Run to the Customer…



Is MTNL scared of competition? No, say the big bosses of the corporation.
"Let the private players come and start their services. Things are not easy
in the basic service market. Unless they have the volumes, they will not be
profitable. Private players will only target the corporates who form the cream
of telecom users. Look at Hughes in Mumbai. It services only the commercial
segment," says MTNL CMD Narendra Sharma, confident that the corporation
with four million subscribers in the two metros, would be able to beat the
competition in every way.



Nobody doubts the corporation’s achievement in terms of its assets and
reach, but there is certainly a lot to be desired in terms of its marketing and
customer-care services. The corporation’s ground level activities in recent
times indicate that MTNL mandarins have also realized this. Competition, or at
least the very mention of it, has done a world of good to the outlook of the
officialdom.

In anticipation of the private operators launching their basic services in
the metros, MTNL has undertaken the revamping of its care services. From
increasing its reach and visibility to better interface with customers, the
latest initiatives by the service provider are welcome signs for hapless
customers who have long become used to the rude behavior of MTNL employees.

Assets

  • A customer base of four million
    customers
  • A bouquet of offerings–basic,
    cellular, WLL, Internet, ISDN, and many other value-added
    services
  • 73 customer-care centers in the
    two metros

Recent initiatives

  • Focus on brand-building.
    Appointing an AOR to handle media buying
  • Launch Trump, its pre-paid
    cellular service
  • Launch branded pay phones which
    would also accept credit cards
  • Increase the number of agents
    selling MTNL off-the-shelf services
  • Introduce a slew of customer
    care initiatives like phone on phone, complete automation of
    billing systems to reduce frauds and increase the number of
    banks accepting MTNL phone payments

First, in a bid to improve its brand equity, MTNL has invited bids from
leading advertising agencies to pitch for its media buying business. It has
received bids from 34 advertising agencies so far, but will shortlist one to
coordinate all of its media buying activities. The company will soon step up its
brand building activities by launching an aggressive print and outdoor media
campaign. MTNL’s strategy of appointing an agency on record is in line with
the strategy of other corporates who hire an independent AOR for media buying.

Among the many campaigns that the new agency will have to promote, the
mandate also involves popularizing its new pre-paid cellular service branded as
Trump. The new service, which will be launched this month, could possibly be
priced at Rs 2.60 per minute for outgoing calls and Rs 2 per minute for incoming
calls. MTNL is planning to launch branded pay phones, which would allow the user
to use credit cards to make STD, and ISD calls as well as access the Internet.
The project is currently at its pilot stage with 50 machines being deployed at
various places in Mumbai and Delhi. Says GM, marketing P K Saha, "If the
pilot succeeds, we will get into branding and marketing these machines in a big
way."

These hi-tech machines will be unmanned Internet kiosks ideal for airports,
hotels, clubs, and hospitals. The Internet pay phones are being imported from
Canada with the maintenance undertaken by ITI. MTNL provides the lines besides
the capital expenditure. The machines are fitted with magnetic cards, which will
accept Visa and Master cards. MTNL has tied up with Standard Chartered Bank for
the online authentication of the customer’s credit card. Standard Chartered
has given each of the installed machines a unique authentication number and has
also set up a credit card server that will check the operations.

Saha says, "We want to increase the number of our agents in Delhi from
90 to at least 300 this year. We want to upgrade all the 49 customer service
centers to Sanchar Haats." MTNL has 29 Sanchar Haats in New Delhi.

Despite MTNL’s impressive subscriber base in the basic telephony segment,
there are serious problems with its customer care services. Some of its new
initiatives include a phone on phone service to reduce procedural bottlenecks in
getting a new connection; the complete automation of its billing system to
overcome frequent complaints of inaccurate billing; online bill payment and
payment through many more commercial banks, including their automated teller
machine counters.

And most important, MTNL has plans to put an improvised fault management
system in place. Let’s hope there’s no queue for this one!

Balaka Baruah Agarwal/CNS

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