Automation is a tool, not a solution

In the mass economy that started before the second world war and ran until the start of the customer economy circa mid nineties, branding was a less complicated process. Consumers had little choice or knowledge and as a result would make brand decisions based on corporate promises or claims. Consumers needs were relatively simple and once they used a brand and if they were happy with that brand, they would remain loyal to the brand.

We’ve come a long way since then and branding has become a lot more complicated. As competition increased, companies tried to compete, often by slashing prices that ruined quality or making false claims about product capabilities. Advertising led campaigns focussed on aquisition and fed up consumers fled to the competition and the process continued.

A core element of brand building today requires brands to engage with customers to ensure a thorough understanding of the customer’s requirements for value and then matching the attributes of the product to those requirements for value. Once a customer is acquired, the process of continuous engagement continues through two way communication. The ultimate goal is to retain customers in order for the company to up or cross sell to them in the future. The icing on the cake is to turn them into brand ambassadors.

Up until recently, mobile service providers in Malaysia didn’t have to worry about subscribers leaving because they were able to create a number of road blocks to ensure the process of switching providers was too complicated. Even the recent implementation of number portability still punishes consumers which is why the response has been lukewarm.

I’ve been with my mobile provider, Celcom for at least 10 years and have put up with poor service, repeated dropped calls, confusing billing, lack of interest or understanding of my needs, inflexibility and non existent customer engagement for the majority of that decade. During a recent trip to Singapore I was checking email on a regular basis and have just been hit with an astronomical bill due to my usage of the data roaming service. I am not complaining about the massive hike in my bill because the reality is I should have checked the fees before using the service. (Having said that, I have done this in the past and not received such a large bill. Furthermore, a brief warning before usage would have been helpful).

But I am complaining about the fact that, after 10 years as a customer, Celcom sends me one text message warning me that I have passed my credit limit and then cuts my line without any consideration for my payment history or my time as a customer. This is even more irksome as my October bill is not actually due till 16/11. Despite this, and no doubt wary of the reputation of Celcom, my efficient pa had, yesterday instructed our despatch to pay the bill today, 11/11, five days before it is due. The balance is from my November bill and is not due till around the same time in December.

I’m also compaining about the company’s use of automation. If I try to make a call to my provider, using my handphone I am transferred to a machine that gives me some instructions that result in me receiving a text message stating the details of my overdue amount including dates due. That’s useful information. But it doesn’t give me an opportunity to pay the overdue amount or discuss the situation to someone. So Celcom is saying to me, “Your payment is overdue, you are barred from using your phone. We know you run a business but we don’t care. We know that some of you use your phone to go online and now you can’t, tough. In fact, we don’t want to help you or have anything to do with you until you settle your outstanding bill.”

So here are some suggestions for Celcom that brands in other sectors can also benefit from:

1) All customers are not created equal. Don’t treat those with a good payment record the same way as you treat those with a bad payment record.

2) Similarly, most customers are good people. If someone is late with their payment, don’t automatically assume they are a criminal. Find out what the problem is and see how you can make it better.

4) You collect a lot of data on your customers and their usage patterns. Use that data to form a relationship with those customers in the form of better service delivery.

5) Branding today is about engagement. Take the time to engage with your customers. Communicate with your customers in person.

6) Automation is a tool, it’s not a solution.

7) Just because you have acquired a customer, doesn’t mean you own them and don’t have to do anything to keep them.

8) You are not the only company doing what you do in the country.

9) At least give your customers the impression you are grateful for their business.

10) Everything you offer can be duplicated by other service providers, except the relationship you have with your customers.

Feel free to submit any recommendations to improve the Celcom brand experience.


2 thoughts on “Automation is a tool, not a solution

  1. Well said.

    I’m using Celcom too and I share your sentiment (and thoughts). But I think the problems is not exclusive to Celcom alone.

    The way it’s going for customer, all of them are competing on cheapest rate, for everything. as a result, profit margin eroded. because of that, more automation needs to be in place (because they can’t afford to hire real people as many as they would want). the downward spiral continues. it’s a vicious circle.

    I guess this trend will continue until one of them realize that enough is enough.


    1. Hi Afzam

      Thanks for your comments.

      I agree, it’s not just Celcom, or for that matter just telcos. This problem applies to many companies in many sectors.

      In Malaysia, because it is a developing country, companies haven’t really had to develop branding skills and in particular key branding skills such as sales, marketing, customer service and more. Demand has always outstripped supply. I’ve seen this domestically and internationally, in the property, retail, transportation, financial services and other sectors.

      But there are cheaper locations to invest in manufacturing. Such as Cambodia, Indonesia. More retail competition coming in such as Carrefour, Tesco. Singapore and Hong Kong are strengthening their grip on the financial services sectors and eroding any head start Malaysia had in the Islamic banking space. In the property sector, it is only a matter of time before we move to a build and then sell model. When we do, the ability to offer service will be key to survival of property companies.

      In fact this is true of a lot of Malaysian companies. Unless they realise that value is more important than volume, they’ll end up in the global branding graveyard.


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