South African service providers can expect consumer backlash “to get bigger and angrier” if nothing is done to improve their standards.
This is the warning from Aki Kalliatakis, managing partner of The Leadership LaunchPad, a customer service consultancy, who said that consumers are becoming increasingly antagonistic.
Kalliatakis’ message comes after a disgruntled Cell C customer erected an outdoor advertising banner with the message: “The most useless service provider in SA – Cell C Sandton City” on Friday.
The display of a banner denigrating Cell C’s service levels on a Johannesburg highway indicated a tipping point, said Kalliatakis.
“The customer who displayed the banner presumably incurred significant costs when commissioning and positioning this attack on Cell C. He then ignored legal warnings to desist.
“This shows the customer was – to put it bluntly – the hell in. This level of anger and frustration is no longer unusual,” he said.
Kalliatakis warned that government, parastatals, the bureaucracy and corporates should not under-estimate the impact when consumers begin to scream ‘We can’t take any more of this’.
“The public could go to ‘war’, using protests and defiance campaigns to fight back,” he said.
Kalliatakis pointed out that the private sector was vulnerable to ‘collateral damage’ at a time when state enterprises are charging more, but delivering less. He highlighted the Post Office strike as a case in point.
Eskom was another, along with Sanral.
“Eskom can’t maintain regular electricity supplies. That’s no surprise. It can’t do its sums either. Tariffs may be going up another 13% because Eskom costs for the three years to 2011 were higher than projected,” Kalliatakis said.
Eskom, supplier of 95% of the country’s power, was both a monopoly and an essential service. The public therefore had limited capacity to hit back, said the customer service consultant. In other cases, however, we warned that customers may hit back hard.
“It’s already happening,” Kalliatakis said. “Banks have reportedly cut their mail by 25% and retailers by 20% while Telkom has reduced mailed statement volumes by 80% in five years.”
“Public defiance is already making a mockery of Sanral’s projected e-toll cash flows. Even if e-toll compliance increases, the odds are motorists will flood alternative routes, creating chaos and making new spending on Johannesburg roads unavoidable,” the consultant said.
“Pricing should be kept fair while service standards should be stepped up. You antagonise customers at your peril. Ask Cell C,” Kalliatakis said.