Mobile technology. Picture: THINKSTOCK
Mobile technology. Picture: THINKSTOCK

SA's second-largest mobile operator MTN has received the most positive feedback from consumers for its response to queries during the Covid-19 crisis, according to a new study by research firm Brandseye.

Brandseye analysed sentiments regarding all four mobile operators' performance ahead of and during the Covid-19 lockdown. According to the firm's data, MTN is the only mobile operator to have full consumer approval, based on 167,000 online and social media posts from March 1 to March 23.

Net sentiment is an aggregated customer satisfaction metric, used to measure public opinion towards a brand, product, person or concept.

The main driver for the positive sentiment about  MTN was the timing of their data price cut announcement and online campaigns on Covid-19.

BrandsEye SA CEO Nic Ray said in an interview  that net sentiment is a good real-time measure of how consumers feel about a brand.

The main advantages of sentiment analysis is that it is based on unsolicited feedback. People are constantly voicing their opinions, frustrations and experiences of brands and businesses without influence from third parties, which helps with getting honest feedback.

BrandsEye conducted the research by using random sampling. Ray said there are close to half a million online posts related to SA's telecom companies every month.

The study focusing on Covid-19’s impact on telecom firms focused on social media platforms Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, together with news sources and online consumer forums such as Hello Peter.

MTN outperformed its competitors in net sentiment in the Covid-19 conversation. The research shows that MTN was discussed positively by both consumers and influential authors, such as Western Cape premier Alan Winde.

Ray said drivers of positivity for the network included MTN’s announcement of a data price reduction of up to 50%, its sanitation tips for keeping devices clean, and the “MTNSA-Take Care Mzansi” message sent out on devices.

By contrast, the study shows Vodacom's users reported poor connectivity while self-isolating and have demanded lower data prices. Vodacom was also criticised for having closed its premises in anticipation of retaliation from Nkosana Makate supporters in 2019 amid the "Please Call Me" court challenge, yet remained operational following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call for social distancing.

Vodacom had announced its own data price cuts ahead of MTN, but Ray said the latter benefited from timing as their cuts came after the state of national disaster was declared.

Telkom, Cell C and Rain also saw a decrease in net sentiment, said Ray.

More than a third of all comments in the Covid-19 survey related to data. The topic also featured in affordability and brand comparisons, said BrandsEye.

Numerous consumers reached out to their service providers to request a reduction in data prices, while  others called for free data. Consumers cited the need for more data during the lockdown, particularly for remote working and learning.

Zero-rated content, particularly Vodacom’s e-School, was a positive point among consumers.

Ray pointed out that since the state of national disaster was announced, there has been a 10% rise in the number of unattended customer queries at operators as physical retail locations are shuttered and more queries  are directed online.

He said call centre waiting times have risen as queries  surged, an issue seen across the board for businesses operating call centres. These include banks, insurance and telecommunications companies.

BrandsEye's follow-up study is likely to be on lockdown sentiment, Ray said. He suspected that as the lockdown continues, customer satisfaction is likely to deteriorate as consumers' unresolved issues increase. The problem has been worsened by an undersea cable break which has slowed internet connectivity, he said.