After a difficult period in the first half of the year, the newly appointed CEO of Digicel T&T Abraham Smith has revealed that the company’s cash flows have been stabilised.
In an interview with the Sunday Business Guardian, Smith said: “Late March and April into May was definitely a huge hit and a lot of that took a month or two to shake out - but in terms of what I see in customers’ lives, I think it’s now kind of stabilised, especially since the middle of August its now kind of stabilised quite a bit.”
According to Smith, during the initial stages of the lockdown there were a lot of ‘intense difficulties’. On it’s social media pages, Digicel was recently criticized for the amount of disconnections that occurred during the during the first lockdown.
However, the company noted that of its customer base of over 200,000 customers, less than 20,000 people were disconnected from accessing their services.
Digicel also revealed then that the customers who were disconnected had a bad credit history and were also 57 days late on their bill payment.
Smith noted, nevertheless that the company is still flexible to work with clients with their specific needs whether it means to downgrade or convert a service.
Additionally, Digicel has not gone untouched from the havoc wreaked by COVID-19 as it implemented a tiered financial reduction plan for the entire financial year, which is set to end on March 31st, 2021.
Responding to his forecast for 2020 and 2021 CEO, Smith expressed: “We definitely, just like every household in T&T, the COVID period has presented some real challenges both financial challenges and operational challenges and we feel the effects of that like everyone feels the effects.”
Smith said his current focus is on adapting to the challenges that are presented. He gave the example of Digicel’s call centres. Smith articulated that he has had to adapt to the COVID induced challenge of moving 400+ people to working from home as call centre agents.
Smith said there has been a chance in the usage of Digicel’s services with customers requiring less mobile (voice/telephone options) to Digicel-plus (data options).
He added that the company has to continually ask the question: “Are we adjusting our resources and network bandwidth to make sure that gets delivered well.” Smith noted that it would be the company’s adaptability and flexibility that will make it more successful.
He emphasised: “But I think, yeah, we definitely suffered some challenges during the big lock down periods, but we’re definitely coming out of those as the rest of the country comes out. We’re following the same trends that we see in other sectors.”
In spite of the challenges posed by COVID-19, Smith said there are opportunities that he is excited about. He indicated that nine months ago nobody was ordering food online, but now it has become commonplace.
“That’s exciting and that opens up new opportunities not only for small medium businesses, it opens up opportunities for infrastructure providers, it opens up opportunities for government and regulatory bodies to adapt and adjust so that we can face the new reality,” said Smith.
Furthermore, Smith said with the recent upsurge in online ordering, delivery and ride sharing apps, he believes that country is on the edge of a lot of transformation.
Digicel’s CEO said this is because the capabilities of the app developers is resident in the country and now people are becoming aware of their digital needs. Smith added: “I think that little kernel is now going to have some offshoots into how do people get financially included into that eco-system.”
With regard to the aforementioned types of innovations, Smith said he believes T&T is at the forefront of the Caribbean.
Moreover, Smith said that there are also some bigger things that are on the B2B (Business to Business) and B2G (Business to Government) arena on how the country addresses health and education.
He said those are two elements that have really sprung up during the COVID-19 period with regard to the country’s digital optimisation, Smith noted: “I think those are the two areas where you’re going to see transformation and we’re excited to help deliver.”
Recently Digicel failed to get an injunction granted against TSTT due to contentions around porting (when a customer wants to switch from one network to another but retain their phone number). The matter was given into the hands of the Telecommunications Authority of T&T to mediate.
Commenting on the matter, Smith said: “There are still proceedings happening.” He continued to indicate that if the decision by the court is read carefully, it will highlight the realities of how companies treat their customers.
Smith argued: “This now goes to the bigger piece of what we’re committing to, which are customer promises and how we operate as a company, being transparent with our customers.”
Digicel has recently announced five promises to its customers, one of which is to give speedy 24/7 access to customer care and doing its “utmost to answer chat queries in 10 seconds and calls in 20 seconds.”
Smith said: “Those things are so important to us because as you can see as you read that (court) decision, we can’t have companies deliberately treating customers in a bad way, especially when they have so much power in the market.”
The new CEO of Digicel T&T said that although there will be “bumps in the road” the promises made by the company are not empty, and it expects to be called out and held accountable when it don’t deliver.