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Opinion

NIN-SIM Linkage: A Golden Opportunity For Telcos To Rev Up Customer Service -By Isaac Asabor

There is no denying the fact that in the bid to enforce the strict deadline for the linkage of Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) by telecommunication companies (Telcos) as directed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) that the rights of consumers subscribed to the various networks that cut across Airtel, Glo, Mtn and 9mobile are been violated with reckless abandon. As at March 2024, Telcos have barred 12 million lines that were not linked to the NIN following the directive from the NCC. The deadline for the linkage was set for February 28, 2024, and there has been no extension since.

Agreed that the measure is part of the efforts to streamline the NIN-SIM linkage process and enhance security, but that should not stop the Telcos from exercising due diligence in order not to disconnect subscribers that have already complied with the directive from the services been offered by them. 

As it is at the moment, particularly during the last weekend, many subscribers angrily expressed their frustrations as they are unable to make calls or receive calls, and thus argued that the government should have allowed more time for the linkage process while developing a verifiable database.

Despite Telcos not been able to separate the chaff from the wheat as to deciphering the subscribers whose lines need to be disconnected or not, they went ahead to be deactivating lines to the infuriation of not a few of their customers.

This, no doubt, has led to significant inconvenience for those who have either not linked their SIMs with their NIN or have faced issues with the verification process. The strict enforcement of this policy without further extensions has been a major source of frustration for Nigerian subscribers.

Given the foregoing disservice been rendered to customers by virtually all the Telcos in Nigeria, it is germane in this context to recall that an activist had slammed N10bn suit on Airtel, MTN, and others over NIN-SIM linkage. The rights activist, Olukoya Ogungbeje, who filed the suit against the Telcos is contesting the ongoing barring of citizens’ phone lines by MTN, Glo, Airtel, and 9mobile.

He sued the telecom providers for N10 billion, claiming they illegally restricted Nigerians’ access to their phone lines.

The chief executive officer (CEO) of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Aminu Mada, NCC and MTN Nigeria Communications Plc. were joined as responders to his lawsuit, while other respondents to the suits  are Airtel Networks Nigeria Ltd, Emerging Markets Telecommunication Services Ltd. (EMTS 9 Mobile) and Globacom Ltd.

As gathered, the applicant claimed in his affidavit that the respondents threatened to block or deactivate Nigerians’ mobile phones whose numbers were not linked to their NIN. He claimed that in response to this threat, he approached the court and, on February 22, secured an order prohibiting the defendants from blocking or deactivating Nigerians’ phone lines while the litigation was being decided.

The applicant further claimed that the respondents ignored the court and blocked many Nigerians’ cellphone lines, including his on February 28 in violation of the court order.

Consequently, Ogungbeje requested a declaration that the respondents’ actions, including blocking and deactivating phone lines from February 28 to date, violate an existing court order.

He also sought an order suspending the directive limiting Nigerians’ access to their phone lines, and an order requiring the respondents to unblock and unlock the affected phone lines immediately.

Similarly, the applicant sought a permanent injunction prohibiting the respondents from taking any further action against the affected citizens.

Without sounding exaggerative, virtually all the Telcos in the country have come under fire as they faced severe criticism over the crass insensitivity and carelessness been exhibited to customers who are subscribed to their services.

Given the foregoing view, it is sad to note that Telcos have continued to disconnect even subscribers who have already complied with the requirement demanded of them over the ongoing NIN-SIM linkage exercise.

Against the foregoing backdrop, it is incumbent on all the Telcos to throughout the ongoing exercise maintain their customer care standards for several reasons.

For instance, they should not forget that upholding customer care practices helps in maintaining and building trust, and also have it at the back of their minds throughout the exercise that customers usually rely on them for clear communication, especially during policy changes that directly affect them.

In fact, it is expedient to note that the actions been taken by the Telcos have damaging implications on their respective brand reputation. The reason for the foregoing view cannot be farfetched as consistent customer service contributes to a positive brand reputation. On the contrary, compromising on customer care, as the Telcos seem to have chosen to be doing since the NIN-SIM linkage commenced, can lead to dissatisfaction and damage the company’s image.

Without pointing accusing fingers any of the players in the telecommunication sector of the economy, it is expedient to recall in this context that good customer care practices ensure that Telcos remain compliant with regulations. They must provide accurate information and assistance to customers navigating the NIN-SIM linkage.

Not only that, Telcos should not forget that efficient customer service can help manage the increased workload due to the NIN-SIM linkage by ensuring that customer issues are resolved promptly, reducing the potential for system overload or customer churn.

As one of the sympathizers of these Telcos, it is germane to remind them that they are operating in a competitive market, and therefore, they should provide superior customer service as a way of respectively differentiating themselves and retaining their customer base.

Most importantly, Telcos should view the NIN-SIM linkage as an opportunity to reinforce their commitment to customer service, rather than compromising it. Doing so would not only benefits the customers but also the long-term success of the telecom companies.

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