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“Innovation and customer experience are what keeps us relevant” Interview of Patrick Benon, CEO Orange Botswana

Patrick Benon is CEO of Orange in Botswana. He will be joining a keynote panel on targeting underserved communities at AfricaCom next month, alongside representatives of Facebook, Mozilla, Atlantique Telecom and Vodacom
He shares his experience of the challenges and opportunities in Botswana’s market ahead of the event.
AfricaCom: What is Orange’s position in Botswana’s market?
Patrick Benon: Orange Botswana is the leader in mobile money (Orange Money) in the country, commanding 65% of the mobile money market share. In totality, Orange has more than 1 million subscribers, occupying the second position in terms of voice and data market share. We believe in addressing and answering the ever changing needs and expectations of our customers by being at the forefront of cutting edge innovation and technology which is evident from the following;
·                     Being the first to introduce  4G technology in 2015
·                     Introduction of a Visa Card linked to Orange Money account in 2013,
·                     Being the only Operator  in Botswana to offer  airtime credit  
·                     And the latest innovation which is the launch of the Orange Money mobile application which allows easy access and management of Orange money account.
A: What makes Botswana a unique market to work in compared to others in Africa?
PB: In a lot of African markets, the mobile industry is still growing, however, in Botswana the mobile penetration stands at more than 150% of the population. The mobile market is mature with little to no prospects of growth and the voice revenue and traffic is on the decline. Even though the mobile penetration rate is high, the data market is only starting to grow, with penetration still below 50% of the population. In this sense the market presents a unique challenge which requires the operators to adopt both a growth strategy for data and a mature/declining strategy for Voice. Operators also have to seek alternative sources of revenue as data revenue is not yet growing to the extent to which it can replace the decline in voice revenue.
This has resulted in all the operators shifting their focus towards investment in high speed data and Value Added Services. The good news is that Botswana has an enabling regulatory environment which supports the operators’ ambitions of diversifying their business. The regulators have been able to allocate operators the required spectrum for them to launch high speed internet such as 3G and LTE as well as authorise the introduction of mobile money when other markets were still hesitant to embrace these technologies.
A: What have been you biggest challenges and best rewards since joining Orange Botswana?
PB: Clearly the biggest challenge is maintaining and growing the business profitability in a highly saturated market and finding alternative avenues of revenue to replace the legacy mobile business.
The country has been experiencing power shortages which affect the quality of the network. This has prompted operators to find alternative sources of energy to keep the services working during the power outages.
Rewards: Orange deployed LTE in record time with excellent quality of service.
A: How important is staff management in your business? 
PB: Creating a sustainable and conducive environment for staff is top priority for operators. As our biggest asset and productivity drivers, employees need the right frame of mind to deliver the best possible customer experience to our customers. They need to be motivated to understanding the importance of delivering excellent service, the impact it has on the business and to love what they do and be excellent brand ambassadors on a daily basis. Operators can easily achieve this through not only adapting to the right organisational culture but also through skill improvement and motivation for employees. It is why becoming an employer of choice is a top priority for us at Orange.
We experience skills shortages mainly on the IT and VAS side of business. As technology evolves it is important to re-skill our people through consistent training for them to be able to adapt to the new technology skill trends. Therefore, consistent, relevant, timely training is critical to maintain skills levels in the company. It is also important to establish training Partnerships with universities and colleges to create a pool of potential employees. 
A: What new technologies will bring most benefits to consumers and to operators?
-          Mobile money: 80% African population is said to be unbanked, so expanding services for mobile money by building a wider ecosystem and agent network will greatly benefit the consumers. Mobile money continues to prove its ability to close the financial inclusion gap and eradicate poverty amongst low income households. It’s an affordable, safe and convenient method through which the unbanked can fully enjoy financial services.  Even though opening up mobile money too many players needs firm regulation and monitoring to prevent fraud and money laundering I am of the view that this approach provides a profitable diversification strategy for operators with potential for growth and creation of highest stakeholder value.
-          Improved data speeds: Governments are striving for accessibility and affordable internet connectivity for citizens, more so that the traditional way of communication is rapidly shifting from voice and sms to data. It therefore becomes imperative for operators and government to review bandwidth capabilities as well as re-alignment of costs for data. The improvement and investment in data speeds and capacity such as LTE 4G will address needs of the modern African who heavily relies on data to function on a daily basis (for work, simple communication, productivity and even trade). Operators in turn will also benefit from this new revenue stream.
A: What are your priorities in terms of delivering excellent customer experience in Botswana?
PB: Delivering excellent customer service is a strategic priority for Orange Botswana. In this industry, it’s all about customer experience; from the moment a customer enters our service points to the quality of network coverage. In fact, both innovation and customer experience are what keeps us relevant, but best customer experience will help us keep our current customers and acquire new ones. It is for this reason therefore that we have deliberately put customer experience at the forefront of our 5 year organisation strategy.  
The new organizational strategy, simply termed Essentials 2020 is a global strategic plan for the Orange Group which kick-started this year and will run until 2020. To ensure delivery of this strategy, we have introduced a new Customer Experience Department, whose sole mandate is to look into ways of improving and enhancing customer experience within the whole company.
A: How can telecom operators support innovation within their company and within the wider ecosystem?
PB: Given the popularity and penetration for mobile phones, the world is now looking to telecom operators to support and cascade innovation to the population. Mobile devices have become important vehicles that can be used to provide innovative services. And operators have the right infrastructure and connectivity to facilitate innovation.
The opportunity here exists in various ways;
·                     Leadership through innovation by developing value added services that bring convenience and solve people’s everyday life challenges
·                     Partnering with innovators to provide inclusive technology for innovation
·                     Supporting and nurturing technology incubators with potential to completely shift way of doing things especially for service delivery
Some of the immediate technical assistance that operators can offer to bolster innovation is to provide integration into systems such as billing platforms for e-commerce and sms exchange platforms for those using sms to reach their clientele.  
 A: What do you think will be this year’s most game-changing development in Africa’s telecoms?
PB: The launch of LTE in African countries will change the African telecom landscape as more people will experience new internet speeds and capabilities that previous technologies couldn’t reach.
In terms of supporting other industries and having precise and personalized services, telecoms operators could take advantage of big data available to them for social behavior campaigns and marketing. 
On sustainability, I foresee e-waste management policies and reforms being implemented
A: In your opinion what are the most interesting debates to expect at AfricaCom this year?
PB: Customer experience, Mobile money, Data Security, Data for Productivity

Hear more from Patrick Benon in the Vision for Africa keynote on Thursday 19th November. To view the programme click here.

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