Technology at your fingertips
Airtel Malawi has the brand strength and customer awareness to ensure that their services and products will always be available at competitive prices
Writer Matt Bone
Project Manager Donovan Smith
With a name synonymous with high quality, affordability and solid customer retention, Airtel has shown that no matter what the economic situation of a county, they have the brand strength and customer awareness to ensure that their services and products will always be available at competitive prices.
Heiko Schlittke, Managing Director of Airtel Malawi, is aware that although the country is facing challenges, Malawi can benefit from having a stronger mobile and data connectivity infrastructure: "Malawi has a willingness and a need for high quality broadband and mobile data services, to help bring businesses in the country in line with neighbouring companies in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Not only will this help local businesses to grow quicker, but it will provide potential foreign investment to look at the country in more detail."
Investing in Malawi
In order to implement the much needed mobile data infrastructure plans, Airtel Malawi has invested heavily over the last 18 months in the core areas including 3g+; by increasing the network coverage area and the addition of more towers capable of handling the new data speeds, to see the total number rise to well over 200.
However, it is not just investment in the infrastructure that has been a priority for Airtel, but also ensuring that rural areas are treated as equally as the city centres. "As most of the country's population do not live in the city centres, but in rural locations, it is imperative for us to ensure that they have the same access to our data services and mobile networks. This is our overriding goal, to cover every inhabited area in Malawi over the next couple of years," cites Schlittke.
Affordability of products and services is something that Schlittke is very keen to maintain. With the prices of entry-level Smartphones dropping all the time and becoming much more affordable, Airtel Malawi have taken steps to making sure their handsets are reasonably priced whilst still offering the same quality and packages that the company have to offer. "I am very keen to ensure that our products on offer can be afforded by the customers in Malawi. After all, what is the point having great products and services if your customer cannot afford them? There is very little spare money in people's budgets, so we aim to ensure that we offer something for every budget. That is our promise to the customer," remarks Schlittke.
Airtel Money is the convenient and secure way to transfer money from person to person, or pay for goods by using your mobile phone. this is a huge advantage to consumers who are working long hours and do not have time to get to the bank during the day or those who live in secluded areas of the country, or do not have a bank account or visa capabilities. It has become one of the leading financial tools in Africa and Airtel Malawi has been capitalising on this success across Africa as Schlittke reasons: "Airtel Money is the next stage in financial transactions for our customers. This can range from transferring money to each other or paying for utilities and other services, such as airtime or data packages. We have identified the need for our customers to be able to access money on the go, or in the case of our rural customers, accessing any form of banking facility, and turned this into the heart of Airtel Money."
Over the next 18 months, Airtel Malawi will continue to drive Airtel Money forward with their goal of becoming the most secure and widely accepted institution for of money transfers and purchasing in the country. It is hoped that by offering this new service to customers, Airtel will be able to further penetrate the market.
Currently, Airtel Malawi has just a 27% penetration rate in the country. To put this in perspective, other countries of similar sizes have a penetration of 50%. There are several key factors attributing to the penetration rate in the Malawi market, including economic viability, disposable income in households and a relatively low uptake of technology among the older generation.
Schlittke is confident that the market will grow: "I think that the Malawi market will grow, but not overnight. Once the foundations are laid for faster and more reliable data services, customers will begin to see just how beneficial this technology can be to their lives."
The market for data is still relatively new and the market for voice and text services is still the main pull for customers. This is changing as perspectives towards social media and the internet change, and when the change does come, Airtel Malawi will already be set up and waiting to help customers join the technological generation.
From store to Customer
Airtel Malawi is a company that prides itself on being able to deliver exactly what the customer needs at locations that are easily accessible. Airtel have central hubs in busy city locations that offer a myriad of services including handsets, topups, mobile servicing and Airtel Money. In the smaller townships and countryside locations, there are shops that offer Airtel's products and services through partnerships with the company. This enables many of the local residents to still receive the same high quality customer care as their city counterparts. "We are very much driven by the vox populi and we want to deliver the same service capabilities no matter where you live in Malawi. To this end, we have partnered up with a lot of smaller shops and businesses in order to promote Airtel services and to offer customers an official outlet for any enquiries and assistance they may need," explains Schlittke.
Airtel in the Community
For Airtel Malawi, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a strategic endeavour that thrives on building long-term partnerships and stakeholder goodwill for the mutual benefit of the company and its beneficiaries, more so in the education sector.
Airtel Malawi's CSR project at Salima LEA School, located at Daniel Village, on the lakeshore district of Salima, involved the company adopting the primary school in January 2011 as its 'child' to nurture and grow within the Airtel family. The school has 1,933 pupils, 31 of whom have a disability. With just 23 teachers, this enrolment level means that the school has a pupil-to- teacher-ratio of 1:83 compared to the government recommended ratio of 1:60.
Having been built in 1958 and with little regular maintenance, some of the structures are noticeably old. The school structure has four dilapidated school blocks which split into eight classrooms. Due to insufficient classrooms, pupils in five of the classes learn under trees and while a few classrooms have school desks, most do not. Teaching and learning materials are consistently in short supply but after Airtel Malawi adopted the school, things improved greatly. During the partnership, Airtel Malawi has renovated a two-classroom block at the cost of around K2.9 million, donated teaching and learning materials worth K2.5 million and school desks worth K1.8 million. Airtel has also financed the connection of piped water to the school, which has allowed pupils to access safe drinking water.
In addition, Airtel has helped to set up a Teachers' Revolving Fund, pumping in K1.3 million, a seed capital that allows teachers to access soft loans to further their education and achieve their career dreams.
With a clear plan to increase accessibility to technology and communication in the country, Airtel Malawi is looking at many options to further network availability and services for customers. With a strong brand identity and affordable products, Airtel has built up the solid foundations of a company that will work with its consumers every step of the way to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy the benefits of accessing technology at their fingertips.