Cell C: Expert warns on consumer backlash

Cape Town - Fed up with the postal strike, Eskom's never-ending troubles and the e-toll saga, South African consumers are almost ripe for revolt, warned an expert.

A banner on a Johannesburg highway critical of Cell C’s service levels indicates a tipping point, said Aki Kalliatakis, managing partner of customer service consultancy The Leadership LaunchPad.

READ: Cell C heads to court over derogatory banner

Said Kalliatakis: “The customer who displayed the banner presumably incurred significant costs when commissioning and positioning this attack on Cell C. He then ignored legal warnings to desist.

“This shows the customer was – to put it bluntly - the hell in."

Kalliatakis pointed out that the government, parastatals, the bureaucracy and corporates underestimate this level of dissatisfaction at their peril. When people scream that they can't take it any more, the public "could go to ‘war’, using protests and defiance campaigns to fight back,” said Kalliatakis.

At a time when state enterprises charge more and deliver less, the private sector becomes exposed to 'collateral damage'.

The postal strike has already stirred anger: “The Post Office has not delivered a thing for months because of the strike by the Communications Workers Union, but taxpayers will still be expected to pay up," said Kalliatakis.

Eskom is also stoking up resentment. “Eskom can’t maintain regular electricity supplies. That’s no surprise. It can’t do its sums either. Tariffs may be going up another 13% because Eskom costs for the three years to 2011 were higher than projected.”

In Eskom's case, consumers have little recourse but in other areas, they could hit back hard.

Turning to the controversial e-toll project, Kalliatakis said: “Public defiance is already making a mockery of Sanral’s projected e-toll cash flows. Even if e-toll compliance increases, the odds are motorists will flood alternative routes, creating chaos and making new spending on Johannesburg roads unavoidable.”

There are already knock-on effects in the private sector, which highlights its dilemma. “You can apply the simple laws of supply and demand and fatten your margins. But consumers have long memories and could carry a grudge if they think you’re profiting from their pain," said Kalliatakis.

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