Airtel — With 2000Cr, invest in back office functioning, not in Apple-esque customer stores

When I read about the launch of Project Next” by Airtel in Economic Times today (July 11th, 2017), I realized how misguided the one of the largest telecom providers in the country is. To help them out, I have listed a few points below that might actually retain customers with the 2000Cr spend.

  1. Accept Credit/Debit cards for Prepaid recharge

The Airtel Store only takes cash for a prepaid recharge. With the government pushing to adopt digital, and 95% of your customer base being Prepaid customers, you are actually discouraging the customer from using their credit/debit cards. When a customer is denied such a service with the country’s largest telecom operator, their faith and enthusiasm in adopting digital transactions is dampened to a great extent.

2. Accelerate refunds for failed transactions through the Airtel App

When a recharge transaction fails from the Airtel App, the app actually deducts the amount from your Bank Account (assuming you are using a debit card). You get an sms saying that the refund will be processed automatically, but it takes more than 7 days on average. Again, for 95% of the the customers, will prefer to go the store and get a recharge done in cash to avoid this inconvenience.

3. Make roll over data available for Prepaid Customers

Giving 5% of their customer base this option only means they are catering to the elite. After 10 years of being a Vodafone postpaid customer, I recently moved to Airtel prepaid because Vodafone was charging for things I absolutely did not need. Now Airtel, by not allowing roll-over data for prepaid customer is creating a similar situation. They are essentially forcing users to consume data when they don’t need it. “Expiry” of a certain feature plays to the fear of the consumer who wants the every rupee to be productive.

In this tariff war started by Reliance Jio, what Airtel is missing that they have to win consumer confidence by enabling transparency. Showcasing cell towers in a national advertisement campaign doesn't cut it anymore. The cell towers have to work, the price has to be competitive and the plans have to be designed to cater to customer needs instead of forcing a behavior on them. Spending part of 2000Cr to create Apple-esque customer center is not going to matter if the company does not improve the user experience of most frequent transactions with 95% of its customer base.

PS: I have not officially cross-checked the policies for these things, but experienced these first hand in Karnataka. If I did cross-checking, I would be a journalist.