huawei doesn’t justify going to all this trouble.
Back to the story, I bought one of these Huawei Ufone sets along with a Ufone connection for Rs.1350 from their franchise in Dhoraji. Now this was my first interaction with the Ufone people, and I was met by two sullen fellows who looked even more crestfallen to see me approach them. After buying the package, I asked the guy who was tending to me to activate the sim for me, he curtly replied that I should do it myself by calling 789 from the cell. For some reason, I put off activating the SIM at the franchise and instead tried to do it later on at home. Little did I know that this small action would lead to tortuorous consequences later on.
Now their activation procedure requires you to confirm your CNIC number although you have already submitted a copy of the original CNIC as well as shown the original one to the customer rep. Calling that 789 number is an ordeal in itself. I called five times the first time before I got through to a CSR.
When I gave my CNIC details, the guy at the other end told me that I need to take my original CNIC to one of their customer service centers for verification as my CNIC had insufficient details. As a consumer, this didn’t amuse at all as I had deliberately bought the connection from an obscure franchise to avoid the hassle of a company-owned customer service centre which is always flooded with people, especially that of Ufone.
So, I asked the guy who had dropped the bombshell on me that why should I again go and show my CNIC when I had already done that. If I hadn’t shown my original CNIC, how the heck did I get the connection in the first place?
The poor chap had no answer to my demands, he just kept repeating the same line which he had delivered previously parrot style albeit with rising crescendo, showing that he was getting angry himself. Seeing that I was getting nowhere, I hung up.
I then tried calling the number again in the hope that maybe that rep was a newbie and didn’t know what was wrong and maybe this time I would be able to get in touch with an experienced one. So I called after two hours.
This time I couldn’t get through even after five tries. Tried the next day at 7am in the morning, 12.30 pm, 2.15 pm, 4.30 pm and finally at 5.50 pm when I finally got through for the second time.
All in all it had taken a whopping 17 tries to get in touch with a rep. Then just as I was telling my CNIC no. to the guy, the line dropped.
Can you believe that? The line dropped when I had finally struck gold after 17 tries!
In utter dismay I tried one more time, and this time got through on the first try. Again I gave my CNIC number but unfortunately the response was the same. Insufficient details on the CNIC data gathered from NADRA and that I had to visit the customer service centre myself with the original CNIC.
The centre closes at 6pm and since I had spent the entire day trying to reach their rep on phone, it was closing time and I had to wait another day to activate the connection.
Next day I did visit the centre at 2.30pm. My turn came at 2.50pm, majority of which time was spent standing since there wasn’t sufficient seating arrangement.
This time around I came across a feisty lady for a service rep. She wasn’t impolite or anything, it’s just that her persona didn’t match that of a customer rep. You got the feeling that one false move you made and she would have devoured you right then and there. The way she was bossing around her male colleagues, she ought to have been their team leader instead of dealing with the customers.
But the bottom-line is I got out of there unscathed with the lady finally resolving my problem after getting me to sign some more signatures along with even more thumb impressions.
I asked her why did I have to go through all this trouble, and she explained that there was some ‘fire’ at one of their centres which curtailed their ability to extract complete data for the NIC. This she said was also the reason for lack of response at the UAN number.
Whether this is true or not is not clear, but in any case the customers should have been informed of this development. Good companies even when going for unscheduled maintenance let the customers know and apologize in advance. This is the bare minimum requirement to be deemed as a good customer service provider. And Ufone is proclaiming to be the ultimate in customer service.
So what does this story tell us? Simply that the brand essence of any brand is determined by the perception in the mind of the consumer and not necessarily by what the custodians of that brand are projecting it to be. Sure that projection can become the brand essence if it is consistently effective over a long period of time. Think BMW. Think Caterpillar. Think Dalda Think Hamdard. It took ages for these brands to create a desired essence in the consumer’s mind.
The real brand essence of Ufone as perceived by the consumer is that of a youth-oriented brand that comes up with the most cost-effective and unique packages and conveys them in a humorous undertone.
You can argue that Zong has the cheapest offerings but it doesn’t. The connection fee for Ufone is Rs.150 while for Zong it is Rs.300. On top of that, Ufone is the only provider that is offering service cum mobiles in the Pakistani market and that also dirt cheap. That’s the bottom line and the consumer knows it well, hence the brand essence.
So what can Ufone do about this yawning gap? Stop projecting itself as a custodian of the perfect customer service by scrapping the ten commandments. (The funny thing is, these service commandments are not even on their website. They can only be seen at their outlets in the form of a huge poster hugging one of the walls.)
Yes it can continue to use these mantras internally to ensure that its employees don’t wander too far away from providing good service, but don’t advertise this fact.
Then raise the level of its customer service just a few notches up. It doesn’t need to compete with the likes of Telenor and Mobilink on this parameter because it’s definitely not Ufone’s forte. The thing is Ufone can get away with average customer service if it continues to hammer on its current positioning of unique and cost-effective packages. Instead of offering Blackberry packages to no use, it ought to upgrade its basic connection+mobile packages on the Western market model.
Right now it’s offering the most basic cellphone at Rs.1200. It should introduce better models, maybe even have a brand alliance with Nokia to give those mobiles along with the connection and of course free airtime.
How about a Nokia 5230 customized for Ufone and 150 free minutes for let’s say Rs.14,000?
Or how about a Samsung Corby Pro for approximately Rs. 13,000?
Consumers are increasingly being wooed by the cellphone manufacturers to embrace the touch-screen category and Ufone ought to jump on this bandwagon right away.
Throw in mobile insurance as well for good measure and you’ve set the ball rolling for a paradigm shift in the way consumers in this part of the world buy cellphones and telecom services. And right now, Ufone is in the best position to induce this behavioral change.