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Oops! We did it again – Another Airtel Zambia apology


Regardless of the Airtel brands’ excellent value propositions, great service or unique products, the Zambian business is rapidly fading when people, whether customers or employees are not made the centre of its activities. This can be the only explanation as to why Airtel Zambia keep apologising for getting things wrong.

Over the past weekend there have been numerous complaints from customers on the Airtel Zambia network not being able to access most USSD coded applications such as Siliza, Airtel Money and most especially buying data bundles. The worst part was, customers couldn’t even get through to the call centre to lodge a  complaint or inquire about the possible reasons for the problems as it to fell victim to another unsuccessful  executed upgrade. What happened the first time right?

A couple of  days ago we received an apology for their poor internet services resulting from the free Facebook promotion that was rolled out and had increased the traffic on the network. We advised Airtel to conduct friendly user tests to check their products and services before rolling them out to the public for commercial use . Hopefully this is being done in earnest  and one would assume that a lesson was learnt and we were over this hurdle. Alas, now there was an issue with the USSD coded applications such as Siliza, Airtel Money, data bundle subscription and others. We received this notification from Airtel Zambia;

“Airtel Networks Zambia PLC would like to apologise to our esteemed customers for service subscription problems. 

The problems being experienced are purchase of data bundles, Siliza, Me to You, Airtel Money and all calls to the Call Centre. 

Airtel regrets this inconvenience caused and is doing everything possible to rectify this problem as soon as possible.”

However,  the problem still continued yesterday with some customers on the Airtel Zambia network complaining about poor service from the company with regards to internet connections and USSD coded applications. The official explanation is that  “since there are a lot of different types of devices connected to the Airtel Zambia network, not all of them automatically upgrade themselves to new updates to the server so most customers may have to reboot their devices to be able to ‘refresh’ their connections to the network. The upgrade finished yesterday so anyone having difficulties should get in touch with the Customer Care Centre on 111.”

A lot of the pain being experienced on the Airtel network is self inflicted. A system or platform only fails for two reasons. The first being that platform or system is faulty and does not work as it is expected to. This is most unlikely as a network grade system or platform would have been pre-tested or checked so that it works prior to installation. The second and only plausible explanation is the people who are involved in the planning and implementation of the upgrade.  This is what we would like to take a closer look at.

Why Airtel is suffering? 

  • Managing teams:  There are 5 teams involved in an upgrade. The vendor of the software, IBM who are the IT partners, Ericsson who are the IN partners, Nokia Siemens who are the network partners and of course Airtel who are the owners of the system. In order for an upgrade to work well all 5 partners need to be in sync. This does not appear to be happening, hence the unsuccessful upgrade over the weekend. We have seen it work well in the past, consider the currency rebasing which was probably one of the biggest and most complex upgrades done by Airtel. It went smoothly and seamlessly . Now what appears to be minor upgrades are creating havoc with the service delivery. The question begs to be asked as to whether the current teams are being well managed to adequately execute their duties. Have the teams been diluted to such an extent that there is insufficient experience to carry out such routine upgrades? Is the responsibility and/or accountability for the work in the right place? Do the players on the ground have all the support they need to execute correctly? These are some of the murmurs we picked in the corridors.
  • Managing employees: It seems like every time there is a problem with the connectivity on the Airtel network it is blamed on system upgrades. We either experience a lack of access to basic functions such as just checking airtime balances or, there is no service at all. Are all the people in their positions qualified to be there? If they are losing out on talent to other mobile operators are they replacing them with capable team players ? Again the noise in the corridors indicate that  Airtel is losing talent , ” People don’t leave bad companies. They leave bad managers.”  They don’t always leave because of  company structures and unfavourable working conditions. They normally leave because of disorganised managers and lack of leadership. Its time to for some deep introspection and look at how people are managed and ascertain its impact on the profitability of the organisation. If the manner in which people are managed is poor then we will continue to get upgrade failures. It’s time to look at the softer issues as to how people work together to deliver result. To move from a collection of individuals to a “team”. To bring back the unity and bonds that make up an organisation’s DNA. To avoid poor planning not only in projects but also people succession.


  • Managing customers:  The call centre agent is the person who always gets the short end of the stick. They get to hear of the problem first and take the full brunt of the customers wrath. More often than not they are given a soothing story of how the problem is being resolved or what the problem may be. They do their best to explain to upset customers with the little knowledge they know in the beginning of any crisis. Later when they have a better informed they make do with the official explanation. The truth is, customers will stay more loyal to a brand that values honesty. If you read through the apology notice above, it does not give a reason why there were subscription problems, it just tells us the problems we already know we’re facing. There is no mention of  a system upgrade in there, just that they will rectify the problem, but what problem? Consumers want to know most if not everything and Airtel is feeding us scraps of data. The ‘right to know’ policy is being avoided, which alienates a customer from a brand. The feeling that they are hiding something creeps in and as a client, one would start to weigh their options of whether to leave the network and go to another, resulting in the loss of revenue eventually to the ‘secretive’ operator. Be open and transparent, people want to empathise with you if you only let them. People are not mushrooms, to be kept in the dark.



An organisation is only as good as the people who run it. Look after your people, treat them the way you yourself would like to to be treated and 80% of your problems will literally disappear! Not only will this help retain expertise it will also attract talent.

Lastly, the honesty card works every time it’s pulled. The more people feel that the company has some emotional attachment and empathy towards them and are willing to let it all out, the more of a shoulder the customer is willing to give.

Image Credits: A Lotta Signs, Gwoltal, Holy Kaw








Tech Blogger & Marketer.