Doing business in Africa, according to Tellumat, is a daunting prospect, with Nigeria near the top of the 'no-sissies' list. And yet the country is an extremely attractive proposition, with sound economic fundamentals and largely untapped potential.
Tellumat's involvement in Nigeria started in 2002, when it implemented a customer call handling system (PBX) for cellular provider Starcomms (20 agents). After three upgrades to cater for its customer expansion, the system hosts 140 agents; next year it will accommodate 200. This year in February Starcomms celebrated 1 million subscribers, making it a minnow in a country with 138 million citizens. In 2009, its subscriber base is expected to cross the 2 million mark, thanks to a customer focus that Starcomms has followed by engaging with partners such as Tellumat and their contact centre platform.
While performing incremental capacity upgrades, Tellumat also introduced CallView call management software, with features like multimedia channels, automated call distribution and supervisor interrogation into agent activities.
Manoj Vashisht, Starcomms marketing director, says the upgrades were hugely important to Starcomms's customer growth and expansion. Firstly, it could handle many more calls with IVR functionality, and its six-line Inter-Tel phones allowed for monitoring. Dialled number identification service [DNIS] promoted efficiency and customer relationship management.
ACD reporting further allowed Starcomms to capture all customer service metrics in most regions, to plan for shift patterns and agent blending. All in all, Vashisht says, customer service improved through call personalisation, shorter handling times and traffic projections.
Managing executive of Tellumat Telecoms, Bennie Langenhoven says implementation success and the customer's business enablement had been achieved despite significant challenges. "One must prepare for poor infrastructure [telecoms coverage, bandwidth, transport and electricity], as well as logistical issues [the slow release of imported equipment by Nigerian customs officials]". But provided one can absorb delays, plans to overcome obstacles and provide a solution that meets the customer's challenges, the scene will be set for the future success of all concerned."
Vashisht provides a peek into a new avenue for Starcomms - mobile broadband. "We will use CallView not just for inbound voice support, but have already successfully used it for 3G data and value-added services support."
However, 3G success is not a foregone conclusion. Despite excellent GDP growth (nearly 7%), low inflation (2.9%) and a population of 138 million, 80 million Nigerians still don't have telephony, and only 550 000 use mobile broadband.
There are challenges aplenty: After endorsing a national fibre backbone, the government has back-tracked on its plans. Nitel, the state-owned telco, retains a monopoly on international bandwidth through exclusive landing rights of the SAT3 cable, and the unreliability of its links has left the country dependent on satellite connectivity. Due to poor fixed-line rollout, ADSL penetration remains low. All this has hamstrung a country with the potential to invest heavily and be a connectivity gateway into the West African region.
Speaking at the 3rd Annual High Speed Access Technologies conference earlier this year, Langenhoven said: "The best solutions recognise and overcome the challenges, and focus on helping customers to meet their own challenges. In this way, doing business in Africa can benefit everyone - the customer, the buying public, and even the country and Africa as a whole."
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