The evolution of a mobile customer

From the first mobile phone 30 years ago, which weighed in at a massive 4.7kg and had 30 minutes of talk time, we’ve evolved in just 20 years to a time where the telephony function is but one small element of our smart-devices. By Yule Edwards

MTN and Vodacom launched the first cellular services in South Africa in 1994 and the public was sceptical.

Calls were expensive and only the top LSMs were able to afford the devices and their upkeep. And why would you need to be available on the trot anyway?

It seemed ridiculous in a country where most of the population struggle to put food on the table, that we would pay well over R1 a minute. Soon these sentiments were a thing of the past and now the number of mobile phones surpasses the number of people in South Africa – including babies. Mobile phones are as common in South Africa and Nigeria as they are in the wealthy USA.

The ubiquity of mobile devices means that consumers are far more technically savvy than ever before and their demands on devices are greater. We want an application ecosystem, longer battery life, ease-of-use and sophisticated camera features, while brands play an important role in our choice of device.

This is according to a BMI-TechKnowledge report on SA consumer and cellphone usage and activities. The mobile phone is no longer just a phone. Customers personalise their devices with photos, videos, apps and access to the internet and social media. Your phone has become an extension of who you are and of your lifestyle.

“As the mobile and online spaces intertwine and we now use our devices to access the internet, email and social media, consumers are expecting more from mobile operators and service providers. These organisations will need to start thinking beyond the provision of data and accessibility, says Eleanor Potter, Consumer Executive also at Autopage.


“They aren’t providing value, as such. Progressive companies will be utilising data to up-sell other value-adds. In the mobile industry, we have seen that customers want decent service, in good time and at reasonable cost, from one provider. Convenience is the name of the game, not cost. People are willing to pay for things like personal training at the iStore on Apple products that they’ve bought – money isn’t the barrier.”

Customer experience has become one of the most important decision-drivers for customers.

“With the ease of number portability, service providers have to work harder to keep their clients,” she says. “If telecommunication companies want to compete, they need to start thinking of who their customers are and what it is that they expect. A designed experience based on reducing customer effort at every interaction and positive moments of truth will become a deal-breaker for the competition.”

Consumers also want a more personalised online experience, particularly when it comes to shopping.

Vodacom Public Payphone – image source It’s a Deal

Perhaps this is the online version of the real-life trend to support smaller, local and artisanal craftsmen for a more personal encounter.

For this to be done successfully, however, users need to provide information about their habits, interests, wants and needs.

“Consumers are prepared to give their data away if they get something in return,” says Potter, “so loyalty programmes are becoming prevalent.”

With the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon and others, collecting our data every time we’re online, analysing it and selling it, user profiling has become an enormously valuable tool to advertisers and marketers.

“The youth segment, the employees of tomorrow and the consumers of the future, are completely supportive of it” says Potter, who recently attended a retail conference in the UK where this was outlined by a number of the speakers. “The consumer of tomorrow wants to be serviced in a personalised way and the only way this can be done is if our information is tracked and captured. We’re not anonymous anymore.”


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