Vodacom strives to empower Africa's digital future

Teki Netshitenzhe, Vodacom chief officer: Corporate Affairs

Teki Netshitenzhe, Vodacom chief officer: Corporate Affairs

What makes reputation specifically important in the telecoms sector?

At a time when social pressure is on the rise, reputation has never been as important for all businesses across the globe. We see reputation as more than being purely about communication; it also needs to encompass key elements such as company performance and behaviour. It concerns what stakeholders think about the company, who the company says it is and what the company stands for. Building and maintaining a good reputation is non-negotiable in today’s competitive marketplace. Therefore, company reputation should be treated as a delicate asset that has to be managed like other assets of the company. Vodacom is a caring company committed to social transformation. We create connected societies to facilitate the empowerment of the communities in which we operate. Therefore, creating the best network experience for our customers is critical for us. We strive to be the telecommunication brand of choice, and this requires excellent customer experience. Reputation management is not static; it requires vigilance, monitoring, sustenance, and recovery when dented.

What are some of the recent challenges around maintaining a good public perception as a telecoms provider? How has Vodacom dealt with these?

The cost to communicate remains one of the barriers to accessing communications world-wide especially for women, according to a study published by the GSM Association in 2016. The cost of data remains a top-of-mind issue in South Africa, which government has now referred to the regulators the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) and the Competition Commission for an inquiry. Icasa recently issued draft regulations on the cost to communicate for public comment, which we have provided input into.

True to our commitment to price transformation, we put various initiatives in place aimed at driving down the cost of data and encouraging customers to optimise the use of bundles. Our three-year price transformation strategy continues to deliver greater value for our 39 million South African customers. In the past year, voice and data prices fell by 14.3% and 16.0% respectively in South Africa, where significantly more customers benefitted from using bundles. This brings the cumulative reduction in voice and data prices to 42.2% and 44.3% over the past three years.

As part of our digitilisation strategy, we have adopted a segment approach that is intended to tailor-make the company products and services according to the spending patterns and needs of our customers. Personalised offers, through the likes of “Just 4 You”, continue to play an important role both in generating greater value for our customers. This year we launched Siyakha, which is specifically aimed at the emerging market. In addition to zero-rated services such as portals for job seekers and digital learning, which are available through the Vodacom e-school, Siyakha customers can access a basic version of Facebook. Called Facebook Flex, this enables customers to communicate with friends and family without incurring any charges. Four months ago we launched a maternal health educational programme for pregnant women, new mothers and caregivers called Mum and Baby. 

We remain focused on reducing data pricing and continue to run targeted awareness campaigns on personal data management, especially when using smart devices.

How do your products and services contribute to your recognition?

As part of our commitment to social transformation, our objective is to demonstrate the transformative power of technologies. We deploy ICT as a tool for development to contribute to the attainment of the sustainable development goals.  Putting mobile devices in people’s hands to enable connectivity and communication might appear to be merely a regular activity in a country with a mobile telephony penetration of 68% (according to a GSM Association report). However, mobile communications transform lives socially and economically, and to this end we continue to increase our penetration of low-cost Vodacom branded devices to reach out to all market segments. Through our enterprise business we provide ICT solutions to enterprises and government to contribute to education, health, the creation of smart cities and agriculture by connecting farmers.

Vodacom is a major contributor to health and education projects of government. The Vodacom Foundation is committed to digital literacy and has spent about R350-million in the past nine years on school connectivity, teacher and youth training, and providing digital content from grades R through to 12 in partnership with the department of basic education. A month ago, we launched a virtual classroom in the Eastern Cape, demonstrating the use of technology to enable distance teaching and learning. This initiative will address the shortage of teachers, mainly in the science, technology, engineering and maths subjects in rural schools, and also address the affordability of tertiary learning.

What are the core aspects of Vodacom’s unique identity? How do you make these known to the public?

Connectivity is what we are about — connecting people and the communities in which we operate is key to us, and so is excellent customer experience. We’ve invested over R27-billion in the last three financial years in our network in South Africa.  By enhancing access to voice and data, our network and service offerings are helping to transform lives and stimulate economic growth in the markets in which we operate.

Our Care initiative was launched in 2015 with the customer top-of-mind, and we continue to put measures in place to deliver on this programme by striving to provide consistent connectivity, billing predictability, rewarding loyalty and responsiveness to customer inquiries. Shortcomings are identified and treated with the seriousness they deserve.

Our ambition is to position Vodacom as Africa’s best telecommunications company by delivering unmatched customer experience at every point that a customer engages with our brand, from connectivity to maximising the efficiency and availability of customer support and resolving queries.

Can you give an example of a time when the company demonstrated strong vision or took advantage of a great opportunity?

Our core belief is that through our social investments and providing relevant communication and technology solutions we are contributing to changing the lives of people in our communities. For over 18 years, through the Vodacom Foundation, we have invested over R1.2-billion in communities across our operating countries, supporting various initiatives and partnerships in education, health, safety and entrepreneurship.

When the Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi took office in 2009, one of his biggest concerns was shortage or mismanagement of medicine stock in public health facilities. In some instances, the stock would be available in the warehouses but not distributed accordingly. Vodacom Foundation partnered with the department and developed a Stock Visibility Solution for deployment in the public health centres across the country to manage the distribution, availability and depletion of medicine stock for mainly HIV and TB. The solution won international awards and continues to be a flagship project for both Vodacom and the government. The project helped health professionals to see the value of a mobile device beyond just communication, and contributes to the longevity of beneficiaries living with HIV and TB.

Highlights of the Top Five

Plus 94 Research rates TCRI organisations on nine reputation dimensions namely: financial performance, corporate communication, recognition, products and services, vision and leadership, workplace environment, Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment and Corporate Social Responsibility. These aspects are aggregated to a score of 31 and weighted to a total of 100. This is how some of this year’s TCRI top 5 organisations performed against these dimensions:

Samsung South Africa

Samsung South Africa is rated as the most reputable company. The key dimensions behind this rating are a strong financial performance, recognition and corporate social responsibility. Samsung South Africa outperforms its competitors and is recognised as an esteemed business that is committed to being a good and concerned corporate citizen. The company is perceived as one that has a top work environment and employees are happy to be working there.

Coca-Cola South Africa

Coca-Cola’s rating as the second most reputable company is a drop from its number one ranking last year. However, the drivers of its good reputation continue to include a positive perception of the quality of products and services, quality employees and clear communication and messaging to stakeholders. Coca-Cola continues to be a familiar and trusted brand, as 97% of respondents say they know the brand very well and trust the quality of its product and services.

Pick n Pay

Rated second in 2014, the giant grocery retailer has improved its 2015 rating of sixth place to third place this year. Pick n Pay is trusted by the public for its vision and leadership in the industry, and its ability to produce quality products and services. It is perceived as a company that is able to leverage market opportunities and comply with the requirements of black economic empowerment.

McDonald’s

A strong record of profitability is a key driver of McDonald’s reputation. It continues to outperform its competitors, ranking first on the reputation index for fast food outlets since 2013. Ranked fourth in this year’s top 10, McDonald’s is perceived to perform well financially, have the ability to successfully take advantage of opportunities in the market and attract good employees.

Volkswagen (VW)

VW is perceived as having the ability to create and develop innovative products and services, and displays the qualities of a company with excellent prospects for the future. Rated fifth this year, good communication and being a renowned brand are key dimensions for VW’s reputation. With high levels of awareness, respondents perceive VW to be a familiar and trusted brand.

The awareness of the brand is a result of the effective use of multiple communication channels to share information with stakeholders.