South Africa: MTN leads telecoms consumer sentiment, Eskom constrains the industry

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Wednesday, 27 April 2022 06:00

A shopper walks past an MTN shop at mall in Johannesburg
An MTN shop at a mall in Johannesburg, South Africa. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

MTN has the best levels of consumer sentiment among South Africa’s telecoms companies but Eskom's load shedding is harming perceptions of the industry, according to the South African Telecommunications Sentiment Index from Deloitte and DataEQ.

The survey published this month is based on 1.83m social media posts about South Africa’s five largest network providers, Vodacom, Telkom, MTN, Cell C and rain. MTN extended its lead over rivals with the largest improvement in the industry in terms of consumer sentiment.

The telecoms industry ranked last by far in terms of consumer sentiment for the second consecutive year versus banking, insurance, and food retail. Telecoms had negative net sentiment of -31%, versus -7.5% for banks, and marginally positive readings for insurance and retail.

Eskom’s woes are part of the problem, as telecom service delivery is more exposed to power supply disruptions. Load shedding was implemented on 45 days in 2021. According to the index, over half of these days saw unusual volumes of network complaints for at least one telco provider.

  • “This suggests telcos have yet to put the necessary systems in place to ensure their networks are load-shedding proof,” the survey said.
  • The impact of load-shedding is financial as well as reputational. Load shedding has had a “devastating impact” on the industry, pushing operational costs up at a time when margins were already under pressure, said Gill Hofmeyr, Africa technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) industry leader at Deloitte in Johannesburg.
  • Downtime was the largest “risk” factor in public discussions, accounting for 55% of risk discussions. All other main risk factors had a decreasing role versus previous surveys.

Data prices combined with network issues to increase frustration, the survey finds.

  • As in previous surveys, negative comments about data prices tended to occur at the same time as network complaints, suggesting that data prices charged had led to increased customer expectations.

Influencers

MTN’s score improved by 14.9 basis points to a negative reading of 6.7%. Vodacom and Telkom tied for second place, both with negative readings of 27.9%. Newcomer rain achieved only a marginal improvement to -55.7%.

Influencers were key to MTN’s success as they were involved in 41.7% of the company’s positive reputational conversation. That is based on the social media postings where a clear advertising disclosure was made.

Still, the survey notes, not all influencer-driven discussion had this kind of clear disclosure. That suggests a danger that if consumers online later find they have been “steered” then future reputational sentiment could take a hit.

The survey breaks down net sentiment into operational and reputational sentiment. Most of the public conversation for established players like MTN and Vodacom was reputational. For rain, 69% of the conversation was operational, indicating that service delivery issues had not yet been resolved.

  • Vodacom was the only provider to have a slight drop in reputational net sentiment, hurt by negativity around its pursuit of a license in Ethiopia, the survey says.7

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