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Safaricom, Airtel face fines for delaying customer care calls



A Safaricom shop in Nairobi. PHOTO | COURTESY
A Safaricom shop in Nairobi. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Telecommunications firms such as Safaricom #ticker:SCOM and Airtel face regulatory fines if they take more than 15 seconds to answer customer calls under new draft regulations.

The draft regulations published last week for public comment will allow the regulator to fine the telecoms providers Sh300,000 for every breach and a jail term of up to three years.

In the proposed changes, the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) seeks to protect consumers making inquiries and complaints from being put on the call queue for more than 15 seconds.

This is an upgrade from the current regulations, which compel firms to set up customer service call systems without specifying call queue time lines.

Calls to mobile telephony customer service desks took an average of two minutes and 25 seconds based on a Business Daily review, forcing many to hang up in frustration.

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“This includes the hold time where Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is used for the management of call queues,” says the CA in reference to the 15-second rule.

The draft regulations seek the firms’ customer service to be available at all times — 99.9 percent at the minimum — and resolution to a customer complaint inside 14 days.

If approved, telcos will face up to Sh300,000 fine in line with Section 27 of the Kenya Information and Communications Act 1998 that empowers the CA to make regulations for telecoms services.

“Any person who contravenes any regulation made under this section commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding Sh300,000, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to both,” states the Act.

The regulations may force firms such as Safaricom, Airtel Kenya, Telkom Kenya and Mwananchi Group to hire more staff for their call centres.

Calls made to the firms call centres have been rising in tandem with the increase in mobile phone and internet subscribers.

The number of active mobile phone subscribers has nearly tripled from 19.4 million at the beginning of 2010 to 55.2 million at the end of March 2020, putting pressure on the telcos’ call centres.

Telcos keep customers on hold for longer periods, sometimes using the window to advertise their products and services.

The experience is worse for non-telcos such as banks and pay-TV providers where customers are charged on call queues.

Safaricom has decentralised customer care centres for walk-in customers, investing in self-service platforms and also increasing social media interaction to cut the number of customer queries going to its call centre.

The regulator says that the customer care agents providing the services and attending to customers must be well informed and competent, professional, courteous and helpful.

The CA further proposes that marketing communications via SMS should only be between 7am and 7pm unless within prior customer consent or if such messages are in response to a request initiated by a customer at a particular time.

Telcos will also be barred from marking a SIM card as dormant and passing it to another customer in cases where the card has unresolved issues.

“Any subscriber number that is the subject of a complaint filed by a customer or the Authority shall not be re-assigned until such a complaint is resolved to the satisfaction of the Authority,” says the CA.

Subscribers have also been given the right to request monthly billing on call traffic and pricing.

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