By Charles Leslie Jr: We live in a world where telecommunication is now an innate part of our lives. We keep in touch with family and friends via social media sites, we get our news streamed to our phones, we watch movies and TV shows on our computers and mobile devices, and we sit at home and purchase and sell goods and services to almost anywhere in the world, all because of the great invention called the Internet, where everything is interconnected via the world wide web, brought to you by your favorite Internet Service Provider (ISP).
According to Anwar Barrow, Chairman of the Executive Committee of Belize Telemedia Limited, in their 2014/2015 Annual Shareholder Report – The New BTL – “The telecommunications landscape in Belize has been rapidly changing over the past few years, with the most notable change being the increase in competition brought on primarily by the growth in the number of local internet service providers (ISPs), cable operators (who now bundle other services such as the Internet) and international service providers who offer communication options over the internet (WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook etc.).
Six years ago BTL returned to being 100% Belizean owned, but the days when that status alone was enough to garner customer loyalty and support are gone. Today, increased competition is demanding that BTL shift towards a corporate culture that focuses on ensuring a consistently great customer experience, constant innovation, more economic pricing, better reliability and increased efficiency.”
He goes on to say, “Therefore, during the past fiscal year the company has embarked on an effort to redefine our business approach and corporate culture in order to ensure sustainable, long-term growth and profitability for you our shareholders. The most forward facing and impactful aspect of this new approach has been a re-energized marketing campaign.”
Currently, BTL is failing at two of the most important contributing factors that make a telecommunications company successful; and they are customer service and cost.
From 1999 to 2003, Virgin Mobile went from 15,000,000 subscribers to 50,000,000 million. That is a 233.33% increase over 3 years. They did this by focusing on maintaining high employee satisfaction, for they believe that happy employees make happy customers, and secondly they offered cheaper services than their competitors.
BTL, and its employees who are members of the Belize Communication Worker’s Union, have had contentions for quite some years now. As of recent, that rift caused discontent to raise its ugly head when, in September of 2015, Anwar Barrow, the Prime Minister’s son and Chairman of the Executive Committee at BTL, did not inform the Union of a Press Conference called by the Prime Minister where he announced that the government had arrived at a settlement with Lord Ashcroft. A decision like this does not make for high employee satisfaction, and it is obvious that this transgression has deteriorated the attitudes of the employees, which has translated into the poor customer service that people constantly complain about.
If you go to the Facebook group “BTL customers petitioning for more bandwidth for less money”, you will see that it has over 6,383 members. Three of the main complaints are 1. Poor customer service, 2. Bad network service such as the frequency with which the system is down as well as data usage, and 3. Service is too expensive and slow when compared to other nations in the region.
Currently the local cable companies are offering better service, faster speeds, for cheaper rates and better customer service. Combined with these services readily available on a smartphone, more Belizeans are using Facebook, Google Plus, WhatsApp, Skype, Magic Jack, Viber, to name a few, to communicate via phone calls and text within Belize and all over the world, as opposed to using their credits to call or text. This translates into zero revenue for BTL, and this trend will only continue, for everything is going towards Freemium. In addition, many hotels, resorts, homes and other businesses are now using Vonage and Magic Jack services for it allows significantly lower international phone rates than BTL, with comparative audio quality.
We must ask ourselves a few important questions: Did Belizeans lose in the nationalization of BTL because of these technologies that are changing the communications landscape in Belize? We invested millions in outdated technology, when technological trends are showing that communications are moving towards affordable wireless. With all these millions invested we are still paying very high rates. Will all the infrastructure BTL owns become obsolete? How can Belizeans be prepared for globalization when we do not possess the necessary skills to be competitive, especially in technology, where telecommunication is the link to just about every piece of technological development in the world?
In conclusion, if BTL wants to remain a relevant and profitable telecommunications company in the future, it must realize and embrace the fact that telecommunications is the backbone of any developed and developing nation, and it has to take into consideration some very important factors such as: Speed, reliability, affordability, the fact that over 80% of internet access is done via mobile devices, and superb customer service. Competition will only get stronger.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
The article was written by Charles Leslie Jr., former independent Chairman of Placencia Village (2010 – 2013). He holds an Associates degree in business, accounting and economics and has over 20 years business experience.
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