The hot seat of CEO at Orange Botswana does not shake Dr Patrick Benon, who took over nine months ago. He fields questions from Staff Writer DITIRO MOTLHABANE about the business and plans for the future in a no-holds-barred interview.
PATRIOT: Tell us a little bit about your past experience before coming to Orange Botswana (OBW).
BENON: I started my career in France working for Accenture, followed by Oberthur and then Schlumberger where I was able to rise and gain skills in marketing techniques, customer experience management and sales. In 2006 I relocated to Benin where I was appointed Deputy CEO of Benin Telecom, the incumbent national operator. In 2007, I became the CEO of Benin Telecom. While in Benin, I embarked on a strategy to turn Benin Telecom into a regional supplier of telecommunications services to neighbouring countries. Within four years I achieved my dream and Benin Telecom was one of the main provider for wholesale telecommunication services across the West African region. In 2011, I relocated to Central African Republic, where I was appointed CEO of Orange in that country. I took over a company experiencing negative growth operating in an economic and politically unstable environment. By the time I left for Botswana in 2014 the company had positive growth of 40%. I joined Orange Botswana in December 2014, so I have been with the company for a little over nine months.
PATRIOT: What direction will the organisation will be taking under your leadership?
BENON: I have four main areas of focus.
First and foremost, we want to become an employer of choice in Botswana in terms of skill, competence, motivation and happiness of employees: Creating a sustainable and conducive environment for our people is a top priority.
We will continue to invest heavily on the network to increase data coverage in terms of capacity and geographical locations. We will leverage on the different technological capabilities of our network such as 4G, 3G and 2G to bring ICT inclusivity to the different parts of the country, especially the rural areas.
We pride ourselves in being number one when it comes to being the most innovative in the market. We will therefore, leverage on our Orange Group expertise and our own technical infrastructure and competence to deliver innovative services that bring value to Batswana. We have recently launched the “Orange Yame” and e-billing solution. We are the only company that offers emergency credit or Mpharanyetsa for those who run out of airtime and need a quick recharge but do not have access to money immediately.
We want to capitalise on our brand strength and energy to provide our customers with the best products and services with the best possible customer experience in order to be their first choice in terms of purchase intention
PATRIOT: Lately, OBW executives talked of a new strategy aimed at putting the customer first, please share with us details of that strategy.
BENON: The new organisational strategy, simply termed Essentials 2020 is a 5-year global strategic plan for the Orange Group. It kick-started this year and will run for the next five years until 2020. As Orange Botswana we have put in place our own plan that will feed into the overall Essential 2020 strategy. This new strategy will focus on offering an unmatched customer experience focusing on key work streams among them;
• Be the reference in customer experience and relationship in our market: We have expanded and we will keep expanding our service points and this includes Orange Money service points.
• Providing the best connectivity to our customers always: We launched 4G LTE technology in February 2015, to provide superior data speed for our customers. In July 2015, we introduced ultra-fast fixed broadband internet for home and business. The offer provides super-fast connectivity on 4G and 3G technology.
PATRIOT: How will the above strategy position Orange Botswana differently and ahead of its competitors?
BENON: We are operating in a saturated mobile market therefore we are compelled to differentiate ourselves by providing distinct value and excellent customer experience to our customers. We believe that a happy customer is a loyal customer. Thus by offering an unmatched customer experience we will be sure to have our customers come back for that first class service and growing our customer base through recommendations and word of mouth.
PATRIOT: What milestones has OBW celebrated in the past 6 months?
BENON: In February 2015 we became the first local network provider to offer 4G technology; the fastest network the country has ever seen and experienced. In July 2015 we launched the new broadband fixed offers to complement our 4G offering; these are fixed internet offers for business and home use. We recently hit the 300 000 customer base for our Orange Money product, making us the market leader with a 64% overall market share. We partnered with Botswana Post in August to introduce convenience to our customers with regards to payment of their bills through the E-billing platform currently hosted by Botswana Post. The system allows customers to have full control of their account, track their account credit as well as pay via transfers without the hustle of needing to go to a shop near them.
PATRIOT: What’s new, exciting and innovative products/services can we look forward to from Orange? Tell us a bit more about the 4G?
BENON: Orange 4G: Orange was the first mobile operator to launch 4G, the superfast internet technology that allows customers faster downloads, quicker browsing, instant video downloads (no more buffering) as well as quicker sending and receiving of big file attachments. Orange’s 4G service comes at no extra cost to customers. With 4G, our customers can easily do the following; Access the web on the go in an instant, Download large email attachments quicker than ever, Watch live TV on the move without buffering, Download high-definition movies in minutes, Play live multiplayer games on the go, and Make high quality video calls on the move.
Orange introduced an affordable smartphone called “The Orange Roya” designed to take advantage of Orange’s 4G network. The ‘Roya’, a 4G Android smartphone offers specifications and features traditionally associated with more expensive devices. Reinforcing Orange’s position as the number one network for speed, great value and innovation - a series of fixed data offers dubbed “Konnecta” were launched in July. They are, designed to provide customers with a solution to meet all their superfast home and small business internet needs.
PATRIOT: There was hue and cry last year when OBW decided to outsource some of its technical operations/services. Has this move proven beneficial to the business?
BENON: We entered into a business agreement with Ericson Botswana to implement a Managed Services Contract, which is a common feature in the Telecommunication sector worldwide. The purpose of this project was to optimize our network and IT operations in order to adapt and meet the versatile needs and expectations of customers. Following this development, we continue to note considerable improvements in turnaround times for queries and less network outages, which have greatly improved our quality of service.
PATRIOT: Mobile telecommunications providers have taken a leading role by developing partnerships with financial institutions to accommodate the unbanked masses through mobile banking. Is Orange exploring this untapped market? How?
BENON: We offer Orange Money, an innovative, mobile phone-based payment system that allows customers to carry out simple financial operations and transactions on the palm of their hands in total security. The facility allows customers to deposit and withdraw money from an Orange Money account, transfer money from person to person (both Orange and non-Orange customers) within Botswana, top up airtime on one’s mobile account and pay post-paid bills. The demand for Orange money services has grown tremendously over the last 4 years and it is our strategy to keep growing the Orange money eco-system. The product success comes from it being linked to a VISA card that gives customers’ access to more than 3000 ATMs across the country. In addition, one can request for a virtual card via their mobile phone, which will allow them to shop online. This is a service that would otherwise be accessible only to the banked but thanks to Orange Money the unbanked have been brought within the realms of financial services. We have established a number of partnerships with various service providers and businesses to boost customer convenience and experience. Currently customers can pay for goods and services such as DSTV and purchase of prepaid electricity. Additionally companies are using Orange Money salary and allowance payments for their employees. We will continue to explore various partnerships to simplify financial services for the nation, so customers should expect more to come from our Orange Money platform.
PATRIOT: OBW is operating in a 'small space' with two other competitors in a market which has been described as small. How is the competition and uptake of your services, in view of the fact that you found others already in place?
BENON: Telecommunications by its nature is a highly competitive industry. So to succeed in this market companies need to operate efficiently, remain relevant through continuous introduction of cutting-edge innovation and offer services that meet precisely the needs of customers. The quality of service is also a key ingredient for success in the industry. I am confident to say that at Orange we possess all these important attributes which help us to perform beyond expectations. We have achieved operational efficiency and unmatched quality of service through outsourcing some of our activities; developing a robust customer experience strategy which will leave our customers satisfied and asking for more and finally we have the right level of innovation as evident from our range of offers that make everyday lives of Batswana very easy. Such services include Orange Money Visa Card, Airtime credit (Mpharanyetse) and My Orange mobile app which allows orange customers to easily manage their accounts and subscribe to services without having to visit our shops.
PATRIOT: How many subscribers do you (OBW) currently have?
BENON: We have well over one million customers.
PATRIOT: The advent of social media and the use of internet are changing the way people, corporations and governments are conducting business. Do you see this as an opportunity, and how are you tapping into it?
BENON: There is definitely no denying that the entire world is going digital. Telecommunication is moving from voice to data based and as a telecommunications company, this is an opportunity for us to grow and tap into the data area through our various data packages and offerings. We have ensured that we cater for a wide variety of our clientele by offering different data packages with different costs. And with the recent launch of our very popular Orange Klif, we have ensured that for only P399, our customers can have access to a smart phone that allows them to surf the net, go on different social media with ease. In addition, our recently launched “Konnecta” fixed offers continue to offer competitive rates for both businesses and homes.
PATRIOT: Cost on roaming has remained very high, discouraging users from using their mobiles while on international trips. What is your view about this?
BENON: SADC countries have already launched an initiative to reduce roaming tariffs within the SADC region. The implementation of this initiative is ongoing.
PATRIOT: What legacy do you intend to leave at OBW?
BENON: Developing our staff in term of skills and leadership, and delivering the best customer experience.
PATRIOT: How is OBW giving back to the society, as your Corporate Social Investment (CSI)?
BENON: We believe that the only way to develop sustainably is to partner and engage communities. We do this through the Orange Foundation which is our social investment vehicle. Our main focus is education and entrepreneurship development.
PATRIOT: How do you relax after work?
BENON: Movies and doing sport.
BENON: I am married with two daughters