Two years down the line since Bharti Airtel acquired Zain and Re-branded it to Airtel and the company is still struggling to find its footing in Kenya. In that period they have tried everything to gain significant following in Kenya but things are simply not working. Airtel fought hard for Number Portability when it came, nobody cared…Airtel reduced its prices to the bare minimum but Kenyans stuck with Safaricom which most of them consider expensive ..Airtel parted ways with Rene Meza to get a new person to be in charge but that too has not worked so far..
Now there is a new CEO in Town. Last week Airtel announced the appointment of Shivan Bhargava as Managing Director for its Kenyan operation. Shivan was earlier the Chief Operating Officer and in his new role he will be responsible for leading Airtel’s growth plans in Kenya.
Announcing the appointment, Mr. Jayant Khosla, CEO (Airtel Africa Anglophone Region), said: “Kenya has always been a key market with great potential for growth within the region. Our leadership and management team in Kenya is made up of exceptionally talented, experienced, passionate and committed individuals. Shivan’s experience and qualifications will add value to the team and Airtel’s future plans to deliver innovative and best-in-class mobile services. I wish him success in his new assignment.”
Please let us all welcome Mr. Shivan to the hot seat. Unfortunately he comes in at a time when Airtel is gaining subscribers at a lower rate than the other network operators in Kenya
According to the latest stats by Communication Commission of Kenya ,by the end of the Quarter 2 of 2011/12 i.e. the period from 1st October to 31st December 2011, the four mobile operators experienced gains in subscriptions. In particular, Safaricom Ltd recorded the highest gains with 741,560 new subscriptions from 593,177 recorded in the previous period. Essar Telecom (yuMobile) followed with 600,285 new subscriptions up from 46,742 recorded during the previous period. Orange gained 144,208 new subscriptions from 16,686 from the previous period while Airtel Networks Ltd had 100,778 new subscriptions from 557,567 in the previous period.
So why is Airtel strategy not working? From where I sit, there are a number of reasons:
1. Crappy Customers Service. You can promise Kenyans the whole world, you can give them the cheapest rate possible but if crappy customer service then forget about them flocking to your network. Safaricom realized that and now most people are happy with how they handle the customers. The same can’t be said of Airtel….
2. Lousy Social Media strategy: Social Media has become the central point where the young Kenyans express their views, satisfaction and disgust at everything under the sun. That include bashing companies like Airtel which simply don’t care about the Social Media. Yes I know Airtel has Facebook page and may be twitter account but that is not enough. Social media requires more than just creating an account and once in a while passing by to praise your product or service. Again they need to learn from Safaricom or Batakenya.
3. Ignoring Locals for the top positions. This a controversial topic to talk about, but the reality is , Kenyans understand their country better than any foreigner will. But if you must bring someone from somewhere to run the company then he or she should not be an elitist that does not want to mingle and learn from Kenyans. Sorry we have to bring Safaricom here again..but look at Mr. Bob Collymore. He came, found a way to connect with people and settled in perfectly. He once went to Dandora riding on a matatu to visit his clients accompanied by his rap fellow Juliani…that is learning
4. Not Getting involved with local initiatives: Apart from the BillBoards, I simply can’t feel Airtel presence on the ground..
5. Top down Approach as opposed to Bottom Up. Airtel has never found a way to get their customers to be their advocates. And yes, this is connected to the first point, customers do not feel cared for..
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