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Opinions of Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Columnist: Dowuona, Samuel

Letter to Xexemuxe - I don't hate Vodafone

Samuel Dowuona

Xexe, today I want to talk about Vodafone Ghana. Sometimes, I come across like I am on a campaign against Vodafone Ghana but I am not.
There was a time, when Kyle Whitehill came in as CEO of Vodafone Ghana, all the other telcos thought I was on the Vodafone payroll to do propaganda for them. In fact some of them even accused me of BEING USED BY VODAFONE.

The simple reason was that I am journalist and my stock in trade is information spiced with a little bit of sensationalism, vim and boldness, and Kyle was my man any day. He came in at a time when all the telco CEOs were playing the chicken and toothless bull dogs (pardon my French). They had issues about regulations and even the competitive environment but they would rather keep quiet and suffer than to say it.

Let me give you a few of the things Kyle said boldly and see if any journalist would not make him the toast of his stories.

1. I think MTN has an unfair advantage in this market so my strategy is to go after some of MTN's subscribers so that there will be some balance in the market.

2. I think there are too many telcos for a small market like Ghana and eventually some will collapse or merge for survival.

3. Whoever says telcos are not making profit is being hysterical. We are making profit, except the profit margins are dwindling.

4. Everywhere in the world, where there is mobile number portability there is a movement among high-end customers and that is my target so I am putting every effort into MNP to capture that small in size but big in value market.

5. The way mobile money is being done in Ghana today is not the way to go because that will not drive a cashless society. So Vodafone is preparing our MM package well to launch in a form that really is relevant to a wider group of Ghanaian.

6. ISPs (internet service providers) in Ghana have become irrelevant because they keep using obsolete technology.

7. Fixed broadband customers' complaints are "RUBBISH".

Xexe, there is more. But the point is, if an executive enters a market where other executives already in were toothless and spineless, and he choosesnto take the bull by the horn, would you not follow him closely as a journalist? One interview with Kyle would easily give you loads of story angles, but the other CEOs were either mute or gave very vague and safe interviews in the name of sounding politically correct. Maybe that was why Kyle did not keep long in Ghana. But his impact was aggressive, sharp and in your face.

So yes, it looked like I was a Vodafone campaigner then. But even then, the Vodafone Communications team themselves were not always happy about some of the stories I wrote. They would always say the content was great but the angle is not politically correct. But I was and I have always been a journalist. I stick to the facts and my editorial decision on story angles was and is still entirely mine.

Kyle was like Bishop Dag Heward-Mills, and the Vodafone Communications team was like the other pastors of Lighthouse. The bishop speaks the hard truth and when we report it some of the pastors get concerned, even though the Bishop himself is not bothered. Kyle was not bothered one bit about speaking the truth. He was not spineless and that is what a good journalist loves.

Xexe, even though Kyle was forthright and a powerful newsmaker, I had always thought that he turned Vodafone into this disrespectful beast. Under him, the company seem to want to dictate the terms of their relationship with customers and stakeholders, in direct contrast to their mantra "POWER TO YOU". Kyle did lots of things that made me wonder if indeed they really meant it when they said "power to you'.

1. They cut fixed broadband customers' power to do the things they love to do with Vodafone broadband. The uproar was in the public domain and we all witnessed it.

2. They cut wholesale customers (ISPs) power to operate freely. In fact Vodafone is both player and referee in that space and they took full advantage of that opportunity without fear or favor. And Kyle rubbed it in the faces of the ISPs, calling them irrelevant and obsolete.

3. They started segmenting mobile customers airtime in ways that the customers is completely unaware of. For instance, they decided that when you buy airtime, portion X is for voice and portion Y is for data. So when you have webpages active and you want to use your credit for a call they decide that the remaining credit is for data so you have not voice minutes. Totally irrelevant and disrespectful in my opinion. And it makes the customer powerless rather than powerful.

Speaking of powerful and powerless brings me to whether Vodafone is really interested in giving customers and stakeholders power, or they are just interested in using their stakeholders to advance their course (whatever it may be).

Xexe, there are claims you can't just make for mere advertising purposes. You need to provide evidence. And when you have the evidence, you need to respect the people to whom you make the claim enough to show them that evidence so they can also make informed judgments just like you had the opportunity to make an informed judgment. Particularly, for a company whose mantra is "POWER TO YOU", you need to walk the talk and think of how to empower stakeholders to play their role in the relationship.

Personally, I think Vodafone is a great brand by all standards. But when you commission a research and the results come out and you claim it favors you, and you believe in it so much so that you spend loads of money to run two advertising campaigns on the back of that report, it is only a matter of course to be equally bold to show those results in their original form to the public and other stakeholders like the media.

Xexe, what worries me most is that the media did not ask Vodafone to invite us and tell us anything. They invited us willingly and decided to share this supposed juicy information with us, but in a form that insults our intelligence in so many ways. And when we asked for the original copy of the report to do INDEPENDENT stories, they refused and yet expected us to go tell you Xexe, and the rest of world they are what they claim they are, even if we have not seen the evidence. And I felt very insulted when they claim the material they showed us was HARD EVIDENCE. They have a lot to learn from Anas about what hard evidence is.

Vodafone claims to be best in four main things even thought now they are running campaigns with only two. And they chose the two which the National Communication Authority (NCA) was not measuring then so there was no comparative data to verify if their claim was true or not. I thought it was such a charade and a carefully planned process to use the media the way they are without EMPOWERING us to do an independent work.

They claimed superiority in the following:
1. Data speeds (throughput)
2. Voice clarity
3. Call set up time
4. Call drops rate.

NCA had reports of the last two and the NCA report was contrary to Vodafone's so they could not run a campaign with those. But the other two were not measured by NCA then so that was the safe haven for Vodafone.

When we asked for evidence on the claims, Vodafone did what I thought was the height of disrespect to senior journalists like us. They showed us skewed graphs that only mentioned Vodafone by name and all other telcos as OPERATOR 1. OPERATOR 2 and so on. Even my wife said "ah but that is not fair - they should tell us who those operators are if they can spend money to run campaigns like that." Xexe, I did not even put that in my wife's head. She just figured it out all by herself.

Subsequent to that interaction with Vodafone, every journalist chose to just run with what they claimed with those skewed graphs but I thought you Xexe, and the public needed to be respected and be showed some real evidence. I did not think if any of those at Vodafone saw those skewed graphs they could used them as part of their literature review in an academic dissertation. So why show such disrespect to journalists and the public with such graphs. I therefore looked at the NCA report and did a comparative analysis which showed Vodafone was worst in call set up time (contrary to their claim) and no telco was best in call drops rate because everyone recorded zero, so I don't know how Vodafone became best on that.

Xexe, so two down and two to go. Those two had no comparative data at the NCA, but your guess is as good as mine, given what I found about the first two.

So that left me with real customer experience on the ground. Not the quantitative junk, but real qualitative experience. Prior to, and since Vodafone started claiming their voice quality and data speed blablabla, I have had the worst experience on the network. Even till date, my Vodafone experience is the worst. I thought my Samsung Galaxy S2 was old and was playing tricks on me so I have changed my phone recently and the network experience is still the worst compared to the other network I use. It may be worse on other networks but when I compare the two I use, Vodafone is a shadow of the other.

I live at La and work at Kokomlemle. It does not matter which of the two locations I am in, my Vodafone data and voice experience is worst than what I get on the other network. Simplicita. I can't make this up. The Vodafone customer service staff know my number by now and their Facebook guys know me so well by now because I am almost always on them with complaints about the RELEVANT things they seem to want to cover up with some unproven claim. The fact that Vodafone paid huge money for that research and spent money to run a campaign does not make their claim true and relevant to the consumer.

My first welcome to my new phone was I could not even do my Red Rush bundle. I had over ghc21 on my phone but they told me I don't have enough credit to do a bundle that cost ghc20. As I speak with you now the credit is gone down to ghc5 because they keep charging me default rate for data and voice. There is record of my Facebook chat with their CS. They did not help me one bit. I am entirely on my own. This is the power I get from Vodafone. In my previous complaints I got help on one or two occasions, but largely I don't get help. I only get argument and explanations filled with cluelessness from people being paid to help us.

Secondly, I tried all day to download some apps. It took forever on a network that claims to have the fastest data speed. And I am using a completely new and 4G compliant handset, so as for 3G that phone is more than ready for it, yet the network experience is just bad.

Xexe, so I don't hate Vodafone. I respect them a lot, particularly with what Kyle Whitehill brought to the game, driving everybody, including even the regulator to sit up. But that is no reason to disrespect the public.

Xexe, I still demand that report, which I might never get. But it is my conviction that Vodafone is not showing us respect by forcing us to swallow their claims and yet they think we are not smart enough to see the hardcore evidence (apologies to Anas) and make our own informed judgment.