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MTN launches “World-First” airtime top-up through WhatsApp

Calling it a world first for the telco industry, MTN has launched a WhatsApp channel to let its customers buy airtime and data bundles through the messaging app.

The largest mobile operator in Africa has begun the service in its home country, South Africa, using the Facebook-owned app.

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Gareth Murphy, MTN South Africa’s online channel GM, says it wants its services to be more convenient by providing a better customer experience.

“It’s no secret that the telecommunications sector, around the world, has not excelled at this and we want to change that at MTN,” Murphy told me. “Simple solutions that are easy to use, and which fit neatly into our customer’s lives, will help be a great differentiator for us.”

Customers can also check their balances and store their credit or debit cards in the app for future purchases. The service is provided by another South African company that has a global reach, Clickatell, which is a WhatsApp Business Solution provider.

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WhatsApp is extremely popular in South Africa. Just under half (49%) of South Africa’s 38 million mobile subscribers use it (out of a population of 58 million), according to the Digital in 2018 in Southern Africa report by Hootsuite and We Are Social, which compiles statistics from various sources.

WhatsApp now has 1.5 billion global users (as of January 2019), according to Statista, which also found 49% of South African smartphone owners use it (at the third quarter of 2017).

“It’s imperative that companies focus on improving self-service experiences to retain and grow customers and this is an important step for MTN, in addition to what we are doing to upgrade our overall customer journey,” says Mapula Bodibe, MTN SA’s executive for consumer business.

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MTN quotes Gartner research that found 25% of customers will use chatbots or virtual customer assistant by 2020 to manage their own accounts.

Murphy says this service will enhance customers overall digital experience. “People don’t want to have to call a call center, they want control and this solution puts the control squarely in the hands of the consumer.

“We understand which social media platforms the majority of our customers use and how much time they spend on them – so we’re taking the solution there.”

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