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Research: S Africa adopting Western digital behaviours

September 13, 2023

By Colin Mann

Findings from telecoms technical customer support specialist Subtonomy provide key insights into the online habits and customer support expectations of South Africans, suggesting that they are adopting similar behaviours to those seen in mature Western European markets.

The global wave of increased digitalisation hasn’t bypassed Southern Africa. As Internet access has grown, and smartphone penetration increased, its youthful population and rapid urbanisation have emerged as strong drivers of increased digitalisation. According to a recent ProxyRack report, for example, the average South African now spends 9 hours and 38 minutes online each day – making them the world’s heaviest Internet users.

When they get online, South Africans quickly adopt similar behaviors to those seen in mature Western European markets. Subtonomy’s study, Attitudes to Customer Support in South Africa, reveals, for example, that:

  • 97 per cent are using at least one social media platform
  • 88 per cent are watching the latest movies or streaming TV
  • 86 per cent are paying bills or reading news online
  • 74 per cent are using their mobiles to work from home or to access video conferencing apps
  • 56 per cent are gaming on their handset
  • 28 per cent are controlling smart home applications.

South Africans’ experience of using these services isn’t always good though, with seven in 10 saying it’s continually disrupted. This is because in addition to having to manage planned engineering, the effects of more demanding traffic (such as video), and millions of new users, South African operators face challenges not experienced in Europe, such as frequent electricity outages (known as ‘load shedding’), which sees customers unable to access parts of the network (sometimes for hours at a time).

South Africans don’t necessarily blame their service provider – indeed eight out of 10 say they’re doing a great job supporting them – but disruptions to their service have become such a significant issue that the quality of customer support is seen as a key decision point when selecting which network to use. But what does excellent customer service look like to the average South African? Increasingly, they expect it to be fast, convenient, proactive and digital.

  • FAST – 53 per cent of customers say they’re only prepared to wait a maximum of five minutes to access service.
  • CONVENIENT – 39 per cent of customers expect round-the-clock support, and in the 50-54 demographic this rises to 56 per cent of customers.
  • PROACTIVE – 94 per cent of customers say they’d like to be notified about planned maintenance ahead of time, so they can take mitigation actions, and want to be notified in real time about any outages.
  • DIGITAL – although 51 per cent of customers are resolving their problems via the call centre, 30 per cent said digital self-service is now their preferred support channel, and a further 56 per cent said they’d choose self-service via their mobile app IF their service provider could troubleshoot and fully resolve problems from within the app.

One of the surprising findings of this study was that the most demanding South African customers are not digitally savvy Gen Zs as in Europe, but those in their 40s and 50s. For example, 66 per cent of 50-54 year olds expect to access customer support in less than five minutes, and 56 per cent expect support to be available whenever it suits them. The highest proportion of customers dissatisfied with their service provider’s current customer support offering (11 per cent) is also found in this age group. This is because it’s these customers who can afford smartphones and to utilise advanced data services in what is predominantly a prepaid market, and therefore need and expect good quality support.

“All networks experience both planned and unplanned problems at one time or another,” explains Fredrik Edwall, EVP Sales & Marketing, Subtonomy. “But what differentiates service providers is the ability to rapidly pinpoint exactly what’s causing their customer’s problem and then quickly resolve it, while at the same time keeping the customer informed and updated throughout.”

The good news for South African operators and their customers is that fast, convenient, proactive and precise digital support has already been developed, tried and tested in the advanced mobile markets of Scandinavia. “Our technology is not only rapidly deployable to support Southern Africa’s current and future customer support needs, but it can begin driving down support costs in a matter of weeks, while delivering a world-class digital support experience to customers,” notes Edwall.

Categories: Articles, Broadband, Consumer Behaviour, Mobile, Research, Telco

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